That New-Agent Smell

August 4, 2020 § 19 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.

Eventually.

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:

Wait.

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.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Manager. Curious about building platform and using social media? Join Allison and writer Ashleigh Renard for a (free!) 60-minute Zoom Q&A about platform for writers, Tuesday August 11 at 1PM EST/10AM PST. Sign up now!

Yes, But HOW?

January 28, 2020 § 11 Comments

vintage color poster of blonde woman in skirt and red sweater, hitchiking while holding broken red shoeYou’re close to done! It’s almost a book! What happens now?

I start querying, I guess?

Great! What agents do you have in mind?

Um…

When I finish editing a client’s book, I can usually give some suggestions, because I’ve spent ten years researching the query process. But my three or four names aren’t enough. Writers need to know how to find the right agents to query.

Start by setting your expectations: Yes, you may strike gold right away, but it’s more likely you’ll query 10-20 agents before revising your query, another 10-20 before revising your first pages, and another 20-50 after that. You may discover after 30 queries that your book is suited to a university press and you don’t need an agent after all, or realize you’d rather self-publish or use a hybrid service. By expecting to query 50-100 agents, in several rounds, you can be pleasantly surprised if Agent #16 is a big “Yes!” rather than moping over rejections #1-15.

100?!?!? How do I find 100 agents?

Search “literary agent” + [your genre]. Shady “publishers” like Austin McCaulay and their many-headed hydra of vanity presses will be right up top, so scroll down past the paid ads. You’ll find lists of agents assembled by places like Writers Digest, as well as agency websites.

Set up an Excel or Google sheet with columns for Agent Name, Agency, Genres They Represent, Open for Queries? Website, What I Liked About Them, What They Want (pages/attachments/etc), and any other categories important to you. Start clicking. Read each agent’s website and social media and enter their information. Enter other agents you like at the same agency. Some agencies say “A no from one is no from the whole agency,” but others don’t mind if you query all their agents in turn (not at the same time). Note their policy.

If an agent seems like a good fit for your book, write down books they’ve represented that you enjoyed or are like your book, anything nifty they said on Twitter, quotes from interviews that made you like the agent, etc. You’ll use this later for the “personalization” part of your query, where you tell the agent “This is why I’m querying you.”

If an agent is clearly NOT right—you hate a book they represented, something in an interview rubbed you the wrong way—write that down and color-code as a “no” for you. This helps avoid looking up the same agent twice.

Whoa, that’s a lot of information.

That’s correct.

Like it might take up to 20 minutes per agent, longer if I get sucked into Twitter.

Yes.

I hate Twitter.

You don’t have to join Twitter to read it, and agents often post their extremely specific and offbeat interests, like “I’d love to read a travel memoir by a WOC.”

What happens after I add an agent to my sheet? Do I query them?

No. Research and make entries until you’re done for the day. Tomorrow, you’ll add more agents. I recommend adding 3-5 agents a day, which will take about an hour if you’re reading enough to know if they’re a good match. Some agents will be closed to queries or not represent your genre after all. It’ll take a few days to add 8-10 agents who are right for your book.

Then query them. While you’re waiting for responses, keep working on your agent sheet. Next week, query 8-10 more.

This sounds time-consuming.

You’re shopping for a long-term professional relationship between two people equally excited about working together. Imagine it as dating, but you’re in the traditionally male role: Yes, you have to be into the other person…but they’re getting a lot more messages than you are, so they can be choosy.

What about paid query services? Or websites where I upload my work and agents find me? 

Sometimes a big job needs a better tool. If you spill a thousand grains of rice, get a broom. But let’s say there’s a thousand overturned china teacups, one of which is sheltering a mouse. (Whoever created this metaphorical task is clearly sick.)

You’re going to have to pick them up one at a time.

Querying is a one-at-a-time job. Agents recognize queries from “We do all the work for you!” companies, and they are an automatic rejection. Part of what your query demonstrates is “I know how to function in this business,” and that includes communicating with agents yourself.

Websites purporting to showcase authors to agents are taking your money and delivering you on a platter to scam agents and vanity presses ready to take advantage of a beginner. (Here’s why agents don’t use them.)

Consider joining Publisher’s Marketplace for a couple of months as a partial shortcut. Agents (not all of them) report their sales (not all of them). Lists of who’s selling in your genre include links to agents’ profiles with querying instructions.

When do I do all this?

Start building your agent list even before you finish your book—between drafts, when you’re letting your manuscript rest to come back with fresh eyes. When the time comes, double-check that the agent is still open to queries, and don’t query until the book is DONE.

Finding literary agents is tedious but not difficult. Most of this work can be done at only the cost of your time, and most of the information is free and online.

You got this, beautiful writer. You can do it.

More info on querying here on Brevity:

Query 101

Defining Your Book (genre)

Readers Will Also Like… (comp titles)

The Late Bloomer’s Guide to Getting an Agent

The Golden Ticket (referrals)

And I’ll be teaching a live webinar Feb 1 (replay available) for Hidden Timber Press on writing queries, great first pages, and how to get a literary agent. Learn more/sign up here.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor.

The Late Bloomers’ Guide to Getting an Agent

October 27, 2016 § 6 Comments

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Sharon Van Epps

I wish I was a 25-year-old wunderkind. I wish I was writing literary fiction, getting short stories in the New Yorker while still at my elite NYC high school. I wish writing was my first career instead of my fourth. I wish I was a protege, a shooting star, a member of a Buzzfeed list.

But I’m not.

I’m sure there’s something very meaningful to write about how life experience has given me more material and perspective and everything happens at the right time blah blah blah, but it doesn’t really take away the sting of not being famous already. Not being anointed, not being someone’s critical darling, not going viral or even being quietly respected among a cadre of independent bookstore owners who shove my book into their shoppers’ hands, “You must read this.”*

What takes away the sting is work. Putting my head down, tapping out words, showing up to the blog, showing up to the page. Showing up for the writers I edit/advise/coach, reminding them it really does take time and their personal timeline is OK, telling them the steps I’m trying to take myself.

Sharon Van Epps has a handle on the steps. Her recent series of blog posts are invaluable to writers at any stage, but especially to those of us who feel like we’re running a little behind on this whole “get-published” game.

In “On Being A Late Bloomer: AKA ‘I Finally Got A Literary Agent”,” Ms. Van Epps shares her long journey, from fiction to memoir, formal classes to private coaching, unsuccessful publisher meeting to successful querying. She gives shout-outs to our first two Brevity Podcast guests, Dani Shapiro and Andre Dubus III, and also details one of the sickest grad-school power plays I’ve ever heard of.

In another post, Ms. Van Epps covers the process of making a list of literary agents to query–where to find them, how to judge their quality, ways to end-run the blind query process–and stresses how important it is to make your list gradually over several months so that it’s not totally overwhelming (hear, hear!).

Her two most recent posts cover how to structure and personalize a query letter, including a great tip about linking relevant essays directly from the query email–one of those things I hadn’t yet heard of but is an incredibly smart and useful move!–and the actual rhythm of the query process, with great insights about her logic for timing it the way she did.

If you’re already in the query process, these blog posts can reassure you, you’re doing it correctly, or help you adjust your rhythm. If you’re not there yet, it’s pretty awesome to see another long slow timeline and how it played out to success.

It’s OK to do this getting-published thing slow. And doing it slow is still doing it right.

Thanks, Sharon.

*If you’re a New Yorker subscriber, the article The Science of the Sleeper is available with better formatting in the New Yorker archives.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Get Published in Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting and Writing Better.

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