So You’ve Gotten “The Call”

The Call (n): Writing term. When an agent responds positively to your query and full manuscript and wants to talk to discuss the possibility of representation.

Even though a lot of my Pitch Wars class had received The Call ahead of me and put together a list of questions and even though I googled high and low to see what both agents and represented authors recommended you ask on The Call, I was nervous and sure my list was going to be completely terrible. It was exhaustive, though, and I was happy with it. I knew I might not need to ask every question, because my agent is gracious and smart and shared most of the info I wanted with me before I even had to ask. Superstar, honestly. But I still wished I could have had a handy list of questions, so here is one for you. This is only a suggestion, there are so many other wonderful resources. Go forth and google.

As for me, I printed these out over four pieces of paper, giving myself tons of blank space to take notes while chatting so I didn’t have to type while we talked.

Something to keep in mind: I signed with a newer agent, so I wanted to ask a lot of questions about her plan for her career, what her support system was like at her agency, and things like that. Your mileage may vary. I hope these questions are at all helpful. Congrats on your call!

THE CALL: [Agent], [Agency]

  • What did you like / respond to about my book?
  • What do you think needs work?
  • What do you think my strengths / weaknesses are as a writer?
  • What would our relationship / partnership look like?
  • If you become my agent, do you have an idea of how we would manage my author brand / books to come?
  • How many clients do you currently have? _____   Ideally? ______
  • Are you looking to represent:  ____ this book     ____ whole career
  • Do you have a written agency agreement I could see?
  • What’s the commission structure like at your agency?
  • How are sub rights handled?
  • What’s your support system like in the agency?
  • What’s your vision for your career?
  • If down the line you switch agencies or leave agenting, what would you foresee happening to your clients?
  • Do you have any other roles / jobs in the agency?
  • What’s something you find challenging about being an agent and / or want to improve on?
  • If I do sign with you, what would our next steps be?
  • What’s your communication style / preference?
  • Response times?
  • When do you prefer to hear about my upcoming projects? Idea phase? Outline? Draft? Once it’s been through betas?
  • What’s your editorial style like?
  • What’s your relationship with Big 5 editors like?
  • Submission strategy? (Big 5, small press, etc.)
  • How many rounds of sub before we shelve it?
  • What happens if this book doesn’t sell?
  • What’s your communication like when a project is on submission?
  • Do you have an idea of what the average length of a contract negotiation is like at your agency? From offer of pub to finalizing/signing the contract?

Like I said, I was thorough. And I didn’t ask everything on my list! We covered a lot of ground organically in the course of our conversation, which was nice. But it’s important to ask the questions you have in your head! And if you don’t think of everything during the call, that’s okay too! I emailed my agent after our call to ask a follow-up about IP work that had been floating around my head. You might want to ask if the agent is willing to represent your work in multiple genres or age groups.

If the agent doesn’t offer it up on their own, it’s also worth asking for the contact information of a few of their clients so you can ask what it’s like to work with them. Ideally, you’ll be able to talk/email with clients (current or former) who write in the same genre/category as you. A mix of writers who have sold their books and some who haven’t is a great way to gauge the full spectrum of your prospective agent’s dealings. I’ll share my list of questions I asked clients here sometime soon.

Everyone has specific needs from their agent, and it’s important to figure out if you’ll be a good match. You need to trust your agent, and sometimes the only way to do that is to ask some tough / uncomfortable questions! As long as you remain professional and respectful, you’re probably good.

To maintain my extremely professional demeanor, I leave you with this:

 

How I Got My Agent

I love reading How I Got My Agent posts. Even when, most of the time, it’s the simple equation of polished manuscript + cold querying = the call. No matter how many times I read it, I love it because celebrating someone’s achievement is nice. It’s fun! And it’s a good reminder that it’s possible.

I started writing the manuscript that got me my agent in 2014. Actually, you can see the tweet that started it all:tweet

The next month I started writing and kept writing and, eventually, I finished the first draft. It was an absolute blast to write. It was the second manuscript I’d ever completed and I knew it was promising, but it was messy and meandering and had too much going on. I revised it once myself and it was an improvement, but still not Good.

