Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Getting the Call

Obviously any smart author wants an agent who has connections, business savvy, a good reputation, and of course the passion for your writing and your book. But when getting The Call, how can you tell the difference between an agent who loves your book and truly connects with it versus one who just thinks she can sell it?

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer this question, so while I will give my opinion, I’m going to open this up to my agented readers. Feel free to use your name or write anonymously, but please chime in and let us know what you’ve learned—good and bad—about how to tell whether or not an agent really loves the book.

My advice is to ask the right questions. In a quick search on the Internet you can find a million different lists of what to ask an agent before signing. In fact, you can find a post or two on this very blog. What few really hit upon though are the questions that should be most important to the author (since presumably you already know whether or not the agent is reputable before you even bothered to submit your work). Namely:

What did you like most about the work? What drew you to it?

What do think the strengths are of this book? What do you see as its weaknesses?

Will you be giving me editorial comments? Would you be willing to elaborate on what some of those might be?
(Keep in mind that some agents will keep this fairly close to the chest until you’ve signed on the dotted line. I know that I, for one, have been burned by authors who agreed to sign, got the revisions, and went elsewhere with my revisions. I know, I read the published book.)

But I throw this out to readers. What’s your advice?

Jessica

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Warning: this is a long post. skip it, unless you have a few minutes on your hand. But, I've been struggling with this very topic.

I was offered representation a few days ago, and the agent was saying all the right things. She was very nice, personable, the whole nine. She even told me she'd treat me like a princess.

Yeah, I'm a girly-girl and a diva, I admit it. I liked her saying that. It made me giggle as I pranced around my home wearing my tiarra and singing "I feel pretty...oh so pretty" like a drunken fool.

Then, doubts set it.

I'm a multipubbed author, new to the game, so all of this is new to me. I recently let go of one agent for several reasons, of which I would never discuss publically, but were not good. One I will discuss is because I didn't feel my last agent had any passion for my work. Real passion. The kind of passion where the agent wants to rep me because he/she is totally loving my writing. Not because they think they can sell me. Damn, that made me feel like a ho. Hmmm. There is something to that. The whole pimp/agent...author/ho thing. I digress.

I have gotten all my own deals. No kidding. My first editor met me at a conference last year, and we chatted...yada yada yada...two months later I had my first NY deal. Mind you, my agent was at this conference and never once spoke about me to any editors. Didn't talk about the book she had of mine. Nope.

She pitched all her pubbed authors. *shrugs* Lesson learned. I let that agent go (although, stupid me, I didn't release her in time for her not to get 15%. I even told her about the deal. And uh, if you have representation, even if you did all the work, they get the percentage) We parted ways soon after, amicably. (yes, I cussed to my friends, but never in public)

I then got a second agent. I thought this one was the one. Nope. Same song, different tune, to make a long story short.

I no longer feel the need (came to this epiphany at oh, two this morning as I couldn't sleep) to lose my mind trying to find an agent. For the last two weeks, I've been seriously filled with angst after I fired my last agent. No easy thing for a gal like me, who is mellow. I queried two agents. One, a very well known one within my genre, another author friend is repped by this agency and she had awesome things to say about them. I was verra impressed. The other a smaller one, but the agent used to be with a pretty good, albeit small, agency. I am an extreme kinda gal, what can I say.

I was offered representation immediately by the smaller agent (queried her a week ago, and got an offer the day after I sent the email). We talked, she was nice, I liked the whole "I'll treat you like a princess" thing, I am not EVEN going to lie. She hadn't read my work, had only looked at my street cred, so to speak, my publishing credits...and was feelin' my flow.

She asked if I'd queried anyone else, I was honest and said yes, and she said, let's get your contract together. We talked about the contract, I looked it over, asked for revisions, all good. She sent it to me, via email.

I printed it and looked it over. It represented a lot for me. For a lot of authors, we know what rejection feels like. It's one of those crushing gut wrenching sensations that's hard to define. I've been rejected, like anyone else. It hurts. Sucks. So, for this woman to court me...hell yeah. That felt good for a minute. In an industry where you feel like the ugly stepsister it felt good to feel like a "princess"...yanno?

But, in the end, I turned down the offer. I had to. I want an agent who I know loves my work. Believes in me. Wants to help nurture my career. I'm hardworking, new to the game as I said. I want my next agent and I to have a real relationship. One where I can finally let go, and do the creative end (I've gotten all my own deals, thus far, despite having an agent, via me meeting editors who requested my work)and I want to have faith that my agent is going to take care of the business end. I no longer want to do both. Is that asking too much? Sigh...

So, if this big agent calls me, we talk and she's interested in me, cool. Wonderful. I want that. But, if she doesn't, I don't think I'll fill the crushing blow I once felt. I'll pick myself up, keep on writing, and after I finish my latest project for my editor, I'll begin my search for an agent. I won't settle for second best this time. Been there, done that...got the battle bruises to show ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm on my 4th agent, and my worst experience was with the only one who ever said, "I fell in love with your book." That's the phrase we're told to look for, that means the agent will not only sell your work, but will help you build a career.

I thought I'd done my research. I knew she was new to the business and, apparently, hungry. But in the end she had no NY contacts and though she'd been a book doctor, she never bothered to tell my my book was far too short to be seriously considered--never mind that editors liked the writing.

That year of my life was a disaster and seriously stalled my writing career. But...she fell in LOVE with my book!

Anonymous said...

The first poster makes an interesting point. Despite what many agents tell you, it IS possible to sell books on your own, if you do your research, find out which editors to approach, and query in a professional manner.

