Agent Hunt #6: The Call and the Offer

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!

Agent Hunt #5: Success! …Sort Of.

Great news! After countless rejections and maybe a few requests for revision, you’ve finally hit the gold! An agent–or maybe even more than one–is interested in seeing more of your story. It could be that they’ve asked for just a small sampling of more pages (called a partial request) or that they want to read the whole thing (called a full). Either way, here are a few things to keep in mind!

  1. Don’t keep them waiting. You want your manuscript to be ready to roll as soon as you get the request for pages. Ideally, it’s polished to a shine and won’t need any tweaks before you send it out. But I find in my own experience that it doesn’t hurt to take a day and give it a quick once-over. Just be sure not to overdo it. Now’s not the time for huge changes. Just make sure that you don’t have any dangling sentences or glaring errors and hit send.
  2. Send ONLY what they’ve asked for. If the agent has asked for the first fifty pages, don’t decide they really need to read until the major turning point and send eighty. It smacks of unprofessionalism and indicates that you won’t follow directions later. That can make an agent leery of working with you.
    This includes supplementary materials that they may ask for, too, such as the synopsis. If they ask for one page, don’t send three. NEVER send cover mock-ups, drawings of your characters, maps, or anything else of the kind. It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve spent on them; they don’t belong in the agent’s hands right now. If they manage to sell your book, the publishing house will work with you on all those things. If you feel they absolutely MUST have the map you spent a week on in order to understand your plot, you can mention briefly in your e-mail response that you have one if they want it. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t.
  3. Always thank them for their interest in the project. When drafting your reply, it should go without saying that you should be brief and courteous. There’s no need to write a long letter. Something along the lines of “Thank you for your interest in ‘Project Name’! As requested, I’m attaching ‘X materials’,” will suffice. You really want the story to speak on its own merits, now more than ever.
  4. Be patient. Don’t send follow-up e-mails to see how the reading is going, don’t tweet at to check up, and absolutely don’t call. There are two exceptions to this. First is if the agent already has an established pattern of responding to people on social media who are following up on requests. Some do. Most do not, and it’ll only annoy them if you do. Second, if the agent or agency page expressly says to follow up if you don’t hear back within a certain period of time. But don’t jump the gun on this. If they say three months, that means three months. Still, try not to do this if you can help it at all.
  5. Keep querying. A partial request–or even a full–doesn’t mean that you stop sending it out. Even with this response, get the next hook in the water. A request isn’t a guarantee of representation, and even an offer isn’t a promise that you’ll end up signing with them. Don’t lose valuable time on the off chance that this one agent sends you an offer. More options are always better than fewer.

Agent Hunt #4: Revise and Resend

The second thing that you can find in your inbox from an agent is the revise and resubmit request. Not as exciting as a request for pages would be, but it’s a step in the right direction. As with a rejection, the R&R is exactly what it says on the tin. The agent in question is telling you that the project isn’t right for them at this exact moment, but they see potential in it. They may even give you some suggestions for improvement. Which, granted, will sting the ego. But if you take the time to unpack it, the advice can yield rich rewards.

First, have an objective look at what the agent is advising you to do with the manuscript. As you would with a beta, sort through the suggestions and decide which you’re going to embrace and which you’re not. You’ll want to consider long and hard before shrugging off a suggestion from an agent (but there are times you’ll want to, which I’ll get into below.) Remember, they know the industry. They know what’s selling right now, and lots of agents have experience in editing as well. Also, try to keep in mind that agents are by and large extremely busy people. If they’re taking the time to not only recommend specific changes to you but inviting you to send it to them again, too? That’s a huge compliment on your work. Take their advice seriously!

Now, there will be times when you’ll want to ignore a suggestion or to pass on sending your manuscript back to the agent in question. Look at the core of the suggestions. Do they seem to be keeping with the spirit of your manuscript? Or are they trying to take it in a completely different direction altogether? This is a good way to see from the get-go if you and the agent in question would be a good fit. If you decide not, you don’t need to do anything else with the R&R. Just tag it in your spreadsheet as an R and move on to the next one.

But if you do decide to follow up, which in most circumstances I feel would be a good thing, don’t stop querying other agents while you work on the revisions. You might slow down your querying if you decide that the new direction you’re taking is overall a stronger manuscript and you want to send it to more than just this one agent. But be sure to keep the queries flying.

When you’re finally ready to send it back to the agent who originally made the suggestion, send it just as you did the initial query. This time, add a line to your query letter saying that you have made changes to the manuscript in response to their suggestions and are resubmitting it as they requested. Press send, sit back, and see if the edits are more to their liking. As always, be kind, courteous, and professional! You’re one step closer!

Agent Hunt #3: Dealing With Rejection

Hey, all! I know I’ve been away from this series for a while! The summer got a little more chaotic than I thought it would, and something had to give for a minute. Things have settled now, though, so I’m back with more Agent Hunt goodies!

To recap your hunt to date, you’ve written an amazing novel and a stellar query letter. You’ve made a list of agents that you think may be interested in your project, held your breath, and hit send. And now your letters are floating somewhere out in the ether of the agency inbox while you anxiously await your fate. You’ve compulsively hit refresh on your professional e-mail (because of course you remembered to make one, right?) and at long last, a hit.

An unread message has appeared in response to one of the letters you sent out. Your heart pounds. A cold sweat breaks out on your brow. There’s only one of three things this could possibly say. Over the next few weeks, we’ll go through each one. The first we’ll cover, and unfortunately the one you’ll probably see the most of, is the rejection.

There are two kinds of rejection letters, and they’re not created equally. You’ll either receive a form rejection or a personalized one. The first is exactly what it says on the tin, a cut and paste response that says the agent in question isn’t interested in representing this story. Some are more polite than others. Some use your name at least; some just say “Dear author”.

