After months or years of work, it’s finally happened. You’ve come home from your day job, and there’s a response waiting from one of the agents you sent your full manuscript to. By this point, you’ve gotten so many rejections that you already know that’s what this is. Another “thanks but no thanks”. How could it be anything else? But then you open it. And it’s not. The agent wants to speak to you on the phone!
At this point, I have two things to say to you. First: congratulations! And secondly. I hate your face. You have officially made it further in the process than I have, and I’m both incredibly proud and massively jealous.
Go ahead and cheer! Pat yourself on the back; call your mom; post it on Facebook. Be proud of yourself for this! But remember, you’re not done yet. This is just an invitation to the next step.
Once you’ve composed yourself and stopped beaming so hard your face feels like it’s going to split, send your response. The agent will have asked when is the best time to speak and how they should contact you. They usually do this next bit by phone for a couple reasons: it’s faster than email; you’ll get a better feel for who they are and how they work; and, they’ll be able to tell if or not you’re rational and professional. Now, here’s a couple things you’ll want to do to prepare for the day.
- Prepare your list of questions. You want to think you’ll be calm and collected and stay on point, but that probably won’t happen, if you’re being honest with yourself. And that’s okay! It’s normal! Some things you may want to ask include:
Do you have a plan to sell this manuscript/what markets do you have in mind?
What have you sold recently and to what markets?
Have you ever walked away from a deal, and why?
Do you handle subsidiary rights?
What sale are you proudest of?
Are you a hands-on editorial agent?
From the Query to the Call by Elana Johnson is a great, inexpensive resource that has a lot of suggestions for more things to ask a potential agent.
- Do a mock-call. Have a writer-friend or critique partner call you and pretend to be the agent. Ask your questions; respond to some of theirs. It sounds silly, but this will help you work out some of the jitters.
- Make sure you treat yourself well on the day of. Have a nice breakfast. Take a walk or a hot shower. Don’t give yourself any reason to bring your outside life into this phone call. You want to be at your level-headed, professional, relaxed best. Remember, as much as this is for you to see if you like them, they’re also putting feelers out on you to be sure you’re an author they can work with. Make a good impression!
Remember also that after the call is just as important as before. The agent may make an offer of representation right then, but more often they will sit on it a day or two and then schedule a second phone call or send an e-mail with their offer. Here’s how to follow up:
- Politely let the agent know that they will have your response in a few days. It sounds rude, but it’s actually standard in the industry. Set a final date by which to make your decision. About two weeks is generally accepted as a good turn-around time. Trust me; you’ll need it all.
- Ask them for a list of current clients that you can contact. It’s great to have it from the agent’s mouth that they’re a tough negotiator or that their clients love them. But it might look different from the other side of the relationship. You’ll want to gather all the information that you can.
- E-mail all the agents with outstanding queries. Let them know that you have an offer of representation on the story and that you need to have a response to them by X date (Don’t name-drop, though; it’s rude). At this point, they will either wish you well and bow out or ask for more materials to put in an offer of their own. At which point you schedule more phone calls!
- Make your decision. You might decide to sign with the agent; you might not. Decide if they mesh well with your vision for your story. Either way, for better or worse, compose your e-mail, hold your breath, and hit send! Hopefully, you now have an agent! Congrats!