I sold a couple nonfiction books without an agent. One became a niche bestseller--with more than 60,000 copies sold in expensive trade paper and with 5 copies in every Barnes & Noble.

I also write fiction and though I could not get any agents interested in my novels, I did get requests for fulls from top editors at major houses. These requests resulted in personalized rejection letters praising my writing but explaining why the books were a marketing challenge. The information in these rejection letters was very helpful to me in revising my work. In contrast, the response I got to submitting these books to agents gave me no clue why they didn't like them.

I'm writing fiction in a genre where the first book sold isn't likely to earn enough to excite the agents I'd like to work with. I've heard enough horror stories about people who had bad experiences with 2nd and 3rd tier agents to be a bit wary now.

I currently am testing the waters with agents again for another manuscript, but my main criteria is that the agents I query have a solid track record selling novels to the publishers I'd like to be published by and that the books they sell be ones I would want to read. There are a lot of books in my genre I find appalling, and I avoid agents who mostly rep certain kinds of stories, because whether or not they sell, I can't see someone who likes that kind of book appreciating mine.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know more from anon #1 and #3 about approaching editors at conferences: which conferences? what fiction genre are we talking here? How exactly did you pitch them - was it formal/informal?

Please tell us more.

PS - This is the best post I've ever read in terms of preparing for "The Call" - I'm especially interested in the "agent with no contacts" - the one desperate writers might be quick to sign with.

Obviously, it really IS better to have no agent than a bad one. Sounds to me like we should hold out -- yeah right! -- for an agent who has both great enthusiasm AND contacts.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting topic. I'm unpublished, have written three books (just started a fourth, which is very exciting!). I had a very reputable agent for my second book, which was an exciting and validating experience. I knew that she liked my book because she called after the first read, then called again a few days later, and I just followed my "gut." As an unpublished author, it seems easier to know if someone loves your book (to me) because if an agent is taking you on, they are really taking a chance on.

I really liked my agent a lot, and she sent my book out to a number of places, let me know where she sent it, and informed me of the feedback that she got. It was a lot of "not quite right for us, like the writing a lot, send us the next one" etc... While it was disappointing not to get a publishing deal, I was (and am!) very grateful to that agent for the experience and the time she gave me.

When I finished my next book, I sent the outline to this agent, but she wasn't interested. She is very, very busy (as most great agents are!) and very successful. I'll admit that I was disappointed, but not angry or anything. I have total respect for this agent and felt that she respected me, that if she liked the idea for my next book, she would have taken it on.

The only real frustration I felt after this agent wasn't interested in my next book was that I was, once again, back at square one with regard to querying agents. But, I've been at this a number of years and have learned that patience and thick skin are necessary. So, I keep writing, keep querying, and have some possibilities as a few agents have requested the other two books I've written. (Since my second book was sent out to a number of publishers, I decided to not send that out anymore, unless I do a major rewrite, which I will probably do at some point.)

I guess the bottom line is that I do my research about agents as much as possible (which is *much* easier these days with the internet, blogs like yours). And I keep sending stuff out, working hard to get better at writing, and believing in myself. Although I am "as yet, unpublished" all these years of writing have allowed me to replace my impatience with peace. Maybe it sounds corny, but it really is true. Thank you, Jessica, for your great column each day. I look forward to it and really learn from it.

Anonymous said...

I just went through all of this and had offers from a few agents -- some were pretty big agents. I know it sounds like a dream, but it was so stressful because I didn't know how to choose. They all loved my book, they all really really wanted to try to sell it.

I asked all the questions and still couldn't figure out who to go with -- my gut was silent (actually, my gut told me there was no wrong decision but that doesn't help).

In the end I tried to balance who wanted *this* book versus who was willing to stick with me for a career if this book didn't sell or didn't sell the way they expected. It also came down to how accessible each agent was -- if I'd get a response to a question quickly or if I'd be ignored after the book sold.

I know it seems awful to say, but sometimes I wonder what the differences between some agents truly is. If it's contacts in the industry, how are we supposed to find out (I wouldn't have felt comfortable saying "name all your contacts in the biz") and there are some agents that don't post every deal on PM.

I guess I wonder what, at a certain point, makes one agent better than another. Once you realize they have good sales, they like you and your writing, you get along... how do you choose?

sarah said...

These are wonderful posts, very informative and chock full of issues I hadn't considered. I guess we have to beware of being swayed by too many wonderful words, but at the same time knowing the agent loves our work! And I'm not quite clear on what makes a lower tier agent a lower tier? Is it just smaller? This conflicts with what I've learned about some smaller agencies who have a short yet stellar client list. Is it out of NYC? That too, seems to have gone by the wayside, with terrific agents all over the country.
Please share what you feel makes a top tier agent. I am not interested in working with a huge conglomerate agency where I might be such low priority that my work, if not ignored, is just not equal to the value of the time spent on it (in the agency's opinion). On the other hand, there are agencies that do big deals I've never heard of, and who do not publicize their deals. How do you make your list and evaluate what makes someone top tier?

Anonymous said...

My agent doesn't have to like me. My agent doesn't have to like my book. My agent has to be able to sell my book. Period.

I've been burned by three agents who said, "I love your book," and then tried to sell it to a handful of editors, and then quit when those editors said no. (Three different novels, three different agents.)

Agents will say, "I love your book" or "I will treat you like a princess" or anything else that will get you to sign with them. Perhaps it isn't even a lie. Perhaps, at the time, they really mean it. But after a handful of rejections, they fall out of love pretty quickly, especially when the next hot young author comes along.

What good is agent love if you haven't got a sale? I'd rather have a good salesman than someone who sucks up to me.

