Because I’ve seen a lot of Pitch Wars mentors sharing their queries, I thought it’d be helpful for me to jump in and share, as well. I’ve got two for ya!
First up, the query that got me into Pitch Wars in 2016. This query and manuscript had a very high success rate, but ultimately wasn’t ready for an agent. It’s a dual POV sci-fi.
Seventeen-year-old Analeigh Hampton would rather rip out her eyes than
visit the Donor Center, the corporation that implanted them. But when
she and her father are invited to stay at Donor as a publicity stunt
for his political campaign, there’s no way to escape. After all,
everyone wants to see America’s once-blind sweetheart support the
corporation that granted her vision.
B24301, more commonly known as Black, is a donor. As he and his twin
sister near their eighteenth birthday, they eagerly await their
Dismissal: the promised life outside the Donor Center they’ve been
prepping for since birth. They take classes to keep their minds
active, eat well to protect their body, and go about life with the
belief this will allow them to exist in the outside world. But
Dismissal is only an illusion to keep the donors obedient. When a
donor turns eighteen, their body is chopped up and harvested for the
next buyer. What no one on the Outside knows, however, is the donors
are not the lab-grown specimens they’ve been led to believe. They’re
As Analeigh and Black meet and realize the dark truths of the Donor
Center, Analeigh is left with a choice: ensure the Donor-dependent
society remains healthy and thriving by keeping her mouth shut, or
risk life as she knows it to protect her unsuspecting new friends.
Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND meets THE ISLAND in DONOR, a 77,000 word
young adult sci-fi.
I earned my BA in English Literature and studied storytelling as an
intern on The Legend of Korra at Nickelodeon Animation. I also worked
as the managing editor for a nonprofit newspaper while reviewing young
adult ARCs for Little, Brown.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Next up is the query for the book that got me an offer of representation within 8 hours of querying, and 8 offers total. It’s for ALL THE STARS AND TEETH, my debut coming early 2020 from Macmillan/Imprint. I will say that this book has been through SO MANY EDITS since then, that I don’t think this query currently represents the story in its true form. But alas, here it is:
The adventure of MOANA meets the action of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN in ALL THE STARS AND TEETH, a 78,000 word Young Adult Fantasy.
The people of Amora’s home island worship strength. Every facet of the princess’ life, from who she’ll marry to how she trains, has been arranged to fortify her rule. To claim the title of heir, she must prove she’s mastered her island’s vicious soul magic in a bloody ritual demonstration before her people.
Though her father insists her ritual is the most important step to claiming her title, Amora yearns to know more about the magic and cultures of the kingdom’s other five islands before she ascends to the throne. For while her father claims otherwise, there are the rumors floating around that the kingdom is in a far worse state than she’s been led to believe. The king is hiding something, and Amora wants to find out what.
When Amora is consumed by magic and fails her demonstration, she flees her island to find answers and redemption. To do this, she must strike a deal with a cocky pirate named Bastian. He’ll help her explore the kingdom and its secrets, and in return she’ll help him regain his stolen magic. On their quest, the pair must face down legendary monsters, brutal mermaid enslavers, and Amora’s stow-away fiancé if they’re to reach the kingdom’s banished seventh island, where the king’s secrets await them.
I’m a literary agent intern at [Redacted] Agency. I earned my BA in English Literature, and studied storytelling as an intern on The Legend of Korra at Nickelodeon Animation. I worked as the managing editor for a nonprofit newspaper, have reviewed YA ARCs for Little, Brown, and was selected out of 1,800 of writers as 2016 Pitch Wars finalist.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Adalyn Grace @AdalynGrace_
You can add ALL THE STARS AND TEETH on Goodreads, HERE.
IT’S FINALLY HAPPENED! The moment I’ve dreamed of since I was around 11 years old has finally come true!
All those years ago, when I first started writing about brutal wolves and sexy vampires back on the Neopets roleplay boards, I had no idea how difficult this journey would be.
You mean I don’t just write something and magically see my book in a bookstore? Damn.
I’m going to warn everyone that this post is going to be loonggg, and perhaps not all of it will feel directly related to writing, but it is. I’ve been fortunate to know what I wanted to do from a very young age, and have had friends and family who have supported me so much throughout this journey. I’m 23, and the majority of my choices in life have been made solely with telling stories in mind. If you just want the nitty gritty about the actual book and offer, skip to the next break!
