That’s right! This blog post is all about . . . THE CALL (dun dun dunnnnn)!
I want to preface this post by saying that everyone’s journey is very different and highly personal. The things important to one author might not be the most important to you. Maybe they want a highly editorial agent, and maybe you don’t. Or they want to sub to some smaller presses, and you’re only looking at the Big 5. None of these things are better than the other; this is your process. If you’re preparing to have a call with an agent, I urge you to think about the traits that are important to you in your agent beforehand.
I can’t speak for everyone, but personally I wanted an agent who was very well connected, and an agency with certain perks. I also really wanted someone who understood my editorial vision! I had 8 offers, and of those offers there were only 3 agents who I felt understood my vision. We as authors like to think of agents as magical unicorns, but here’s the catch–it would have been far worse for me to sign with an agent who didn’t understand my vision for this book than to continue to keep querying. I’ll talk about this further in my Multiple Offers post, but my biggest suggestion is to go into the call knowing what you’re looking for, and see what they say. Usually agents will steer the beginning of the call to tell you everything they loved about your book. If you get to this point, CONGRATULATIONS! Someone fell in love with your words and wants to represent you. But before you straight up agree to that, you should ask some questions.
Now, again, your questions will depend on what you’re looking for, but here are some examples.
Potential Questions to Ask an Offering Agent:
Why do you love my book, and what editorial suggestions do you have? (Some agents don’t like to go into full detail here, but if you’re in a multiple offer situation, it’s silly if they don’t. How can you sign with someone who won’t explain their vision to you?
Where do you see my book? Do you have certain publishing houses or editors in mind for when it comes time to sub? (6/8 agents answered this for me.)
What is your submission strategy?
What does your agency offer that others don’t? (IMPORTANT! I didn’t think about this before I started getting calls, but some agencies have many more resources than others.)
Is your foreign and film department in-house? Who do you use for that? (Again, these sales are important. Don’t think your book is too small or quiet to be concerned with this stuff. This is your career.)
How many clients do you represent?
What does your agency agreement look like? (Ask ALL OFFERING AGENTS. I saw contracts that ranged from 2 years with automatic renewal, to ones that didn’t give you back full use of your manuscript. To me, having my freedom was important. I want to be with my agent because we work well together and I trust them, not because a contract keeps me locked to them. Also, ensure they only take the industry standard of 15%, and 20% for foreign)
Ask to speak to the foreign and film reps if they’re available.
What happens if this book doesn’t sell? Or you don’t like my next book? (Basically, are they a career agent or is this book-by-book? I’ve seen both. There are many agents who, unfortunately, will drop a client if their book doesn’t sell. It’s horrible, but I’ve seen it happen, which leads to my next point . . .)
Ask to talk to their client, and also look for past clients. This is super helpful, and you can ask them different sorts of questions.
Questions to ask an Agent’s Clients:
How long does it usually take for your agent to respond to your questions?
How did your agent go about your edits? What was their process like?
Did they keep you updated during submission?
How do they like to communicate?
What is the agent’s reading response time like?
I find it helpful to ask clients these questions rather than agents, because of course an agent is going to want to put their best foot forward. You might be able to get a more accurate answer for these questions from the actual clients. If you can, it’s also helpful to reach out to past clients to ask why they terminated their contract with that agent. It could be for all sorts of reasons, and doesn’t automatically mean the client thought their old agent was lousy at their job. But reaching out to past clients can definitely help with getting a well-rounded perspective!
What If I Get a Cold Call?
It happens. I received my first offer by way of cold call within 24 hours of querying my manuscript. Some agents can be a little sneaky when they really want your book! When you get an offer, you’re technically not allowed to query any more agents. So, sometimes, an agent will be quick to do a cold call, which stops you from getting your query to too many more agents. I got through less than half of my “To-Query” list before I received my cold call. So on one hand, I guess I would suggest to be prepared. If you’re confident in your manuscript, query the agents you really want. But, on another hand, know that this is rare. Most of the time, an agent will email you to set up a call. And hey, you could always ignore calls from NY if you’re really paranoid. 😉
If you do receive and answer a cold call, just remember to try and breathe. They’re calling because they love your book and really want to represent it, not because they expect you to have your questions ready and be super calm and professional. I literally paced around my neighborhood saying, “Oh my gosh, really!?” the ENTIRE phone call. I hardly remember a thing the agent said. If this is your first call, don’t feel bad if this is your response. You’ve fought to be in this position! Just let the agent talk, and let them know that you’d like some time to gather your questions and schedule another phone call (for when you’re able to think straight. Lol).
What to Do After the Offer:
Set a deadline with the offering agents.
Kindly notify ALL agents who have your material (query, partial, full, anything) of your offer, and give them your deadline. Some agents will ask who your offer was from. You don’t HAVE to answer if you don’t want to, but it’s a fair question. Many use it to make sure a writer isn’t lying about their offer, which happens a LOT. (Note: don’t feel bad for doing this. I had one agent try to bully me into explaining why I didn’t take the 1st offering agent’s offer right away. DO NOT let yourself be bullied or think you’re doing something wrong. This is your career, and you are not expected to give an immediate yes.)
Wait for agents to further request other material, and potentially schedule more calls.
Come the day of your deadline, you will decide whose offer you want to accept! But before you can announce, most agencies like the contract to be signed!
They’re going to want to set a deadline. DON’T agree to a deadline that’s on a weekend or holiday.
Don’t let them talk you into a deadline that’s just a couple of days. Take at least a week, because you need to let all other agents (whether they have your manuscript, or even just a query) know that someone has offered.
Even if it’s a dream agent, don’t accept right away. Talk to clients. Look at their contract. It’s easy to get starry eyed when you see a big name.
Have a notebook around to write notes during calls. I can’t tell you how helpful this was for me. You won’t remember everything an agent says!
Remember that you are allowed to say no. This is your career, and you have to do what’s best for you. No agent is better than an agent who doesn’t understand your vision, and who tries to overlord you or take you in a direction other than where you want to go.
CELEBRATE! But do it privately, and stay quiet on social media until the contract is signed 🙂
Also check out:
Susan Dennard’s How I got my Agent (Part 4: The Calls)
Questions Literary Agents Might Ask You
Next up on the blog: Multiple Offers, What?