I'm posting this anonymously because the truth is I dislike my agent personally, and I don't really trust him much. However, I DO believe he can sell my novel, and that's all that counts right now.

First Anon @5:05 said...

From 1st Anon, @5:05

To: Anon @ 9:12 who asked for specifics. I write erotic romance and am interested in writing mainstream fiction. The conferences I attend (again, I'm so new to writing I'm still wet behind the ears) are those geared toward that industry. This is where I met my editor. She'd also read one of my ebooks (I only had three, lol) and liked my voice and style, so she came to me during the conference and we had a wonderful chat. It wasn't something magically I did. However, when the woman asked me to send her something, you better believe I got home, wrote like a demon, and within two weeks I had a nice proposal for her ready! Mailed that puppy off and got the call from her, within three weeks. *big smile* That was last year, and my first book just released yesterday *bigger smile* I have a few more coming out over the next 8 months. She and I recently did a second contract after I sent in my option book.

I recently attended another conference (this was BEA, the first one was RT) and met an editor. I heart this woman, lol. She saw my name, linked me with my e publisher, I have NO idea how she knew I wrote for them. Like I said...I'm so new, it's not even funny. She was very nice, very nice. She asked me if I wrote paranormal as well. I said...well, yes ma'am I surely do *and batted my eyelashes* That whole girly thing, I just can't escape it. Seriously, she and I were at the signing at BEA and we had a great talk, and I sent her three chapters of a paranormal. That was a couple of months ago, and of course I did tell my agent. When I released my agent, I emailed the editor (she had given me her card with her phone number and email) and told her that I was no longer repped by the agent. I always keep it professional. No matter my personal feelings, this is business and despite my fondness for being casual, I am above all else, professional. The editor emailed me back right away, thanking me for telling her and telling me she is considering my book, and to have patience with her. She will contact me at the end of the month. So, I thanked her and told her I would look forward to hearing from her.

I think it is all about building positive relationships. Baby steps. I happen to be a person who is able to communicate well with others. I'm a trained mental health therapist, and it's in my nature to do so, perhaps.

However, each person's journey is different. What worked for one doesn't for another, I don't think there is any one magic way of getting the deal. I think we all have to honestly look at our strengths and decide what works for us. I don't negate an agents role in this, to do so would be ridiculous. I happen to believe, despite my road to publishing, that an agent is very necessary. I don't plan on going long before I seek representation again. But for now, unless the agent I wanted calls me and we hit it off, I will chill and fulfill my contracts.

I dont' know if this helps. I'm still on the journey myself. It's a fallacy to believe that once you're published it's easy. Nope. That's when it REALLY gets tough! But I look forward to it. I come from crazy strong women, and the only way we know how to survive is by doing the damn thang, LOL!!

Be blessed

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:00 - Sounds like a few real estate agents I have dealt with. I know the comparison, at times, can be unfair. But there it is. Maybe they don't have "real estate" as part of their title, but the word agent implies, at least to me, selling the fruits of someone else's labor.

Don't get me wrong; I want/need an agent. But I see this business for what it is: a business first and foremost and a tough one to break in at that. Curiously, it's kinda like the real estate market is right now in most parts of the country.

Anonymous said...

I think the real estate comparison is very apt! And you're right, analogous to what the real estate market is now, there are way more sellers than buyers!

Unfortunately, in publishing, that doesn't change. Well, unless you have a good agent.

Going back to writing what an author writes best and combining it with an agent who loves your work, takes you on even if your particular genre isn't "happening," and works it.

A good agent will know when things are happening, when a kind of book is "hot," and know what they've got in their "inventory" to sell that particular buyer. Very much like real estate.

You can't make the buyer come along, but you can be ready for the buyer, or "show the property" in such a way as to interest the buyer in something they didn't know they wanted. That's what a good real estate agent can do for a seller, and that's what I want a good literary agent to do for manuscripts. Unfortunately, I don't think writers can do that on their own, unless you are very, very lucky and happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, I'm baffled by the number of times posters have gotten and dropped their agents...3rd agent? 4th agent? Makes me wonder if the author did the right homework before signing or not. And if my agent had told me she'd treat me like a princess, I would have thought twice. That type of comment just gives me the creepy used car saleman feeling. What does being treated like a princess mean anyway? That's a serious, not snide, question. My agent sends my stuff out right away, responds to my e-mails right away, has an award-winning client list and has not jumped from agency to agency over her career. Is there something beyond that that authors expect?

As far as the original question about how you know an agent loves your work, mine giggled when we were talking about a particular scene. A real, genuine giggle that sounded like two friends discussing a book over coffee.

Anonymous said...

I went with the only offer I got. While not a heavy-hitter, she does have some well-known clients, so I know she's legit.

She's never told me she loved my book, or even liked it. Not that it matters, because I wouldn't have believed her in the beginning anyway. Secretly, I think it's not good enough, but I don't think she'd have taken me on if there wasn't something there.

At the moment, it feels like I don't have an agent at all, because we're in that between time, when you've queried editors and are waiting for their responses. So I'm just writing the next book, the same thing I'd be doing if I hadn't signed with an agent. Some things change, some things stay the same.

I think I strayed from my point, if I had one to begin with.

Oh yeah, the point was that she didn't gush over my work, but since she took me on as a client, I believe she will work hard to sell it. Like Anon 10:00 said, she doesn't HAVE to like it. She needs to be motivated by something, though, even if it's just a larger paycheck.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:45, very good points made. I also am baffled by the number of agents these posters have gone through. As good as access to information through the internet is, it is also a source of disinformation. "Superagents" in their own minds have appeared, with little background. It takes years to build a good reputation as an agent, and years to build a career as a writer. If a writer jumps at an offer of royal treatment, that's a lot different from a professional relationship.

