What to Do Before & After “THE CALL” from an Offering Literary Agent

It’s my agent-iversary this month (two years since I signed with my lovely agent, Holly Root) and I’ve recently had a couple of my freelance editing clients contact me with news of  “let’s schedule a call” emails from agents. In both instances, the next line of their email was, “What now?”

There are tons of resources online for what questions to ask DURING The Call. Check out this fantastic and thorough list on Literary Rambles. My post is instead going to address some things to do BEFORE The Call and more things to do AFTER The Call.

telephone_Word
It’s THE CALL!

BEFORE The Call:

Consider more queries. You have an email requesting a call, but since you don’t have an official offer, it is still ethical to continue querying and this might be the time to reach out to those “dream agents” of yours. This way, if you do get an offer, you can send an email to anyone who has your query and/or pages with the subject line: Nudge With Offer of Representation. This tends to be agent catnip and you may find yourself with full requests within minutes of hitting send. You should feel free to send that nudge email to anyone who has pages OR simply a query. This may garner some comments below, but I’ll defend this by saying that you clearly have a manuscript that someone in the publishing industry finds “sellable,” so offering it to other agents who only have your query isn’t obnoxious–it’s actually to their benefit as much as yours.

AFTER The Call:

Be excited!

Congratulations! Take a few moments to come back to Earth. Then, request time to consider the offer. This is standard protocol and will not cause the agent to snatch back the offer! Be sure to ask for more time than you think you need, even though you know from your phone call that this person is the one and you’re squee-ing internally the entire call. You might be ready to sign on the dotted line the instant the official offer is uttered. It’s a heady feeling to have someone gush over your work after collecting stacks of form rejections!

 

Think it over.
Think it over.

But that offer will still be there tomorrow. And accepting knowing you’ve given the decision careful consideration may save you from regrets later down the road. It’s appropriate to request a “mulling-it-over” period to allow any other agents with your material time to read and consider. Ten days is a great start, but up to two weeks is perfectly fine. If you have other agents reading, your next step is going to be to email those agents and inform them of your offer. Agents are busy people and can’t always drop everything to read something overnight. Giving them ample time increases your odds of having multiple offers, which can be stressful, but ultimately gives you more control over your career and in determining who will be by your side throughout it.  I’m a huge believer in trusting gut feelings, but hearing how other offering agents answer your questions and envision your career should help you make the most logical and thoughtful decision (then you can save your gut to use as a tie-breaker!)

Call other clients.
Call other clients.

Call other clients of the offering agents. It is acceptable practice for you to ask the offering agent if it is okay for you to contact current clients. I can’t imagine an agent saying no to this (warning flag if he/she does), and the agent may even offer up the names and contact information of  suggested clients. That’s great and you should contact those authors. I would go a few steps further and make sure you ask that agent for the name of a client who is still out on submission or has not sold a book yet. This person will be you in short order, so talking to someone who’s at this stage now will give you insight into how your early interactions with your agent will be and show you how things will progress on sub and/or if your first manuscript doesn’t sell. It’s not often talked about openly, but a majority of first manuscripts do not sell and it will be helpful to know how your agent will keep your spirits up, nudge you to write more, and work with you to determine the next step. I would also suggest contacting an author or two the agent didn’t offer up. Most authors are easy to track down on Twitter, Facebook, or via their websites. I suggest politely requesting a quick phone call, so the author will feel comfortable talking freely versus having to put frank feelings in writing to someone he or she doesn’t know. In my instance, I called two clients from an offering agent and, while one raved, the other client was days away from severing her relationship with the agent and I got an earful that certainly played into my decision-making process. Of course, I suspect the truth was somewhere between those two clients, but there were some red flags raised in those conversations that steered me away from that particular agent.

baby-84627_640
Do your research.

Researching other clients and their books can also tell you something about the agent. One of the major things that tipped the scales in Holly’s favor in my decision-making process was that her client list was basically my bookshelf. Knowing I loved to read what she repped, I felt more confident that she would “get” my writing style. Also, her clients’ author brands very closely matched the type of career I wanted for myself and I knew if she could help get them there, she was the one I wanted in my court.

If you’re considering an agent who reps authors book-by-book versus over the span of their career, you may want to ask that agent to read samples (a chapter or two) of your other work to make sure he/she likes your style and voice overall. There is no guarantee that agent will like your next manuscript, but you might want to know ahead of time that he/she at least responds to your next idea or your WIP.

