Monday Musings: “About That Call”
Hi everyone! I know it’s been a long time since I posted a “Monday Musing” but I’m finally in a good place to stop and actually write something coherent after being way knee-deep in drafting a new book.
A disturbing issue has recently come up online I want to discuss. With the recent slew of posts about “bad practices” from literary agents, I want to go back over some thoughts about what it means to query and what you should be asking and researching when you decide to sign on the dotted line with an agent.
First, let’s talk about querying. I know, really I do, how hard it is to work on a book for months, maybe even years, to get it to a good place. Once you get it to that place, all you want to do is query the heck out of it and get a good agent. You’ve worked long and hard on it, it’s been through rounds with both critique partners and beta readers, and you’ve given it a ton of polish, right? Yes, right. Now, you want to connect with an agent and get your publishing career started.
Again, I get it, but remember you have worked your butt off on that book. You want to make sure it gets into the right hands. To ensure that happens, you need to develop a plan. You can’t just open “Query Tracker” and randomly pick people who rep. YA. Nope. You need to make sure you are seeking out those who represent your genre, too. Not all agents who rep. YA take all genres. Some may only be looking for fantasy or contemporary. It is your job to dig deep into research and find those agents who want your type of manuscript. The quickest way to get rejected is to submit a manuscript with a category and/or genre an agent does not represent.
Your job isn’t done here. Once you have your agent list, you need to look at their sales and who they currently represent. Yes, this is VERY important. This is not to say that a new agent with minimal sales might not be a good fit for you. If that person works for a reputable agency, and maybe has a seasoned agent as a mentor, they may still be a good bet for you. Again, you need to do the legwork to make sure you are sending your work to a professional who will properly advocate for your work.
Okay, moving on. So let’s say you’ve done your work, queried, gotten a request for more pages, and now the agent wants to talk. Do you jump on the phone right away? No, you still have work to do. First, you need to write out a list of questions to ask. These questions must cover a variety of topics from submission strategy, to communication style, to practices of the agency in regards to your work.
Submission strategy and communication style are KEY here.
In my years of blogging and interviewing many writers, the chief complaint I hear from people who have left their agents fall into these two categories. Please, to help yourself, ask up front how long they take to respond to emails, texts, and/or phone calls. This is one of the biggest frustrations I hear about. A writer has a question about a book proposal, or the sub process, and the agent takes many weeks to respond. THIS IS NOT NORMAL (unless there are extenuating circumstances like illness, family emergency). You as a client should be able to talk to your agent regularly. If this is NOT happening, it is a RED FLAG.
Second, your submission process. Let’s remember, the agent works for you. This means you need to be involved in all levels of the sub process. This should include, but is not limited to, seeing/reviewing the editor pitch, discussing what editors will be pitched, regular updates on editor feedback (pass/request for more), and the ability (if you so wish) to see rejection responses. Some writers want to be very involved. Others prefer a more “hands off” approach. It is up to you to communicate how you want to be involved in the process.
If you are inclined to sign with the agent, I recommend you take one more step. Talk with current and past clients (if possible). Ask them pointed questions about their experience with the agent. If you request to talk to a client, the agent should say yes. If you are met with resistance, this too is a RED FLAG. If the agent is professional, and has worked in a respectful manner with clients, they should be open to you talking to them.
One last topic before you end that call, and I know this is uncomfortable, but you must talk about the exit process. Ask things specifically about what are your rights if this happens. Can you exit in 30 days? 60 days? Does it have to be in writing? What are your rights about ongoing material (proposals, drafts) that have not been pitched to editors. Do those remain your property? Can you move on and pitch elsewhere? I’ve heard about bad practices in regard to this issue. Please double-check your contract and confirm material remains yours unless they have been purchased by a publisher. If it has a contract, then the agency gets to keep their fifteen percent, otherwise that material should remain yours.
Also, I’ve heard too many stories where writers and their agents part and they do not get their submission list. If you end your partnership with a book still on sub, you have a right to that list. Confirm with the agent you will get that list before parting. If this does not happen, it is another RED FLAG.
NOTE: I am not an attorney. In regards to any contract, I highly recommend you have a lawyer look at the details.
Let me say this one last thing. Signing with an agent should be a partnership. Both of you working together to build a career. Key word here is TOGETHER. You should never be afraid to reach out to your agent to ask questions or to follow-up if you are not getting a response. They work for YOU and YOU should receive kindness and respect during the process.
The most important thing to remember is communication is critical to this relationship. If you’re worried, confused, unhappy, you must talk about this with your agent. Many times the situation can be worked out. You have enough to worry about with trying to draft a new book, work, school, family, and all your other responsibilities. You should not have to fret over why it’s taking your agent six months to read your new book – which by the way, reading timeframes should also be discussed in the call.
I’m sure I have not covered everything about the writer/agent relationship, but I’ve tried to cover the critical aspects. The most important issue here is that you and your work deserve respect. There are dozens upon dozens of good, professional agents out there. Be sure to do your research and hopefully you will connect with one of them.
Here are some great articles about “The Call” process.