I’m not going to lie to you; these sting. A lot. Why can’t they have said anything more personal, you may cry. Why can’t they have told me what I did wrong? The answer is, it’s not about you. It’s probably not a reflection on your work nor an accurate representation of who the agent is as a person. Unfortunately, with the volume of queries that most agents receive, they just don’t have the time to give each and every person even a sentence about why they’re passing on a project. Unpleasant? Yes. But it’s the nature of the beast.

The other stage of rejection is the personalized rejection. This is when the agent includes a note of encouragement or advice for your novel. It could be anything from, “This isn’t for me, but I love the voice!” to “Strong premise, but I feel like I’ve read this before.” No matter what it is that they’ve said or how badly the rejection hurts, take it as a compliment that they’ve gone out of their way to respond to you personally. Take these little tips to heart; they know what they’re talking about!

So how do you respond now that you’ve gotten a rejection? There’s not really a right way to feel; you can cry if you want to. Yell. Curse the agent’s name to yourself or badmouth them over the phone to your critique partners. You can feel down for a few days or weeks. But what you have to do if you’re serious about writing as a profession is get back on the horse. After you’ve had your rant, dust yourself off, mark that query with an R in your spreadsheet or tracker, and send out the next one.

Now, what not to do. Do not respond to the rejection. Don’t call the agent and demand they take another look. Don’t put them on blast on Facebook or Twitter. Agents talk; you don’t want word getting around to their contacts in the industry that you’re a loose cannon. In this as in all things, be respectful and professional.

Rejections don’t get any easier to receive as the number of them grows, but just remember that everyone has gotten them. There are Tumblr and Twitter communities devoted to building up writers from their rejections and to sharing their war stories of painful ones. I know. it sucks. But you’re just paying your dues to the club. Keep submitting and keep believing! Your future self will thank you for it!

Agent Hunt #2: Make Your List and Hit Send

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with query etiquette, you can start compiling a list of who you’d like to send your story to. If you’ve been following the suggestions I made in the last post, you probably already have a good head-start on this, but if you haven’t been then now is the time to start putting one together.

  1. Go through Agent Query or similar networking lists and look for agents that represent your genre and audience.
  2. Check their recent sales and see if the writing style that they gravitate toward is comparable to yours.
  3. Set up a spreadsheet or similar way of tracking your queries. You’ll want, at the least, a column for the date you sent your e-mail (or letter, though most agencies seem to be leaning toward digital submissions these days), response, and the date you sent out your partial or full.
  4. Prioritize your list. You can always change this later as things shake out, but you will want to determine in what order you’re going to send your queries out. Make each grouping a mix of top-choice, runner-up, and safety agents. Send out the first batch of five to ten.
    (Tip: Don’t send out queries to ALL of your top-choice favorites right off the bat. I have two reasons for this. First, if all of your dream agents send back rejections or–worse–don’t respond at all, it can be very disheartening. Don’t set yourself up for that. The second reason is that you will, no doubt, be adjusting and fine-tuning your query throughout the process. You want to make sure that it’s the absolute best it can be before you send it to your Pie-in-the-Sky dream agent. Don’t sabotage yourself by sending it out early!)
  5. Every time you get a response, no matter if it’s a rejection, a page request, or a please resubmit, send out the next query on your list. Keeping multiple queries in the air lets you stay active without being overwhelmed.

Agent Hunt #1: Basic Dos and Don’ts

You now have a completed manuscript and a killer query letter! Excellent! The question now is, who do you send it to? Step one is to make a list of agents who may be interested in reading your work. Ideally, you’ve already been doing a little of this while you worked on your query, but now is the perfect time to start if you haven’t already.

Here are some quick things to keep in mind while you’re compiling your agent wishlist:

  1. DO read the agent’s bio and follow their blog or Twitter. Agents will list their preferred genres or mention books or authors that they like. Look for people whose tastes closely mirror your work;  there’s a better chance that they’ll take your work on.
  2. DO NOT submit your work to someone who expressly says they don’t represent your kind of story. No agent will thank you for sending them something that squarely falls outside of their interests of expertise. First of all, they probably don’t have the contacts they would need to sell your story or to effectively represent it. And, secondly, it’s just plain rude.
  3. DO research their most recent sales in Publisher’s Marketplace or similar sales listings. You want to be sure that the agents you’re targeting are making regular sales in genres and markets that you want to break into.
  4. DO NOT query agents who expressly say that they’re not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Some agents already have an established client pool and aren’t looking to expand it. Don’t push them.
  5. DO attend literary conferences and pitchfests, if you can afford to. It’s a great way to connect with agents, editors, and fellow authors and to garner interest.
  6. DO NOT, if you are lucky enough to go to a convention and meet an agent there, give them your whole manuscript or even a paper query or teaser to carry with them. Instead, get their card and ask if it would be okay for you to send your work (or part of it) to them after the convention.
  7. DO look at agents from all stratospheres. Lots of authors dream of getting the big-name agent at the top-end agency. Very few actually land those gigs, and even fewer work well in that atmosphere. You might fit better at a smaller agency or boutique. Don’t count them out!
  8. DO NOT pay an agent up front for any kind of reading or submission fee. Any agency who asks you to pay before the book is sold is likely a scam!
  9. DO research every agency and agent that you want to query on the Absolute Write Water Cooler or Preditors and Editors and look for red flags. Selling to a lot of vanity presses, taking reading fees, or offering to send your book to a freelance editor–among other things–can be signs of a scam.
  10. DO NOT let fear get the better of you! I know it’s a scary step to take, and that there’s a lot to do before you can even start, but you can do it!