I wrote my first full book when I was in 6th grade. It was 140k, about bloodthirsty vampires fighting against evil slayers. In this stage of my life, I was addicted to writing. Not in love with it, but thoroughly addicted to the point where it might have been a bitttt unhealthy. I’d wake up, write, go to school (where I would work on writing at lunch and during breaks), then come home and write throughout the entire night. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words, roleplaying with wonderful strangers I met on the internet.
And then Twilight came out.
Now I know that people love to give this book crap, but Twilight was revolutionary, and I don’t care what anyone says (#TeamJacob). I was in middle school when Twilight came out. Living in Arizona, I was able to attend Stephenie Meyer’s first book signing (followed by many subsequent ones; shout out to my parents for driving me and attending more of these than they probably ever wanted to), and see her career blossom and the books explode into a phenomenon. This was the first time I’d really paid attention to the author behind the books I read; to the fact that there was an actual person writing them.
That the thing I loved to do could actually be a career.
I was a very serious kid. The moment I set my mind to something, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to stop me. I knew what I wanted—to be a published author like Stephenie Meyer. To have people love my characters and my stories like all these people I saw at these signings loved hers. The moment I made that decision, my life became about achieving this goal. Everything I could think of to bring me closer to that goal was what I had to do.
I learned about querying in middle school. But I determined I couldn’t do anything with a vampire novel after Twilight’s success, so I decided to work on something new. As a wannabe Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, giving up this vampire novel at such a young age was tough! But so worth it.
Between those two projects, high school came. I was writing a ton, still always working on stories, but as I said, I’m stubborn and felt like there was more I could be doing to learn about stories. I wanted to be part of a more creative environment, so at the age of 15 I got an internship at a live musical theater. I ended up being hired and working there for around 4 years, all through high school and some of college.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of school. All I wanted was to tell stories, not do equations. But I earned a scholarship that provided me with a free ride to college, so I wasn’t about to drop out and pass up that incredible opportunity. Instead, I decided to take year-round classes so I could graduate a few years early, apply for internships, and try to find other writing or creative opportunities. I ended up becoming managing editor of my college paper, a role I held for one year before I moved to Los Angeles for an amazing adventure.
My love of storytelling led me to try my hand working in the film industry, and I ended up getting a truly amazing internship at Nickelodeon Animation, on the show of my dreams: The Legend of Korra. (Proud firebender, here!!) I screamed so much when I found out I got the job, you guys. I never thought I’d be chosen. I really, truly loved my time at Nickelodeon. I was convinced that I was meant to do this. That maybe I didn’t need to be an author; that I should be a screenwriter, or work in production to tell these amazing stories, like Korra. And for a while, I was happy doing this. But I was never quite as happy as the other interns around me were as they were truly living their dreams, and I was wrong about what mine was.
While I was in LA, I had the opportunity to attend dozens of book signings and festivals. I went to the wonderful LA Times Festival of Books two years in a row, to as many panels as I possibly could, and it was such a different feeling than the days I spent at Nick. I was in love. LOVE. I had never felt more in my element than I did at these events. I realized that while I loved and appreciated the opportunities I had been given, publishing had my heart.
In the downtime I had at Nick, I would work on the book that later got me into Pitch Wars 2016, a YA sci-fi. It was my first full book since that vampire story and I loved working on it. It was no secret at Nick that I was a writer and I’d often talk about it with my amazing crew. But when the time came for me to decide to get serious about animation, one of my managers pulled me aside and asked about my game plan. I think he somehow recognized where my true heart was at before I did. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I told him I wanted to write books. He looked at l8-year-old me, youngest person in the studio and still trying to figure out how the heck I even got this dream job, and said, “Then why are you doing this? Don’t put 50% toward animation and 50% toward writing. Pick one, and put 100% toward that.”
And dang. He was right. I’d been working SO, so hard at this internship, trying to do everything I could for anyone who needed anything, but for what? Animation is a difficult industry. All of film and television is cutthroat. So if I wasn’t in love with doing this, then why continue to fight so hard for it?
