By Jennifer Malone
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.
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:
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
So You Got an Offer of Rep… By Shannon Powers on Spine & Page
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know—Questions to Ask a Potential Agent by Donna Janell Bowman
Image credits: Red phone–MSWord Online Clipart; all others Pixabay–click each image for source