Monday, October 28, 2013

What To Do Before And After "THE CALL" From An Offering Literary Agent

It’s my agent-iversary this month (one year since I signed with my lovely agent, Holly Root) and it seems as though something is in the air these days. Twice this week I opened my email to exciting news from writer friends who’d received “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. 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 nudge anyone who has pages OR simply a query. I'm sure this will 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 is actually to their benefit as much as yours.

Request time to consider. Be sure to ask for more time than you think you need.  You may be squee-ing internally the entire call and 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. 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 would be the minimum I’d request, but two weeks is perfectly fine. Agents are busy people and can’t always drop everything to read something overnight. Giving them time increases your odds of having multiple offers, which can be stressful, but ultimately gives you more control over your career and determining who will be by your side throughout it.  I’m a huge believer in trusting my 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. 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 clients to reach out to. 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 a matter of days, 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 is 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. If I loved to read what she repped,I felt more confident that she would “get” my writing style. Also, her clients’ brands very closely matched with 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 are signing with an agent who reps authors book-by-book versus for a 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 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 him or her) 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. 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?


  1. What great insight and thank you for the list link...Fingers crossed that I can put this to use before long. Thank you!

  2. Fingers crossed for you too- good luck!!