I’m not sure if my manager even remembers saying this to me, but it hit me hard. I graduated the semester after that, moved to San Diego, and decided to really put my degree to use by working at a bar while seriously pursing my writing.
And hey, it worked. I definitely have some stories about my time working at a super busy bar, but more than anything it provided me with the time and opportunity to throw myself into finishing the YA sci-fi and enter a little contest known as Pitch Wars in 2016.
By some miracle, the mentor Brian Palmer decided he liked my weird little book, and changed my life by selecting me as his mentee for Pitch Wars. (Thank you, Brian!!!!)
I won’t go into too many details about Pitch Wars here, because there’s soooo much about it out there already, and I’m linking some info here. But I will say that this contest is life changing and you have absolutely no reason not to enter. I love it so so much that I’m now a mentor for it!
Though I didn’t end up getting an agent with that manuscript or through that contest, I learned SO much about writing and editing. And beyond that, I met some of my best friends EVER through this contest (Hi, Tomi! Hi, Shea! <3) I also met the most incredible CPs, who helped elevate my writing immensely. Seriously, find your writing people and never let them go. They are gold, and I couldn’t have done this without them.
Right after PW, I quickly wrote a new manuscript I was in love with. But it wasn’t the right book to query. I knew that I needed something different. And though it was difficult to say goodbye to that first draft of a manuscript I loved after just having also shelved my PW manuscript, I had a new character who kept nagging at me to write her. She kept telling me to stop wasting my time with all these other stories and pay attention to her. This character was a girl inspired by my frustration with how some media portrays powerful women, and how society has been programmed to think of them. Sansa Stark is so hated and considered “weak” by many GOT fans, simply because she likes dresses and romance, while Arya is a favorite because she knows how to fight and is thoroughly unforgiving. Several reader friends I spoke with didn’t like Celaena Sardothien because she was “too full of herself,” while I saw her as badass and confident.
The character who kept nagging at me was Amora Montero, a ruthless animancer who manipulates souls and stabs some people while wearing beautiful gowns and jewels. I really wanted to write a girl who was confident with herself. Who could love fashion, jewels, and being a princess just as Sansa does, while being as ruthless and skilled with blades as Arya is. Someone who knows her worth and doesn’t need a man, but who very much enjoys them and doesn’t mind their attention.
I didn’t know what this story was going to be right away, or that it was meant to be a high seas fantastical adventure. I just knew I needed to write this morally gray girl who I loved, and that Amora had a story worth telling. I ended up actually being in a car accident that prevented me from working for several months (and from ever working a physically demanding job again), but instead of being sad about it, I decided this was the time I needed to really go hard and get her story written. I gave up a career in animation to focus on writing, and that’s what I needed to do.
I wrote the first draft of this book in 3.5 weeks. 2,000 words minimum every day, with an occasional double day thrown in there when I was really into a scene. I spent another two weeks editing it before I hired the amazing Ashley Hearn as a freelance editor, then another two weeks editing her notes. It doesn’t sound like a ton of time, I know, but with few other responsibilities (no kids, no work, a supportive boyfriend who doesn’t mind when I disappear into the cave for weeks at a time, etc) I worked incredibly long days. While Ashley had my manuscript, I worked on my query and spent hours creating a detailed list of agents I wanted to query, with their submission requirements and reasons for querying them (typically a tweet or MSWL request for work like mine, or based on feedback from my previously queried Pitch Wars book).
I started writing this book during the last week of February. In April, I queried. This part is going to sound totally wild, but within the first few hours I had an offer from an agent. Within the first 24 hours, I had 2 offers. I want to stress for everyone reading this who is querying that this situation is NOT normal. I got over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars book, and was in no way expecting this. I think a lot of it had to do with how thoroughly I researched agents this time around, as well as the fact that my skills grew dramatically after Pitch Wars, and I had a strong set of betas and critique partners I really trusted to help me get this book right.
So when it went to agents, the manuscript and query were ready. After failing miserably in the trenches so many times before, I made sure they were as strong as I knew how to get them.
I had 8 incredible offers, and in the end I went with my amazing dream agent, Hillary Jacobson at ICM Partners. After this experience, I cannot stress enough how important having the right agent is for your career. I’m sorry, but they are not all made the same, and it does not just take one yes. It takes the right yes, from someone who understands your vision and truly believes in your work.