Elizabeth Joy Arnold said...

I think I'm the first author represented by BookEnds to respond, and I'd like to address the "Anon" who said her agent doesn't have to like her book, just has to be able to sell it. While I agree to some extent, I honestly think both are important.

I'd heard from 2 other agents before I got the call from Kim. Kim had contacted me twice while she was reading my manuscript, to say how much she was loving what she was reading. When she finally "made the call," she was so enthusiastic about the book--more enthusiastic than the other two agents, and this was why I went with her. The other agents were at bigger houses, with "bigger" clients, but neither showed as much enthusiasm.

This paid off in the end. My editor at Bantam told me that her enthusiasm showed when she was pitching the book, which made her want to read it even more. We got some rejections up-front, but Kim kept believing in the book and sending it out. I'm not sure the other agents would have. Not that I would've gone with BookEnds just because of the enthusiasm; it was obviously important to know they had contacts. But I'm not sure I'd be where I am now, if I'd gone with an agent who liked the book, but wasn't in love with it...

Anon 5:05 said...

"Treated like a princess"

Yep. It made me giggle. Sure did. Out of context it may sound silly, but, when you've worked as hard as I have, being told you'll be treated like a princess makes you smile, as silly as that may sound to you. Much as your agent giggled over a scene with you, like two girlfriends ;)

Now, when my editor laughed out loud over a few of my scenes, told me some she re-read over and over they were so good... yeah, I giggled with her. That was too much fun. So, I totally understand that. You want that type of connection!

As far as doing homework? Hmmm. Yeah, I did that. I'm a very thorough person.

Also, an author friend of mine (she's hit the NYT list as well as USA today) gave me wonderful words of wisdom. She said, in this biz, sometimes it can be a dance. The industry professionals know this. Sometimes you strike gold and get the PERFECT agent for you. Sometimes not. Just like a good marriage, if you and your partner aren't connecting, if the vibe isn't right, the relationship will suffer. This happens. Plenty of authors, some wonderfully talented ones, have gone through more than one or two agents ;)

In the end, each author must make her own decisions. We all grow and change throughout our career. What worked in the beginning, may change, evolve, and we as authors may need a different direction, guidance. For me, this is why I left my agent. I want to expand into an area and didn't feel we were on the same page. We parted very amicably, and therefore, I enter into a new journey of finding the right agent for me. I want one that honestly, would have been hard to get, before I was published. I think I can now seek one who is my dream agent. I want that connection. I want them to enjoy my work. If they enjoy my work, they can speak to the editor and share that same enthusiasm. I want an editor who is well connected in the industry, and knows editors, their wants and needs, and can also do a bit of anticipation. The right agent, this time around for me, is vastly different than what I was looking for two years ago. I've grown, and with that, so have my needs.

Again, this is all my views. As I said, what works for one, doesn't work for another. It is your decision, your career.

Okay, I better go write! This was a very very interesting discussion. I wish you all well in your writing career and finding the write agent/editor for you.

Maprilynne said...

I always feel bad when I hear someone's negative experience with an agent, because when we are querying, so many of us believe that once we get an agent, they'll be with us for life. A reminder that it doesn't necessarily happen that way. Good luck to those of you recouping from that.

I received an offer from my agent while I still had a couple of fulls and partials out. But I didn't try to pursue offers from them because I knew after the first conversation that this was the agent for me. Her reputation was absolutely stellar, I knew that from research. But the clincher for me was when she discussed changes she'd like to see. (Sorry about those whose agents don't do this--it may not be too helpful.) Everything she said just clicked. It resonated. She would say something like, "I would like to see . . ." and all I could think was, "Yeah, me too, me too!" She got my book. To me that says that she will be able to sell it better because she knows what it the most appealing part of my book and can market it accordingly. It wasn't her saying that she loved my book and my writing, it was knowing that she really got my story.

Since then, that book has not sold and we are prepping another one to go out in the next couple of weeks. But that doesn't sour my opinion of her at all. I firmly believe that she gave my book it's best chance possible, and I know she will do the same for this next one.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Lots of interesting comments. I got an agent (Jessica) when I had my second contract offer, so I had somewhat different needs and expectations, I imagine, than if I had been unpubbed looking for an agent. I did spend a year or two listening to people talk about their agents--and former agents--before I signed with Jessica, so I offer these observations for what they're worth:

1. Each writer wants and needs something different from an agent. Some want someone who will hold their hand, give them pep talks. Some want someone who is all business, goes out there and sells and that's it. And some want some combination of the above. I don't believe one kind of agent is better than the others--you just need to know who you are and what you need and look for that in your agent.

2. It's probably better not to care too much about the "name" of the agency--as long as you're looking at reputable agencies, of course. I've seen friends who have been with big name agencies and big name agents and haven't been happy. Maybe they were only dealing with the agent's assistant or maybe they were such a little fish they weren't getting any attention at all. And I have friends who are with big name agencies and love it. I think it comes down to, not the name of the agency, but how you relate to that particular agent and the way he/she likes to do business.

3. Some of this stuff you learn as you go along. So, yeah, I know people who are on their second, third, fourth agents. Some of these writers are very successful. You learn what you need and make corrections--or maybe your needs change as your career progresses. It's not a marriage--but it is an important business relationship. (And sometimes a friendship as well.)

Anonymous said...

I'd really like to hear more about the pros and cons of agents who help their clients with some rewriting (after taking them on as clients) before the manuscript is submitted to editors.