So, in 2017, I entered Pitch Wars. I was so lucky and to be chosen, and I wrote all about the experience last April; you can read it here. At this time last year I was finishing up my post-Pitch Wars revisions and kept assembling my agent spreadsheet.

I sent my first batch of queries over Memorial Day Weekend 2018. I started with ten, a mix of “oh my god, can you even IMAGINE???” established agents and awesome, promising newer agents. Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. Everyone talks about how publishing is a lot of “hurry up and wait” and they are not wrong. The first two weeks after sending out queries, I got a mix of form rejections and, eventually, a few mostly-form-but-slightly-personalized rejections. A few weeks after I started querying, I got my first partial and full requests, and then nothing for a while longer.

For every request or rejection that came in, another query went out. At times I got impatient and broke that rule, and would have closer to 20 queries and/or submissions out at a time. Through all of this, I was scouring the #MSWL on twitter, browsing through  the Manuscript Wish List website, and keeping an eye out for new agent alerts.

Some rejections came in hours after I sent the query. Some requests came within days. And then there was still nothing I could do but wait. I spent the intervening months alternately checking my inbox, working on a new manuscript, and refreshing QueryTracker. During the wait, I actually finished the first and second drafts of my new manuscript, knowing that if the project I was querying didn’t get me an agent, it would be a good idea to have another project ready to go. But mostly I waited.

I waited so much, y’all. And it was worth it! Because there were a few queries that went out in that first batch that did indeed turn into full requests many, many months later!

The vast majority of agents who requested my full were gracious enough to give me feedback, but it all felt just broad enough that I still didn’t know how to fix the problem areas. Early on, I tried to make an adjustment and it was a good adjustment! But I didn’t dig deep enough.

And then. And then! I got a lovely email from an agent asking if my manuscript was still available and if I would be willing to hop on the phone. YES! I replied. Yes it is, and yes I am! 

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It is important to me that you know that email came in at 4:46pm on a Tuesday and I continued to spend the remaining 14 minutes of my shift at work freaking out and processing no information. I did, however, manage to forward the email to my best friend with no other context than this:

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So we set up a call for the following Monday and the wait was interminable but I did spend the time researching and typing up four pages of questions to ask on The Call. (I was very generous with the spacing so that I could take notes. I’m not a monster that planned to ask 237 single-spaced questions. (I am so sorry if that’s you, you’re not a monster, you’re just prepared.)) When we did actually chat–at 9:30am because I didn’t have to work until noon that day–it was lovely. I was so impressed and flattered and excited. Her vision was totally in line with mine for the manuscript, her notes were spot-on, and we really seemed to click. So I was PUMPED when the call included an offer of representation.

Then I did the responsible thing, and told her “Thank you so much, but I need two weeks to notify everyone that still has my full/partial/query” which at that point was not very many people, because, again, I had been querying for 11 months.

That’s right. I started querying May 26, 2018 and I had The Call on April 22, 2019. I moved cross-country in the interim!

I’m telling you, so. much. waiting.

And, sure, maybe I could have just thrown out all of my queries into the trenches at once, but I didn’t want to and I’m glad that I didn’t. Not doing so gave me a) the time to make adjustments to my manuscript if I wanted to before every agent I considered had seen it, and b) the ability to continue to query newer agents, and those who had been closed when I started querying.

The intervening two weeks resulted in some extremely lovely rejections and step-asides that I will be thinking about for years to come. Honestly. Agents are so awesome. They get inundated with SO MUCH STUFF but still find the time to reply and be nice and, just. Yes. Love it. Love them. I also did my due diligence and emailed the offering agent’s clients and grilled them with questions about what it was like to work with her and every single response was glowing and made me want to sign with her that much more.

All of this is to say, that I’m ecstatic to be represented by Tia Mele at Talcott Notch Literary. I really trust her vision for my work and can’t wait to build our partnership together.