Hillary and I went through a wild ride with this novel. During my time querying, I was promised all sorts of grands things from some agents. I’d go to immediate auction, some said. I’d get a major deal. Film studios would snatch this up! I admit, my ego was quite stoked. Hillary, for the record, was amazing and super smart because she never promised me anything other that her belief that we would get this book to the right home. And to everyone querying, this is what you want in an agent. Because anything else is beyond your agent’s control, and yours.
Since this is a celebratory blog post, I won’t go into the details about sub here, or about how my ego and I should have bought stock in Ben and Jerrys. Maybe I’ll talk about the soul-crushing submission process one day (it’s 1000% worse than querying, in my opinion), but for anyone wondering, just know that you honestly have NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. No agent or author can control what happens on sub. You can have the best book in the world, and it just might not be the right time. You just don’t know.
Like I said, I’ll go into more details about sub in a future blog post, but for now I’ll say that Hillary is an incredible agent who probably read this manuscript 20 million times, and never stopped until we got it right. When I signed with her, ATSAT was 78k. It got up to 110k after multiple edits, and sold at a few thousand words below that. We went SO hard on edits, and I know I’m just ranting right now, but I truly couldn’t have done this without Hillary, and I just want her to read this and know how much I appreciate her. I would not be as proud of this book as I am without her. You should all query her, because she’s fabulous and I’ve no idea how she manages to do everything she does. Wonder Woman, I swear. Query her!
After a little while, we ended up getting a call from an editor who was forwarded my book from a different editor, and who loved it but wanted to see a few changes first. I loved this editor immediately. Everything she said made me internally go, “yes, cool, omg you are so great,” while trying to be super chill and professional outwardly. When we eventually hung up, Hillary called me to see how the call went. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I was super awkward and trying to be all like, “you know, I think she’s great and am excited about the possibilities” about it, but oh my gosh. Internally I was freaking out. I sent a text to one of my close friends right away, and was just like “AHHHH SHE WAS SO INCREDIBLE!!”
So I did the revisions (and then some, and then some, and then some, because you never. Stop. Editing. Omg), sent them back, and had an offer from Nicole Otto at Macmillan a week later.
But not just any offer. A pre-empt, because the editor said she loved the story so much that she wanted to take it off the table.
I had 24 hours to respond to the offer, while many other editors were still reading the manuscript and showing interest. I am so proud of this book. I really, truly trusted it. So it was a lot to try to decide where or not to accept, or to let it go to auction and see what happened if other editors decided to show up.
In the end, I obviously decided to take the pre-empt. I honestly thought this would be a scarier decision than it was, or maybe a little harder? Because I was nervous and this is life changing, after all. But my editor, Nicole Otto, had such a wonderful vision for my book, and I truly trusted that with her as my teammate, we’d get ALL THE STARS AND TEETH to be the best it could ever be. So I accepted the incredible offer, and am looking forward to the journey of working together to bring this story into the world!
And there you have it. I celebrated that night by crying (to Hillary, to my parents, to my boyfriend, to all the people at Barnes and Noble when I got The Call), ordering take out sushi, and eating it in my pajamas on my couch with champagne because I couldn’t stop tearing up long enough to leave the house.
It’s still so new and so fresh that, honestly, I’m still processing everything and half of this is probably just me rambling. But I wanted to go into details because I’ve been working toward this for years and years, and one day I want to be able to look back on how happy I was in this moment. I want to be like, “Oh Adalyn, remember back in those days? Before you started seeing reviews and crying in corners because of deadlines? Oh how cute and naive you were back then!” So thank you, if you stuck with reading this for the long haul! If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask! I do want to say that I plan to chronicle this debut process in detail on my blog as things happen. So if you have things you want to hear about, just tweet me or comment on this post, and I’ll try to make sure I answer them whenever I can!
THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH! I can’t wait for you all to meet Amora <3
You can add ALL THE STARS AND TEETH on Goodreads, here!
So I realize I may get some grief for writing something specifically for those of you who get selected for Pitch Wars, but I mean nothing offensive by it. There are dozens upon dozens of blog posts for those who weren’t selected, talking about how to make the most out of this experience and where to go from here. If you don’t get in, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that you’ll never have an agent or be published. There are very few mentors, and a lot of applicants. That’s just the stats.