I'm not sure BookEnds does this, but I know some good agents do.

Writers, please share your experiences about this.

Anonymous said...

PS - This is the most intelligent discussion I have ever read on an agent's blog - including MS.

The honesty and willingness to share, without being overly self-promoting, is very edifying.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I think it helps that most of the posters are anonymous and actually published authors, and none are promoting themselves, just sharing their views.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of different issues at stake here, and various anonymouses (anonymi?) have touched on them, but I thought I'd try to consolidate a bit.

1) Does the agent like this book or does she like your writing? That is, does she think this book will sell for her, or is she looking further on down the line at an ongoing relationship? It's tempting to go with someone who--as Anon 7:56 found out--falls in love with the book, but that won't do you much good if the reason she loves the book is the hook. The agent has to be able to say more than "what a great idea for a book."

2) Where does the agent think she can sell this book? For this one, you have to do your own research first--see if the agent's ideas match up with your own. If you feel as if you have a better finger on the pulse of where your book might sell, she's probably not the agent for you.

3) When the agent calls, and you chat, does it seem as if you have the same goals in mind? This means that as an author you have to figure out what your goals are before getting The Call! And no, I don't just mean "I want to see my book at Barnes and Noble."

Tammie said...

Wow great post and great comments.

I'm in the process of finding an agent and getting my manuscript sold but folks don't always talk about this stuff.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I should add (that would be me, Anon 11:57) that I did not ask all Jessica's recommended questions when I got The Call. Why? Because I submitted my MS to only a very, very few agents. All of them had online presences, all of them were very open about their business practices.

Should I have asked all the great questions Jessica and AAR recommend? You betcha. And if you have a MS out there being sent around, you should print out her post and the AAR list and put them next to your phone so when The Call comes you don't lose your mind with joy and forget to ask something important.

Anon 5:05 said...

I wanted to add one final thing, before I log off and write. I asked my editor what she thought of one of my two choices for agent. She, hands down, recommended the one I am waiting to hear from. She enjoys working with this agent and her says her professionalism is impeccable. I have the type of relationship with my editor where I can ask her things like this. It was good to know that my editor, a woman whom I admire and enjoy working with, had nothing but good things to say about this agent.

Anonymous said...

Another long post;)

Regarding the editorial input from the agent question:

With my first book, I had an agent who wanted to see some revisions before committing to signing me. He never expressed enthusiasm for the book itself and his comments seemed to be, you *need* to do this rather than you need to do this to make the book better (I often wonder what, if anything, he liked about that book -- it was a very weird relationship). I received very little guidance about the revisions and ended up making a mess of the whole thing. That book has been permanently shelved.

With my second book, a very enthusiastic agent called after reading the partial to tell me how much he loved it and to request a full immediately. After reading the full, he called again to express his enthusiasm and to talk about the things I needed to work on. All of his problems matched concerns of my own and I agreed that the changes could make the book much stronger. He fedexed me his notes and checked in on me while I was working to see if I had any questions.

When I signed with him, we went through one final nit-picky revision that we did on a conference call (literally going page by page through the book). It took several hours. Why? Because he kept stopping to talk about all the things he loved in the book;)

That book sold to a major house a few weeks later along with an unwritten sequel. Fortunately, I don't require that degree of intense revision discussion any longer, but I learned a huge amount through working with him and know that I can turn to him for similar assistance should I need it.

Some writers don't want or need that degree of attention and that's fine, but for where I was in my career, it was the extra step I needed to become published. Of course, many agents also won't provide that kind of input for you because they simply don't have time. I was very, very lucky to find someone who was relatively new to agenting who was willing to help me grow as a writer (and who was connected enough to sell my work when it was ready).

Anon 5:05 said...

LOL...okay i just read what I wrote. I guess I need an editor! Didn't mean to say "her said her professionalism"
lol...meant to write "She said..." oh vey. yeah, time to go write!!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Interesting convo!

First, let me say I'm on my second agent. The first had multiple sales in my genre (and had a rep for QUICK Sales) and I'd gone as far as telling everyone she was my dream agent.

Turned out she wasn't. I wont go into details but it wasn't working for me at all. I split and started querying.

30 days later, I signed with my current agent, and its been a year, and I LOOOOOOVE HER. I realize, now that I got lucky. I had no idea what kind of an agent she'd be, other than being super enthusiastic and giving me a bit of feedback and some actual time lines and expectations. She was sure it would be a quick sale. Of course, its been a year and it wasn't a quick sale, through no fault of her own-- but her enthusiasm has NEVER waned. She still attacks submissions with gusto, as if I just signed her yesterday.I'm SO impressed.

I honestly dont think there's any way you CAN know if an agent will work out for you. All you get is a phone call and a few emails to try and predict the future, and you simply can't do that.

I think finding an agent or editor is like dating-- you go on a few dates, and sometimes its easy to see immediately when one doesn't work for you, and sometimes you find your soul mate immediately--- but more likely, you have to take several dates to figure out all those in-betweens. An agent is more likley to be a 'good" agent than a GRREAT one or a horrible one.... but good doesn't mean perfect, and it depends on what you truly want whether good is good enough.

Wow, the water's murky enough for you?

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:48 - I have a friend who has an agent and is published. When he got the call, he booked a flight to New York because he believes the only way to get a good handle on an agent is to meet them in person.

And so far, so good.

Expensive, yes. But necessary?

dan said...

Hopping a flight to meet the possible agent in person?!! Either your friend is wealthy, or expects a lot more than the usual $4k - $6k first time average advance!

Anonymous said...

