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.