Say YES! If it's a good match, that is.
Say YES! If it’s a good match, that is.

I know it can feel odd to ask the agent to send you client names or to read more for you before you’ve signed, but taking the time to figure out if you’re well-matched now will save everyone (including the agent) time and grief further down the road. This is a time of role-reversal: agents are wooing you and often that feels strange after a series of “This just wasn’t for me” emails from agents. But don’t let this throw you! Recognize that you are going to be partners on a publishing journey now and take the time and ask the questions that will allow you to be super-comfortable with your potential agent going forward.

If you’re reading this because you’ve gotten that elusive email from an interested agent, congratulations and good luck!! Are there other things you’re wondering at this stage? If you are agented, are there things you were glad you asked/did or things you wish you had? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Image credits: Red phone–MSWord Online Clipart; all others Pixabay–click each image for source

10 comments

  1. Hi Jen,

    Congratulations on your success and two years and counting with Holly Superagent. As you know, I’m also a client of Holly’s but I hope you will accept a (hopefully) gentle other view of how to respond when an agent contacts you.

    I have been represented in the past by agents at William Morris, ICM and APA, so Holly was not my first experience in dealing with agencies and agents.

    At a certain point, I think trusting your gut (with a few caveats) is far preferable that reaching out to other agents “just to make sure.” Of course agents expect you to do this, but they’re human, and (BIG if) you feel a strong connection to them and that they get YOU is far more important than anything. And knowing that they were your first choice is always a nice way to start. When Holly approached me and we had our call, I knew she was the one. I saw no need to contact anyone else. I did reach out to one other agent who had expressed interest, but mostly just to let them know I was going with Holly.

    While their client list is important, I would NOT use this as a guide. I have NONE of Holly’s clients books on my shelf, (sorry!) but she totally got ME and what I had written and I strongly felt her enthusiasm and the respect she garnered in the business was more important than if she had other writers like me.

    I would add a few red flags of my own gathered from unhappy experiences and others I know as well:

    1) Promising the moon. I have had agents who were CERTAIN they could sell me or my stuff. Slam dunk. No problem. Then, at the slightest sign of the market not responding, they cooled off. Holly, like most good agents, was confident but made sure to couch everything in terms of “but you know, anything can happen, and if the worst does happen, it doesn’t change how I feel about you or your work.”

    2) Star power client lists – It is incredibly seductive to be at an agency that has superstar clients and especially if your agent represents them. You may find this is an advantage as you are then one of “theirs” but there is another side to this: You might find instead that you don’t get the personal attention (at first – or later, if your books aren’t hitting quite as hard as everyone hopes) you hoped for. You spend more time talking to the assistant or waiting weeks to hear back. For some, this is the price of being able to say “I’m with (this agency) or (this agent).” I got tired of it, and love being at a smaller agency with someone who I know I can reach when I need.

    Otherwise, good solid advice and things everyone should at least consider!

    Denis

    Like

    1. I’m just going to amend what I said here to make sure I don’t leave the wrong impression. First off, some of what I’m talking about happens AFTER the call, (which is covered in another excellent post by Jen) so it’s not as relevant as I might have originally thought to this post. But I would suggest that when someone approaches YOU and offers representation because of your work, it might (stress MIGHT) be different than someone offering you representation after you’ve told them that you’ve gotten an offer elsewhere. Personally, I would always be a little worried about someone who didn’t bother to read my submission until another agent showed that there was merit there. But that’s me, and everyone is different.

      Finally, if there any thought that I was slagging on Holly’s client list, I want to make sure to clear that up: Holly has her share of bestselling authors and standouts in their genres, it’s simply a question of not being genres that I’m particularly drawn to. And when I talk of superstar clients, of course I mean the Top Tier BoldFace Names, which certain agencies seem to specialize in, where I think Holly and some of her colleagues are really excited about finding people and building a career and watching them (hopefully) become Bold Face names themselves.

      Like

  2. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. For those of us still in the dark it’s nice to hear from someone in the light and in the thick of things willing to inform the rest of us.

    Like

  3. Hi Jen, your posts are always so informative, reflecting your consistent drive to help fellow writers with the ins and outs. Your insights are fantastic. And your clip art is so fun, too. You make it seem like no big deal to wait patiently for two weeks before deciding your own fate..

    Like

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