Advances can be considerably more than that, especially in genres outside romances. In fact, in romance, some first time authors recieve more than that. All depends on the house you're with. A flight can be as low as 200-300 bucks, easy. Don't know that I'd do it, but hey, whatever works for the individual!

Aimless Writer said...

Great posts. Lots of good information. I'm prepub so I don't have anything good to add but I just thought I'd mention agent blogs. After reading the back and forth on the blogs I think I've gotten to know some agents a little better. I know some I've crossed off my list because their blogs were too ego-centered and other's I've moved to the top because I like the work ethic I see.
I don't think I'd want to be treated like a princess. Treat me like a business partner and give me some room to be an artist.

Anonymous said...

(I'm anon 12:48 as well)....

I dont think even meeting in person would tell you what the relationship will be like: how many of us had first dates where we thought we had a real future with somoene, only to realize after date 5 that you can't stand him/her?

The Client-Agent relationship is something that develops and evolves over time, and there's simiply no way of knowing if that relationship will grow or fizzle. . all you can do is ask as many questions as possible to avoid the most obvious issues.

Sally MacKenzie said...

It was important to me to meet my agent in person. Fortunately I met Jessica at a conference, but I would have considered a trip to NYC if necessary. I'm someone who trusts her gut more with an in person vibe. However, I am on the East Coast and could do a day trip for a couple hundred dollars. If I lived in Australia...whole different story.

However, I didn't think of the cost vs. my advance--I was thinking of my career--years (I hope) of advances and royalties. And should Jessica and I part company some day far down the road, she'll still be the agent of record for many of my books. That's something else to keep in mind in choosing an agent--assuming he/she sells your work, you will probably have some ongoing contact with the person. (Yes, you can get your royalties split, but not all houses are happy to do that.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, my friend - not me, darn - is wealthy and older. Never thought of that. Hmmm money. Guess it's not such a great idea after all.

The discussion, today, has been great. I've written a couple of questions and have learned something from every reply. I love it when writers set aside their egoes and share info like this.

Thanks guys. And thanks Jessica.

Anonymous said...

You can do all the research in the world, ask all the right questions, and still not know how a relationship with an agent is going to work out. Other clients, sales, etc. tell you one thing. The nit-gritty stuff is another. Does this person return calls/emails promptly? Does he/she remember what they told you the last time you spoke? Is this person organized? These things are important, and you'll never know the answers until you actually work with a person. So yes, 3-4 agents is totally possible and not at all extreme. And "doing your homework" doesn't always provide the answers you need.

Katin Tabke said...

I did my homework when I queried agents after my first sale. I was not going to go to contract without an agent. As it turned out, my top pick immediately answered my e query, and asked for material, which I sent.
When I got the call from her the next Monday she was just excited, period. About me, my work and our future together. We've contracted eight books now and she reads all of them and I know just by her tone when we talk what's up. and she doesn't sugar coat anything either. She just tells me what she likes what she doesn't. lol a few times I've even gotten an "Eww."
I like direct frankness. I like a connected, educated agent. I don't need anyone to hold my hand and she doesn't do that.
A friend and I were just chatting about agents the other day. And while one agent may be perfect for many writer's, she or he may not be for another. Chemistry is a big part of the author agent relationship.
Great post btw, Jessica.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:41 here again, writing in answer to Anonymous 9:12.

I was writing in the historical Romance genre. I got the information about how to contact the editors acquiring in my genre via RWA newsletters and their web site, since I was active online with RWA back then.

I sent editors who published my kind of novel exactly what their guidelines on the RWA site said to send. Some wanted one page letters, some 3 chapters, some various combinations of those and a synopses of some specified length.

I have never yet been to a writers' conference and don't intend to go to one until I'm published. I find hanging around with hordes of people who are yearning to be "published authors" and who build their social life around being "writers" without having written much very depressing.

Having already been a bestselling author in a modest way, the big thing I learned was you better love the act of writing itself, because being a successful author feels, day to day, exactly like being an unsuccessful author.

Book sales are very invisible. You rarely get to meet your readers. You rarely get to meet your editors. When people hear that you write, their next question is "What?" and if the answer is "Business books" or "Romance" most people change the subject.

Or they tell you how they would have written a great book themselves if they hadn't been so busy succeeding at whatever it is they do. Or they tell you they have a great idea for a book and suggest you write it and they'll split the proceeds.

I can't stop writing, which is why I'm a writer. If people don't pay me to write, I write for free--something the web has made all too easy to do. If I do manage to sell a novel, I know I'll have to write more to build up a readership and my life will pretty much be what it always is, sitting in front of my screen writing!

To get back to the topic under discussion here, if I were to get "the call" my hope would be that the agent would see my book as having the potential to get some kind of push from a publishing house.

Publishing a book that just plugs a space in the schedule and which, worst case, disappears in 2 months without ever having made it to the shelves can be worse than not publishing it.

I've seen some writing careers ruined by publishers who published books in ways that doomed them. Once the authors had bad chain numbers they couldn't publish anything else.

I'd rather NOT do that and I'd like to find an agent who is knowledgeable enough about editors and publishers to find me one who would give me a fighting chance to build a readership. How long the book is available, and where it will be available is more important than the amount of the initial advance.

I didn't get big advances for my nonfiction books, but I got publisher commitment, excellent shelf placement, and big earn outs.
I have friends who got much better nonfiction book advances but never sold more than 12,000 books! When that happens you can forget every publishing another book.

It all comes down to understanding the publishing business, which is a very brutal one.

Anonymous said...

I love what Anon 12:48 has to say --
"You can't know if an agent will work out for you. All you get is a few phone calls and emails and try to predict the future..."