But with a week left until selections are made final, I want to congratulation those who get in to this contest. Prepare for the ride, because it’s highly possible your life might be about to change. Mine sure did, and it’s not because I got a million requests during the agent round and then got my agent right off the bat.
If you’re anything like I was, your main goal is to get an agent during the agent round, or through queries right afterward. You’ve read the dozens of blog posts that talk about how it may not happen for you right away, and you sort of snort to yourself, saying, “no way, it’s going to happen. I got into this contest, didn’t I? Surely I’m going to wind up with an agent.” That was my mindset. I was so, so hopeful. But then the agent round comes, and maybe you get no requests. Or maybe you get five, but can’t stop checking out the entries that have a new request every time you refresh their page. 10 requests. 20? The numbers just keep going up. And damn, was that your dream agent who requested a different manuscript, but skipped right over yours?
The day agent round closes, people already have offers. Two weeks later, many have their agents, and there’s even already an amazing book deal. Tensions are high, and it feels like everywhere you look someone else is living your dream. You’re happy for them, really. But for you, nothing has happened. And that’s hard.
Your emails are a barren wasteland and all that hope you had in the contest begins to dwindle. Others are signing with their dream agents, or maybe yours, and all you’re hearing is “sorry, but I’m not the right fit for this project.” That’s when you realize it might not happen for you. All that hope you had, and all those big dreams, crushed.
Look, I’m not here to be a pessimist. But this is what happened to me during the contest, and I’m here to be real, and to talk about what I wish I had realized going into this contest:
This is one of the best chances to build your community that you will possibly get. So don’t squander it by ignoring your fellow mentees and being so in your head about your manuscript during this time. It’s great to be focused because you obviously want as strong of a manuscript as you can get, of course, but talk to them. Reach out and get to know each other. Because TRUST ME, you are going to NEED these people. I know you’ve read the blogs about this already, and I know you might have snorted or rolled your eyes because, for you, you really think getting an agent is the best thing that can happen throughout this contest. And sure, that’s great, but I’m here to tell you how wrong you are.
I didn’t get my agent through PW. I got somewhere around 100 rejections on a book I spent years and years on. Did that suck? Hah, yup, it sure did. Did I feel like a failure? Sure, a bit. But was the contest still worth it?
Until you’re behind the scenes and talking to your fellow mentees, you really won’t understand just how beneficial this group will be to you. They will be your friends, your support system, your source of knowledge and information you never realized your needed, your new betas and critique partners. And did I say friends, already? You will learn SO much from them, and from your mentor(s). You will learn more about querying and agents than you ever knew before. These people are going to make you into a better writer, and better prepared to enter this business. Because it’s not all about writing, you know? This is a career, and the business side of it is just as important as the writing side.
And because of this new community you’ve had the AMAZING opportunity to enter into, then even if you don’t get your agent through the contest, you will have the tools to destroy your next book and crush the game. You will be a better writer. A better story teller. A more experienced querier with better sense about the publishing business. You’ll probably have formed some sort of relationship with agents, and they might recognize your name come your next book. You’ll get better feedback than you probably ever did before, from experienced, serious writers who have gone through the same stages and work that you did.
During Pitch Wars, I not only met amazing internet friends and an incredible support system, but I was also lucky enough to live in the same city as a few other mentees. From this contest I met two of my best friends, Tomi Adeyemi and Shea Standefer, and they will forever be my support system. They will be the people I can talk to about things no other friends get. These people you’ll meet will understand what you’re going through better than anyone else really can, and that kind of support and friendship is better than anything I really know how to describe. And hey, guess what, I get to keep them for years and years. Not just the few months of the contest.
Again, I didn’t get my agent through PW. But I turned those hundred or so rejections into my fuel. I turned my experience gained through this contest into new words, and used my new support system to find experienced critique partners to help me make my next book as good as possible. I used them to help me research and learn behind-the-scenes info on agents, to decide who might be a best fit. I crapped out my new in a month thanks to group sprints (sprantzzz!) and supportive friends, edited for another three weeks, and within 24 hours of querying I had multiple agent offers.