For the curious:

Queries sent: 90
Full requests (including partial upgrades): 19
Partial requests: 2
Rejections: 64
CNR: 25

The Slush Pile

I don’t know how anyone else viewed the prospect of querying. I was nervous, but I didn’t dread it. Honestly, I was eager to start. I think part of it was that I had never done it before, so I wasn’t jaded. And part of it (a big part) was that I was riding the high of having been accepted into Pitch Wars the first time I applied (seriously, I’m still surprised and grateful for it). I didn’t get any requests during the Pitch Wars agent showcase, but I kept revising and eventually I was happy. I received positive responses from beta readers. There was nothing left to do but start querying. Even then, submitting my work to agents—submitting my work to judgment—was terrifying.

I’ve heard a lot complaints and discussion about the phrase “not right for me”, that nebulous phrase agents seem to use when a project is good, but not perfect. Or not perfect for them. Or they don’t know how to sell it. Or, or, or. It’s kind of become a catch-all phrase, but one that, when querying, you’ll probably hear a lot.

I heard it a lot. And I think what softened the blow of hearing that phrase about my own work, again and again, is that I’d thought it before.

When I started querying around this time last year, I worked in television development. Part of my job was to read scripts and judge whether or not they were right for our production company. Ninety percent of them were submitted through agents or managers, so they had been vetted before they reached me. And of the dozens I read I only loved two.

At my going away lunch my boss told me that she read the things I liked carefully because I was so… judicious with my praise. And it wasn’t that everything crossing my desk was bad, it was the opposite of that. I read scripts that were carefully crafted, by veterans in the industry, etc. But. But. But they weren’t right for our company’s vision. Or the humor was too mean. Or we couldn’t think of a suitable home. Maybe something about it wasn’t quite right but we didn’t know how to fix it. Sometimes it was too similar to something we were already developing. A lot of times it was a matter of personal taste. And, occasionally, a project that crossed my desk was just not good enough.

Once, my boss asked me to draft a rejection email for a submission. The dreaded “Thank you, but” email. Honestly? I opened the folder of query rejections and read through a bunch of the polite, but generic replies I’d gotten from agents because they weren’t mean, they were just honest. Thank you for thinking of me. You’re a strong writer. You have a good idea here. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how good your submission is, it’s just not right.

Over the course of the eleven months I’ve been querying, I’ve amassed a lot of rejections. A few came with a nice note, or helpful feedback, but for the most part, it was the generic “I read every submission carefully, but…” And 99% of the time, a rejection is just another email. It’s another red box in my submission spreadsheet, and doesn’t bother me. Much. It’s just a fact of life.

Working in television development was my dream job. I miss it every day. And I will forever be grateful for the way it prepared me to deal with rejection of my own. You’ll hear over and over again that publishing is a subjective business and having worked on the other side of it (albeit in television), I understand that first hand. It helped to make the rejections sting less.

The End of an Era

Monica+and+Rachel+gif.+End+of+an+era

When I was younger I worried I’d never work in the television industry because I couldn’t live in LA. I had no reason to believe this other than the fact that I’m pale and it’s sunny all the time in SoCal. So I quietly folded that dream into a paper football and flicked it into the far recesses of my brain. I focused on my other dream—becoming a political speechwriter. I went to college in D.C. and I loved it and then… I took screenwriting classes.

I told myself it was just for fun. And those classes were fun. They absolutely helped me become a better writer even though the scripts I wrote for class were terrible. I learned how to critique and how to share my work and to be humble. Then I graduated with my degree in political communication and started working at a law firm and that was that.

For the most part, I hated working in the law firm. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. The hours were great, the job wasn’t demanding, and I had great benefits. But I was 23 and it was my first full time job and I knew that I wasn’t going to stay. I signed on to work for two years, knowing that after that time I would go to grad school, and that’s what I did.

I used the two years I worked there to save money, and write, and decide what I wanted to study. It felt like all of my friends got their Master’s in Public Health and I’d seriously considered getting a M.A. in Library Sciences but… it wasn’t exciting. I didn’t think my passion for books would be enough to get me through the curriculum. But I thought of something that would.