This is so true! I've had two agents and unfortuately found that when some agents in this business want your work they'll pretty much tell you anything to get it. To have to WORK with that person, though, THAT'S a whole different story. Once the courtship is over you start seeing their true colors and sometimes that can be good -- "Oh, who knew my agent had such a great personality?" or that can be very, very bad, like, "How did I sign with THIS!"

I also love what Anon 2:45 said. That for all the talk of doing you homework, truly, you never really know about the "nitty-gritty." It's only when push comes to shove that you start seeing what YOU mean to that agent and it might not be a whole lot.

As for me, I don't necessarily need an agent to love my work, I ned them to respect it, and me. If they love it and it doesn't sell that love can turn to disdain. If they RESPECT it and me, they'll keep trying for a sale.

The Grump said...

Thank you so much for opening up this discussion. The information is invaluable even for writer's who don't write in the genres you are interested in (like me).

Anonymous said...

Well, no one here is more appreciative than me, lol, because in a previous comment section, I had asked the question that this post is addressing. I'm really grateful for the information being shared, and hope that in the near future I'll be actually able to use it (I'm on an agent hunt with book #4).

One poster here said that one sign of an agent demonstrating genuineness is that he or she comments on the writing and not just the premise/hook. No doubt that will be of immense help to many people, and it is very insightful.

This is the second time Jessica has answered a question of mine, so thank you, Jessica!

Anonymous said...

maprilynne, what you say aout choosing your agent makes me feel better. I got "The Call" this Monday and though I had partials and fulls with other agents, I just jumped right away. I didn't even ask any of those questions you're supposed to ask. Oh dear.

The reason I leapt so quickly, was that this agent really was my first choice. Part of that was her experience and sales record. The rest was because, anon. 11:35, we had already gone through one rewrite together. I really liked how she approached my book. All her suggestions were dead on. And she really likes how I revised it.
So I am entirely content.

lkp

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Weiner tells a great story about an agent who wanted to rep Good in Bed but suggested that they call it Big Girl instead, which was when she knew that agent may have liked the book, but kind of missed the point.

I had a similar experience - I turned down an agent who said she loved the book, but among other things, suggested a title change that was not only really dull, but indicated that she completely did not "get" it. That Jennifer Weiner story rang through my head as soon as she said it.

I signed with the agent who had suggestions that indicated she not only liked the book, but actually understood it.

Anonymous said...

for Anon 3:07 I just wanted to comment on the following that you said:

"I have never yet been to a writers' conference and don't intend to go to one until I'm published. I find hanging around with hordes of people who are yearning to be "published authors" and who build their social life around being "writers" without having written much very depressing."

Honestly, I have to say that I ask you to think about reserving your judgement until you've been to such a conference! I am not really a romance writer at all, but I kind of fell (begrudgingly, almost) into going to a Romance Writer's of America conference, and I thought "these people aren't for me! I don't like Harlequin romances" and all that. I was so quickly proven wrong. It was far, far, far from depressing. Some of the workshops were very useful, some were completely outside of my scope of interest, but I found it to be filled with the most supportive people I could imagine. They understood what it was to be a writer. I've only gone to regional conferences two times, and each time I found it incredibly uplifting and fun. And, each time I learned a lot about the writing/publishing industry, which can't hurt you, right? All I'm saying is consider trying it before dissing it. You might like it! ;-)

Anonymous said...

This has been the best discussion in the comments ever! I used to think that I was such a screw-up for going through 3 agents on 3 novels. Now I see I am not alone, and indeed my story seems more common than I ever dreamed.

There is a honeymoon period, I think, when author and agent are on their best behavior, each trying to say the right thing. But after time, true colors do show. My honeymoon period with my current agent lasted two months. After that, I saw what she was really like. I am still with her, but with eyes wide open.

Point is, you can't judge an agent by how well they answer the "critical" questions you're supposed to ask before signing. They will only tell you what you want to hear anyway. All you can do is choose wisely upfront and work with them and see if it works out.

Anonymous said...

Valuable post! So much experience being shared, it's quite the networking session. Great brainstorm, Jessica!
I also like the focus off self-promotion and onto the issues and that's why I'll leave this as annon. also.

I don't have an agent yet and I didn't query large (which could be why I don't have an agent yet...hmmm.) I researched through AAR, Pub Mktplc, Writer Beware, etc., and also did some extra googling of the names of those that I'm interested in for any other internet chatter that I hadn't already come across. Then I went with my gut on who I thought might be a good agent for me looking at the bigger picture of a long business relationship, and that was who I queried. One agent in particular jumped to reply to me quickly for my partial which I eagerly sent - 4 months ago. This agent is highly reputable, is also very busy and still has not read my partial after 4 months, though was quick to respond to my 3-month followup with needing more time to get caught up. I appreciated the response to my follow-up email, but it is now a couple weeks past that additional time this agent stated they needed and I'm beginning to wonder how much time allowance for a partial is considered appropriate? or does it vary? I really like this agent's profile, but also at this point, I'm starting to question...is this agent too busy to be a good agent for me? They've turned out a book of their own since I've been waiting for my partial to be reviewed (though I've not actually been "waiting" per say, but writing my other books). I realize patience is required in this process, but when does it become ridiculous? Is it time to query large?

Laura Kramarsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Anon 8:59 --

You have to query the way you feel most comfortable. I didn't query large. In fact, I queried very, very small. There were two reasons for this:

1) I wasn't comfortable submitting to people I hadn't had some prior contact with. I had to know them from conferences or blogs.