Is this scenario going to happen for everyone? No. But I can absolutely say that, had it not been for Pitch Wars, it wouldn’t have happened for me, either. I would probably not have a new book right now (let alone two). If I did have one, it wouldn’t be as strong as mine is now. I wouldn’t have had as good of a query, or knew which agents to query and which to maybe avoid. I would absolutely not be agented right now, I wouldn’t have my writing community, and I wouldn’t have my amazing friends and mentorships that I earned throughout this contest. Basically, I just wouldn’t have been as prepared to enter this career as I feel I am now.
Pitch Wars is a contest that only lasts a few months, but what you gain throughout it is what lasts a lifetime. So use this time wisely. Make your friends, build your community out of these other mentees who will be going through things the same time as you, and find who you mesh with. And then keep them close and keep them tight because, more than anything, that’s what you’re going to leave the contest with.
Will your agent come? Probably, eventually, so long as you keep pushing. But don’t let that be your only goal. Use this contest to learn about the business. Use it to become a stronger writer. And ultimately, use it to build up the friendships and community that will follow you throughout the entirety of your career.
As my good friend Elle Woods once said, You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself. Congratulations, class of 2017, YOU DID IT! 😉
So here’s a post about something no one ever talks about: multiple offers of representation.
If you’re at this point, congratu-friggin-lations. Even if you have one offer, you’ve accomplished something very, very difficult. You are a CHAMPION.
But okay, serious talk, hardly anyone talks about what you’re supposed to do if you end up with multiple offer, and I don’t understand why. It’s like you’re supposed to feel weird or something about multiple people wanting your book? No way. You should feel friggin PROUD. You earned this.
But okay! Once the first offer comes, others can potentially come FAST, and it’s a whirlwind of, “omg what am I supposed to do? Is this real life?” Yes, it is real life, and you’re about to have a very important decision to make. You’re entering into a business partnership! Hopefully not just for this book, but for your career.
Once you have an offer, a day feels like a year, and yet a second at the same time. You just want to GO, but there are calls to be had and emails to be responded to, and sometimes it feels like there’s no time to get all the information you need to make an informed decision.
But there is time. BREATHE.
Tips for Handling Multiple Offers:
Have your deadline set. Once you’ve had your first call, you should have set an appropriate deadline to give all other agents an opportunity to consider your material. This should be at least a week (no more than two), and not fall on a weekend or holiday. Honestly, I told all other agents my deadline was a day before it actually was, so that I could have a free day to sit and think on everything in the event I needed the time.
Make your first call the one to beat . . . and then your next. What I mean by this is that, once you’ve had your second call, consider how you felt about it in comparison to the first. Did you guys vibe well? Did their editorial vision stand out more to you? Were you so excited talking to them about your book, and love their plans? Then great, maybe this second agent is the new one to beat! I liked to try to think about this in the moment, so I knew exactly how I felt once the call was over. However, all that said, the best call should not always mean that’s the agent for you. Because . . .
Make sure you compare contracts and agency agreements. Does the agency want a slice of your soul? Are you allowed to still use your project if you end up having a falling out with that agency? Are the terms something you’re comfortable with? When it comes to agency contracts, there’s really not much (if anything?) in terms of negotiating. So make sure you’re good with it.
Give them all a fair chance. Even if you think you know who you want to sign with early on, you’d be surprised. Ask them all the same questions. Talk to their clients.
Write down what they say during calls!! Seriously, do it. It helped me SO much to be able to look back and check out who had what ideas for my book, and who wanted to sub it to which house. I’ve known people to record the conversations, but if you do something like this, it’s best to ask agents first. Just writing down the important points worked for me, though.
Remember what’s important to you. Only you know this. Don’t be afraid to pass up your flashy dream agent if you feel like someone else better understands your work. Remember, you want to be working with this person throughout your career. It’s important for you guys to mesh.
