That New-Agent Smell
August 4, 2020 § 20 Comments
“Eeeeee! Eeeeee! Eeeeee!” were my measured and intelligent words upon scheduling The Call. An agent wanted to work with ME? Wanted to talk about my book? An agent who had rejected two previous books, whose work and advice I’d followed for years?
Reader, I signed with her.
Two weeks after a wonderful call with an agent I respected and admired, and who respected me and liked my work, we actually said “I do,” and two weeks after that we signed a contract and got down to business.
Why so coy?
When you finally get the hallelujah! email saying, “I really enjoyed reading your manuscript, could we schedule a call?” it’s tempting to proceed immediately to your temple of choice to give offerings, then send you-missed-out emails while singing “Let’s call the whole thing off!” to all those other agents who didn’t move fast enough to snap you up, who made you wait.
Resist that impulse. I mean, sure, sing anything you like, and ritual is always reassuring, but an author’s first step after scheduling an agent call is far simpler and more frustrating:
Maybe do a little more research—you of course researched this agent before submitting—but it’s worth revisiting her website and Twitter feed, and browsing the websites of authors she represents. This reminds you why you like this agent, and if she says on your call, “I’ve been working on Author X’s new release,” you can respond with “I adore animal-friendship memoirs!” or even just “I love that cover!” which makes you look savvy and shows you care about her work, too.
Your next step? Send more queries.
You heard me.
Look at your list of agents and send 5-10 more queries to agents you’d like to work with, but haven’t gotten to yet. Maybe you were waiting to see if this query got good responses before sending to your A-list.
Send those queries NOW. Time is of the essence.
Enjoy your agent call. Ask lots of questions, like:
- What readers do you see as ideal for this book?
- Do you see this as a Big-Five book or a medium or smaller press?
- What revisions would you suggest?
- How hands-on are you with your authors? How often would we communicate?
- How much editing do you do?
It’s like hiring a babysitter. Great babysitters are worth their weight in gold, and you must entice them with your well-behaved children, plentiful snacks and Netflix. But they still work for you, and you can’t trust just anyone with the beautiful baby that is your book. When talking to a potential agent, you are not a desperate supplicant grateful for attention. You are a creator of something lovely that you both think is worth selling, and you’re both envisioning that process playing out.
Maybe the call is terrific. You adore this agent, you love her plans for your book, her revision suggestions were enlightening. You are thrilled—THRILLED—someone wants you. You’re ready to blow off all those other agents. That new-agent smell is already making your whole life better.
You still don’t sign yet.
You say something like, “I have a few other queries/pages requests/fulls out, let me follow up on those and get back to you.” You and the agent set a deadline for accepting her offer of representation, usually in 10-14 days.
Now follow up with everyone else you’ve queried who hasn’t sent a rejection (including the queries you just sent after scheduling the call, remember those?). Forward your original query, adding 1-2 sentences at the top along the lines of, “Following up on the below—I have an offer of rep and will be deciding by [date]. Will you let me know if I should still keep you in mind?” Before the “re:” in the email subject line, write in all caps, OFFER OF REP RECEIVED.
Most of them still won’t get back to you. So why do this?
1) It’s polite. Another agent may in fact be 50 pages in and loving your manuscript more every minute. They’ve put in time. Give them an opportunity to also ask, “Can we schedule a call?”
2) They may not have seen your query yet, but with this urgent deadline, they find it, love it, read your book overnight, and email you the next day to schedule a call.
You may have more options. And even if you have six more calls and realize nope, happy with my choice, your first agent may not be your agent forever. They may retire, or not be able to sell your book after all, or not love your next book. You want those other agents to remember “That author I wanted so bad and didn’t get.” Or to think, “This polite, professional author whose last book wasn’t right for me seems like she’d be great to work with.”
Once you decide, you need a few more days to carefully read the agency contract and ask questions. Only then have you achieved the meeting of two minds.
As writers, we spend a lot of time slogging through the rejection trenches, hoping someone will want us. It’s easy to be blown away by the first person who cares, who is invested in our work. Revel in that feeling. Wallow in happiness. But don’t let joy and gratitude stop you from doing business.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!