Sometimes I wonder if getting an M.A. in Television-Radio-Film was a terrible, self-indulgent idea, but I know it wasn’t. It did what a lot of artistic post-grad programs do, they give you time to create. The short films I made were Not Good, but I learned so, so much. The program gave me time to brainstorm, and take honest criticism, and write creatively with deadlines. And it gave me the push I needed to finally move to LA.

For two years there have been a few drafts in my folder with titles like “Moving to LA” and “Finding a Job” which, while not creative, I thought would be helpful. A series of posts about the weird, unexpected parts of moving out West, like how a lot of apartments don’t come with fridges and the beach is gray and overcast every June. But I never did and now it feels too late.

When I got to LA I knew how incredibly difficult it would be to set up in a new city. Or, I thought I did. I had done it for college and again for grad school, but I was wrong and that’s hard to admit for someone who loves to be right. It wasn’t any one thing that made the transition hard, it was a series. Individually, I conquered them. Collectively, however, they got to me. It was hard to find a job, to mesh with my roommates, to commute 45min each way while working 11 hours a day. It was discouraging to go weeks, or months, between jobs or to have a job that demoralized and tired me out. It was trying when, one by one, my few friends in the city moved away. It was difficult to come to terms with my mental illness and then to do something about it.

But I did all of those things! I got the job, and then the next one. I moved to a new, better apartment in a more central location with a roommate I liked and got along with. I went to therapy and tried my hardest to take care of myself. Through all of this I was writing. Or trying to write. And that whole ‘tortured artist’ thing is crap. I have never hurt more than when I tried to force myself to work long days and then go home and write, to hit deadlines, to do work that I was proud of. The more time went on, the more drained I became.

Giving notice that I was leaving my current job was one of the hardest, scariest things I’ve ever done. It hurt because, for the first time, I’m leaving a job I truly love. I wish 16-year-old-Molly could see me now. In therapy. On antidepressants. With a strong group of friends that I love with my whole heart and finally feel loved and understood and free to be Most Moll. Working in the TV industry.

The same day I gave my notice I was on a conference call with one of my favorite writer / television creators of all time. I wrote a little note to myself that says, “You’re quitting your favorite job today. That’s hard. It’s probably going to suck. But remember the love you got today. Remember that you got to be on a conference call with [redacted]. He was cool and had great opinions and was supportive of his writers. It put a giant  smile on your face. Treasure that.”

So after two years in LA I’m packing up and moving back east. Not to my parents house, or my hometown, but hopefully somewhere that finally feels like home. Somewhere that it rains, and is near friends, and gives me time to write. I’m taking my antidepressants with me.

The Other Kind of Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different kinds of writing that I want to do. Not just in my career (although that, too), but day-to-day. Mostly, I’m trying to decide if I want to get back into journaling. I say ‘get back into’ like I was ever dedicated or consistent. My journal never looked like the ones you see on Instagram, pretty and adorned, full of perfect lettering, bursting with color, and filled with pictures both pasted and drawn. My journal was just a hardbound book filled with flowing black ink and imperfect cursive and I’m kind of terrified to open it again.

I have three old journals, actually. Two of them scare the crap out of me. One, my favorite, is a hokey little book that was gifted to me by a friend of my mom’s and I covered it with an old book cover—the elastic kind you begged your parents to buy for your textbooks so you didn’t have to cover them with brown paper bags—and it looks silly. It’s filled with dreams. Not aspirations, but actual things that I dreamed at night. It stretches back to 2007 and has hundreds of dated entries. Once, I even made an index. That book hasn’t been updated recently, but I do have an ongoing note on my phone filled with dreams so I’m sure one day I’ll sit down and add to it even if it will never be complete.

The other two journals, they’re the real ones. They’re what you think of when you hear the word journal. Books of thoughts and feelings. Mine are from 2009-2015, roughly my college years and spanning into grad school. As much as I want to revisit my past self, to see what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I felt needed documenting, I don’t know if I ever will. I have no clue of the specifics, but I know they’ll be full of the pain, and confusion, and depression. They’ll be full of sentences like “I’m sad but I don’t know why” and I don’t know that I’m ready to face that.

