Near the end of April, I got the e-mail that every querying writer dreams of—an e-mail from an agent saying that she had finished and loved my novel and wanted to set up a phone call to discuss it. By the time our scheduled call rolled around I’m pretty sure I looked like this:
But the call—which turned out to indeed be an offer—went great, and I busily sent out my nudge e-mails that afternoon. What followed was the most insane ten days of my life, as offer after offer rolled in. I ended up with ten offers, nine of which included standard agent interview phone calls (the tenth rolled in just past my deadline when I was completely out of time and brainpower). By the end of the whole thing, not only had I signed with an absolutely incredible agent, but I also had become something of an expert in how to handle The Call.
Before I go further, let me just say that when I was querying (and it was a long and difficult road), I steered well clear of blog posts like this. Reading too much about how to handle The Call felt like tempting fate, like if I let myself imagine how I’d comport myself while interviewing an agent I’d never actually achieve that milestone. So if that’s you, I hear ya, friend. Feel free to mark this post for later and cruise on by.
But for those who have an agent call looming—or just those who like to be nicely prepared—I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned during my ten days filled with agent calls, as well as sharing the list of agent questions I worked off during each of my interviews, all of which were very helpful.
What I Learned Doing Nine Agent Calls
1. Try to take the call in a setting that makes you feel confident.
The night before my first call, when I was about ready to throw up with nerves, my husband—who had recently interviewed for and been hired for his dream job—told me that I should dress up in an outfit that made me feel confident. It felt a little silly to be putting on my favorite dress and sparkly silver flats to hang around my own house on a Saturday, but I did it! I also made sure that I had anything I might need so I didn’t have to feel panicked during the call—for me that was my computer, some paper and a pen to take notes, and a water bottle. All of those things helped me a surprising amount once the call started, and I was able to feel relaxed and much more confident than I’d expected I could.
2. Every agent has her own style when it comes to making the offer.
Some of the agents who offered on my novel offered outright in the e-mail, often at the end of a long e-mail detailing things they liked. Others kept it brief. Some only said they wanted to set up a phone call to “talk about the book,” which left me in a cold sweat, convinced the call would be the dreaded R&R. Once we were on the phone, some agents offered right within the first few minutes, while others wanted to chitchat a little longer; one also made it clear that her offer was contingent on me agreeing to do revisions (which I was cool with).
3. Every agent handles the call differently.
Some agents gushed at length about my book, others didn’t. Some wanted to know what other things I was working on, others didn’t. Some wanted to know relatively unrelated things about me, like my favorite authors or how I came up with the inspiration for my novel, while others kept to strictly business. Some sold themselves and their agencies hard, while others left the ball more in my court. My rapport with each agent was different, too—I came out of that ten days feeling like some of those agents I could’ve easily gone to lunch with and claimed as my new BFF, while others I was made downright nervous by.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
In fact, agents want you to ask questions! 75% of all of my calls was me asking my list of questions. I even worked up the courage to ask some questions I was really nervous to pose—for instance, in my lineup were a few agents who had already rejected a previous manuscript of mine, and I wanted to know why they’d passed on it and if they would consider representing it later on down the road after I’d revised it. All the agents I asked answered graciously, and being able to make my choice with confidence that my agent would have my back was really reassuring.
5. From this point on, YOU’VE got the power.
During that first full-of-nerves call, I was so stunned when we finished talking about why she loved my book, where I came by the book’s inspiration, and how the offering agent would propose editing the book—and then she said, “Okay, now I’m going to tell you a little bit about why I think I and my agency are the perfect fit for your book.” And then she launched right into a sales pitch! I distinctly remember sitting in my chair thinking Lady, trust me, I would kind of sell a kidney just to have you rep my book, you don’t need to sell ME on it! But it’s worth remembering that from this point on, the author/agent power dynamic has shifted. You and your agent will be partners, which means that it’s okay to contact them, it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s even okay to disagree with things they say! It feels really strange after being in the query trenches, but it’s important to make sure that your agent-author relationship feels like a professional business relationship that is on equal footing. Hopefully the two of you will be doing great things together—and that means standing up for yourself and your rights as the book’s creator!
Want to know what questions you should be asking during your agent interviews? Here’s the list of questions that I honed down to the ones that were most helpful for me during my series of agent calls!
You’ll definitely want to take some time before your call is scheduled to gather a list of questions and figure out what things are important for YOU to ask. Here’s the ones I used for a jumping-off point!
1. What’s your vision for my story? (Also here ask about any changes they think are needed)
2. May I see a sample contract?
3. May I contact any of your clients? (I found it most helpful when I could talk both the clients who had already had sales, and clients who had had none.)
4. How communicative are you?
6. What’s your preferred form of communication?
7. Will I be talking more with your or with an assistant or colleague?
8. How often/quickly could I expect to hear from you? How often/when do you want to hear from me?
9. Will you only check in when you have news, or should I expect monthly status updates or whatnot?
10. How do you handle submissions?
11. How many editors do you generally go out to at a time?
12. How many rounds will you consider before you think it’s time to shelve a project?
13. Do you let your authors know ahead of time which editors you’re submitting to?
14. Do you forward rejections on to your authors? If so, how often?
15. Do you only work on one book at a time, or would you want to look at other books I was working on while we were on sub?
16. What publishers do you think would be a match?
17. What happens if this book doesn’t sell? In the past, how have you handled clients with books that didn’t sell?
18. Are you an editorial agent?
19. What’s your turnaround on a manuscript, while you read & compile an edit letter?
20. How do things work for future books (some agents consider themselves career agents, while others take it one book at a time)?
21. Are you involved in marketing?
22. What sort of publishing schedule do you usually expect of clients? If a client isn’t under contract, do you still expect them to put out a book a year?
23. How do you handle foreign rights? Do you try to retain foreign rights? Who handles rights for your agency?
24. If for some reason we need to part ways, how would this be handled? What happens if you leave the agency or quit agenting?
25. I also found it helpful at the end of my calls to discuss some of the kinds of projects that I saw myself working on in the future—for instance I’m a poet and would like to write novels in verse, which isn’t something all agents will take on. I also got offers from several agents who had rejected a previous manuscript of mine, and wanted to know how they’d handle it if I were to revise that book and want to bring it out on sub. If you have questions about future projects, now is the time to float them!
And most of all: GOOD LUCK, and congratulations for embarking on the next stage of your career!