2) I didn't want to send out my MS to a lot of agents, then get "The Call" and be so excited I ended up with someone I couldn't work with just because they were the first one to call. (I know myself well enough to know that's a strong possibility.)

So because I can't go to conferences every week, there are a limited number of agents I can meet and submit to. Luckily, I got "The Call" from the person I most wanted to hear from. And yes, I was so excited that I told her she was the only one who currently had the MS. If I hadn't heard from her in a few more weeks, I would have sent it to someone else. I only had three on my list!

So don't worry about querying widely. You have to consider your own personality and habits. But don't pin all your hopes on that one agent, either.

(I am Anon 11:57. And, for the record, my "call" was from Jessica.)

Alex Fayle said...

I ran my own business for 3 years before embarking on my writing career (which means waitering/gardening to cover living expenses) and prior to that I created and responded to many RFPs (Requests for Proposals).

As excited as I will be when an agent gives me "The Call", I will also make sure that this agent can provide the answers to my personal RFP.

I will be paying my agent out of my fee from the publisher. It's my money, therefore I do my research and only query agents who I think will represent me well (not just sell the book, but match my principles).

This is why I submit queries simultaneously (within reason - only a few at a time). I'm receiving "bids" from interested agents and I need different offers to compare before I make an educated decision.

Great topic and great answers everyone! Very helpful.

Cheers,
Alex

Angie Fox said...

Interesting discussion! I was in a unique position because I'd won a contest and the judging editor requested the full. Then she made an offer less than a week after I finished the book. When the offer came, I'd just sent queries to a half dozen agents at the top of my list.

I quickly emailed those agents, letting them know about the offer (most hadn't had time to even get to my query) and each agent agreed to read right away. It was a dream come true and at the same time completely intimidating when all but one offered representation.

And how do you know if an agent loves you for you? In the case of these agents, I’d done my research and felt they were all very reputable, so I doubted they'd offer representation without enjoying the book. Then, I just had to find out who was the best fit.

For me, it was important to feel like I could develop a strong business partnership with my agent. Jessica and I clicked really well when she called. She wanted to know my career plans and she’d already Googled me and learned that while I’d written a paranormal, I also attend mystery conferences. We talked about how she represents both, which was important to me. But what really made the impression was the fact that she was looking at me from a career perspective.

It was also important to me to feel comfortable with my agent. So many authors, it seems, are scared to call their agents and Jessica is so incredibly approachable, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about that. I talked with Sally, who is also a client of Jessica’s, and she confirmed Jessica is just plain nice. Being from the Midwest, nice scores huge points in my book!

My whole agent search took place over just a few days (the editor needed an answer) and my brain was getting muddled. I ended up calling Jessica back, just to talk more and I'm sure I probably asked some of the same questions I’d asked before, or maybe I wasn't the most suave person (Five houseguests, including three children, had showed up at my door an hour after the editor offer/begin of the agent hunt, so I was also sleeping on the floor and entertaining people this entire time). But it was really easy to talk with Jessica. She's a very direct person, which is a good fit for me because I like to be able to just lay things on the table. I felt like we were on the same page and that she would be someone I could work with for a long time.

I think the agent/author relationship is different for everyone. You just need to decide how you like to work and what's important to you, then find someone who is on the same wavelength.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10PM (aka 11:57AM)
I appreciate the feedback. Good food for thought. And congrats on your call from Jessica.

Angie-fox 10:42PM
Thanks for sharing how it came together for you. It sounds like it was slightly overwhelming all that activity at once. Congrats on finding your agent/author fit...and thanks for confirming that "Minnesota Nice" goes straight to the bone!

From Anon 8:59PM

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:11,

Re my statement about not wanting to go to conferences until published.

I spent a few years as an RWA member and found the organization to be extremely helpful. I participated online, ordered conference tapes, and came away with huge respect for the authors active in RWA who write romance and are willing to help others learn. I always recommend RWA to anyone who wants to learn how to write compelling fiction and how to market their work.

However, I found the live chapter meetings depressing in the extreme because of the preponderance of people who were obsessed with being writers who either didn't write or who wrote very badly but refused to believe that maybe their ten novels had been rejected by every real editor who had ever seen them because they needed to learn something about writing. Several of these insisted they were "published authors" because they'd sold a few copies of their work on vanity download sites and pontificated to the rest of the group about the secrets of writing.

The level of self-delusion I encountered made me start to wonder about whether I was equally deluded. Until someone buys my work, there's no way of knowing. If I ever sell a book, you better believe I'll be at the big RWA conference, because I'd love to meet some of the women whose work I admire.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, thank you for opening this up to talk frankly about it.

I just recently left my agent for some of the reasons already talked about.

My agent could definitely sell and sold my first book within a week of signing. And I got another sale with another house a year later...all good stuff, but for me an agent is more than a salesperson.

I want an agent that not only likes my work but can see a future career, not just book sales. I dont' need gushing and praise but I need to trust that that someone is looking out for me in all contract negotiations and BELIEVES that I have a bright future ahead of me.

My agent wasn't bad per say...just not good FOR ME.

Now I'm on the hunt again, and I have a list of my top 3 agents, the criteria for me, was someone that has been agenting for awhile, has sold several projects in the genre I write in, has some big clients that I respect, name is known in the industry, and I talked to clients of each one and asked about working with them and what they did for them.

I'm hoping it will be enough to make a better decision this time.

It's scary out there, but I want those who've never had an agent to know, that it isn't permanent. Signing with an agent isn't signing your soul away...you can get it back, and you can fire that agent if you aren't happy and they aren't doing their job.

Remember that an agent is supposed to work for you, not the other way around.