Because I’m moving soon, I’m parting ways with my therapist. Recently, I’ve noticed that I don’t really know what to say when I go into our appointments. I’ll prattle on about my life, but I can no longer see the Big Issues that I need to address. There is no doubt in my mind that I still have those Big Issues, they’re just not as obvious to me as they were a year ago when I started therapy. I have more tools under my belt, and a fancy name for my depression (dysthymia—basically instead of going through bouts of Major Depression, I am low-key depressed all the time. To be diagnosed you have to have the symptoms basically daily for two years. Once I had a name for it and knew the symptoms more intimately, I realized I’d been dealing with this since I was 16). So all of those years of journals, those are from the time that I was depressed but didn’t know it for what it was and I don’t know if I’m ready to see just how much it affected my life.

I wonder if I’ll miss anything by not opening the journals again. Are there happy moments I’ve otherwise forgotten that would be nice to revisit? But I don’t think that’s the case. I only ever remember opening them up and pouring my soul into them like I was Ginny Weasley baring herself to Tom Riddle, when all of the feelings rumbling about inside of me were going to erupt and I needed a way to let them out that wasn’t (just) crying into my pillow or on the phone to my mom (or both. Usually both).

Those journals were my therapy before I was willing to go out and find an actual therapist.

Maybe I won’t open them, after all, I’ll just continue to tote them around every time I move, like the rest of the baggage I carry around with me every day. But they aren’t just baggage—they’re evidence of my perseverance and my growth. No matter what, I don’t think I’m ready to throw them out .

Pitch Wars Retrospective

I feel like this is a long time coming, but also it’s difficult to write because I still haven’t left Pitch Wars behind. Actually, I’m not sure I ever will. The revision period was slated between September-November, but here it is, April of the following year, and I’m still revising.

If you’re reading this as you try to decide whether or not you should enter Pitch Wars (or Author Mentor Match, or Teen Pit, etc.), my advice, for whatever it’s worth, is to go for it.

I entered Pitch Wars with no expectations. I submitted a YA contemporary manuscript that was near and dear to my heart, but that I knew was riddled with problems. But the moment had come: no matter how much I stared at the document, knowing there were some things that really needed fixing, I couldn’t figure out what those things were. I knew going in that the biggest win in even entering Pitch Wars was the community, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I got requests from mentors I was pleased, but shocked. I walked around telling myself, “This doesn’t mean anything, the mentors each got 100+ submissions, don’t get ahead of yourself.” But already I was glad I had entered, because it meant that even though my manuscript was far from done, I was on the right track.

[Note: This isn’t to say if you don’t get requests you’re on the wrong track. Contests like these are difficult because mentors choose projects based on what they’re drawn to and what they know they can help fix. Some entries are already in great shape! Some need more help than the time frame allows for. And some weren’t picked just because a mentor could only choose one project. This is a game of chance, friends. Keep trying.]

When mentor picks were finally announced, I was visiting my parents. I refreshed the page while sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch. I saw my name in a neat little box and promptly flipped out. My heart raced, I couldn’t stop smiling, and when my mom and I got to the grocery store, I found myself frantically pacing up and down the milk aisle, trying not to scream or dance. Twitter flooded with notifications of who else had been chosen and it was so easy to be happy for all of my mentee class but I felt for those that hadn’t been picked. I spent the rest of my visit home excited and ready to work.

Then I got my edit letter and had to go back to my day job, where I was working from 8:30am – 8:30pm. My commute was terrible. I had no free time to myself and on the weekends I was mentally and physically exhausted. There were other things at play, too–my living situation, my mental health–and I didn’t know how to cope. My mentor had sent me a wonderful, thoughtful, encouraging edit letter and I froze.

I tried to write and revise. I made a gameplan and figured out how much I needed to revise by day to stay on track. I deleted and re-wrote and outlined and even when I sent the revisions to my mentor I knew they weren’t enough. We talked through the changes that still needed to be made and I agreed with all of them but all of the other aspects of my life were catching up to me; suddenly there were too many balls in the air and I never learned how to juggle.