Be aware of unique situations. Okay, so this is kind of a personal note, but I feel like maybe it’ll help someone (especially those of you in NY!) I had one offer from a pair of agents who operate in the same city I do. They were from a highly prominent agency with INCREDIBLE books, and we were able to meet up for three hours to discuss my book in detail. THREE HOURS of being told by two people how much they love my work and their plans for my career as a whole, while being surrounded by books slapped with all sorts of awards. They even fed me sweets. What a dream, right? They were incredible agents, and it was hard not to just accept the offer then and there. BUT, I had to remind myself that not everyone had the same opportunity. If I had the chance to meet with other agents in person for this long, face-to-face, any of them could seem super enthusiastic about my work. It’s SO much easier to see enthusiasm in person. And in the end, because I tried very hard to remember this, I ended up going with a different agent who I felt, if given the same opportunity, would have proved her enthusiasm even more.
Do not be bought! Haha, this is kind of silly but I think agents sent me approximately 30 books while I was trying to make my decision! This doesn’t happen often, and it can be beneficial so you better understand an agent’s taste, but it’s certainly easy to get swept away by pretty covers and autographed copies of books you love.
Remember, agents can be sneaky when they know they’re fighting for your work. They can get creative, and try to make you feel very wanted. There’s one agency in particular that, as soon as you hang up from a call with them, will have their entire team follow you on social media. All agents, the film rep, even some of their popular authors. A different agency had the head agent email me telling me about how the whole team had read my manuscript, then went on to misspell EVERY character name. They just wanted to try to make me feel good and wanted, you know? When they believe in your work and want to snatch it away from other agents, they will try very very hard to make you feel super amazing. But remember, this is a business contract. Try not to get swayed by this stuff, and trust your gut.
Trust your gut. I just said this, but I needed to say it, again.
Ask ALL the questions. If you forgot something on the phone, email it to them. If there’s a certain author of theirs you want to talk to (even if it’s a big name), just ask. This is an important decision for you, and don’t be afraid to ask what you want to know. I definitely asked what I think are some out-there questions, and was usually surprised by the answers!
Try to find past clients. Ones who were dropped, or left, whether on good terms or bad. I feel like a broken record, but this is a business partnership. You want to know all sides of what you could potentially be getting into.
Ask about some of their favorite books! Do these sounds like what else you write, or what you want to write in the future?
Think long term. Do you think this person can work with you for the long haul?
I was hesitant of agents who were also writers. You don’t have to be. Maybe this is fine for you. But it’s always good to ask about their plans, and whether they intend to stick with agenting for the foreseeable future, even if they sell their own manuscript.
Be mindful where your agent is located. This isn’t always important, and I had offers from great agents outside of NY. Two of which, like I said, were very hard to pass up! But if they are outside of NY, it’s worth asking how they keep updated with what editors are looking for, and how they’re staying up-to-date with publishing.
Know what’s important to you, personally. It was VERY important for me to know revision plans (and this one should always be important, for anyone), and names of editors or houses they wanted to sub my book to. For you, maybe you want someone who is willing to help you with self publishing in the future. This is highly individual.
Make sure an agent isn’t interested just because they think your book is a hot commodity. Try to gauge how enthusiastic they seem. Do you want someone who is writing emails or dealing with a bunch of other things during your call? Probably not a good sign for what you can expect in the future.
I was concerned with how many clients an agent had, and how big those clients were. If the agent had a big name client, was I going to be as important to them as that big name? To me, it was important not to fall to the wayside, because if the answer was no, I knew I would have felt like just an easy check for them. I wanted an agent who I felt was able to make me a focus even if they did have big name clients.
A little bit of “sneak” is okay. We’ve spent months/years being rejected, so of course it feels amazing if an agent is fighting for us. Just don’t let that be what sways you.
There’s no general right or wrong; only what’s right and wrong for you. Passing up flashy agencies or agents you’ve dreamed about offering for years is hard. But in the end, this is about what works best for you, and who you feel is going to be the best partner in not only jump starting, but also in continuing your career for the long haul.
I know it won’t feel like a lot of time if you end up here, but you do. Breathe. Don’t make a decision just because you don’t want to deal with this any more.
Publishers Marketplace is a great resource. If you’re in a situation where it’s possible, the $25 a month allows you to see agent sales in-depth, as well as editor sales. This is helpful if you’re anything like me and super nosy about where someone wants to sub you.
If an agent refuses to answer any questions, especially if they know it’s a multiple offer situation, this is a huge red flag. No one is big enough or amazing enough that you should sign with them based on faith alone.
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 🙂