I was adamant that I would participate in the agent round. I swore I would have my revisions done by the time my month-long extension was up. And then the agent round went live and… I didn’t get any requests. It was a little disheartening, but I also felt relief.

Suddenly, there wasn’t a time constraint on my shoulders. I could focus on the billion ways I needed to get my personal life together, and enjoy the Christmas vacation I’d be taking from work. I left the job that was making me miserable and let myself breathe and found the joy in revising without the pendulum of deadlines swinging overhead, inching ever closer.

Feedback from beta readers in the 2017 mentee class just hit my inbox. They’re brilliant, insightful notes that I’m incorporating. While waiting for feedback I happily drafed a new project. The waiting was good; it forced me to slow down, get perspective, and collect my thoughts. It gave me time to update my agent spreadsheet, and work on my query. It gave me time to breathe.

Throughout the Pitch Wars process I found the writing community I’d been searching for. They are such a wonderful, creative, supportive group and I’m lucky to be among the 2017 mentees.

I don’t have any regrets about entering Pitch Wars. I wish my personal life had been a bit more cooperative and that I’d had a better support system in place outside of the PW community. I’m not sure I really anticipated (or could have) just how beneficial that would be.

But with time and perspective, I’ve gotten a better understanding of my writing process, of revisions, of craft. I better understand what works and what doesn’t. I can see more clearly what my flaws are (what do you mean I can’t just rely on plot and character, I need actual conflict?) and as I draft, I can see how my writing’s grown.

All of the roadblocks and challenges that cropped up in my personal life also helped give me perspective on what I’ll have to work around when there are actual, contracted publishing deadlines looming overhead. I’ve gotten better at predicting how long I need for certain parts of the revision process, at anticipating my needs.

Pitch Wars was challenging in ways I never expected, but so was my life. I’ve come out the other side stronger–as a person, yes, but especially as a writer. I know better what I need, how I operate, and I understand how much having a support system, an entire community, at my back can help. I’m constantly in awe of how talented my peers are, and grateful for their support.

Maybe my Pitch Wars manuscript won’t be the one that gets me an agent, or lands me my first book deal. But I’ll always love it for showing me I’m on the right path.

Pitch Wars 2017: #pimpmybio

I’m in the middle of a ton of different writing projects, so what better time to enter my first Pitch Wars? I’m submitting a story I’ve written about here a lot (remember when What’s Up, Wednesday? posts were a thing?) and always affectionately referred to as That Golf Story. Now it’s shiny and polished and actually has a title: No Matter How It Starts.

It’s a YA Contemporary about Carter, a 17-year-old with aspirations of playing golf in college. Everything’s going according to plan until her moms decide to move before her senior year and her new school doesn’t have a girls’ golf team. Instead of giving up or throwing a fit, Carter tries out for the boy’s team. It’s a fun story that’s got everything: the enemies-to-lovers trope, pranks, secret make-outs, a garage band, a diverse cast, and a lot of golf.

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Like my main character, I also played golf on my school’s varsity golf team, the only difference is that I got to play with the girls all four years. I still play whenever I have the chance but haven’t found anyone nearly as fun as Carter’s new teammates to share the course with.

For potential mentors: I have a BA in Political Communication and an MA in Televison-Radio-Film (okay, so maybe I watched too much of The West Wing when I was growing up). Which is to say that I’m used to thinking creatively but also practically. I have a pretty good sense of pitch and marketing, but definitely need the help to polish and present my work. Having written multiple screenplays, I’m used to getting constructive criticism and I’m not afraid to take my mentor’s advice to heart and work hard to make my writing the best it can be.

Aside from studying and working in tv, I also write about it on occasion. I currently contribute to The Televixen. Previously, I wrote recaps at Off Color TV (covering Parks & Rec, The Newsroom, The Mindy Project, and Teen Wolf). I grew up in both Alabama and Ohio but my favorite place to live is Washington, DC. Aside from YA books, I love college football, black coffee, Captain America, and oxford commas.

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Me, hitting a shot I thought landed in a bunker but actually stuck the green.