Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Working with an Agent (I Think)

I get a lot of questions from readers who have been working back and forth with an agent on revisions to a book or proposal, but have never been told whether or not they are actually working together. In other words, did this agent offer representation somewhere along the way and the author forgot?

While I’ve never been on the other side of an offer of representation, I think I can safely say that it’s not something you would forget. So what’s going on? If you’ve gone three rounds of revisions, or one or two, with an agent, at what point are you working exclusively and at what point should you still be querying other agents? This is an interesting conundrum for authors, but the answer is really simple. You need to ask. You simply need to say that you appreciate all of the work the agent is doing for you, but wonder the status of the relationship. You might even be so bold as to ask at what point representation might be offered. Take the bull by the horns and, honestly, put the agent on the spot a little. Remember, you’re the one hiring the agent and this is a great interview opportunity for you. When I work with an author on revisions I sincerely hope that the author will be giving me first shot at being her agent. But I know all too well from experience that that’s not always going to happen. It’s a risk I take, I know, but usually it’s a risk worth taking (although if you’ve been a longtime blog reader you’ll also know I have been burned by this in the past).

If the agent is vague about representation and the tweaking is almost done you need to consider what’s best for you and your career. If you feel that you need to keep submitting queries to other agents, do so. My feeling on the entire process is that if I offer revisions and the author comes incredibly close, but the proposal might still need some tweaks, it’s time to offer representation. Why would I want to lose such a gem? I know she can do the work so anything else that can be done we can do together. Other agents might feel the work is absolutely perfect before they’ll offer. You need to find out what kind of agent you’re working with.

I would say, though, that if you’re submitting around and get another offer, you want to make sure that the agent who is working with you knows that you’re planning to keep querying or are still getting requests from other agents, and you might want to consider the work she’s put into it when choosing your final agent.

Another reason to have the conversation about official representation sooner rather than later is what if this agent thinks you’re working together and you don’t? What if she starts submitting without your knowledge?Don’t get yourself locked into something you’ll be unhappy about. Communication is KEY to a good author-agent relationship. Start that communication as soon as you can.

I’ve also been asked at what point you should talk to said agent about other works you’re writing. My answer . . . at any point, but especially if you’ve stopped querying and are working with this agent exclusively. If she offers and you are no longer querying, will she be ready to represent everything you’re doing? You need to know that before you lock yourself into what you hope will be a permanent relationship.

Hiring an agent means trusting your gut and trusting your agent. If you don’t feel comfortable having frank discussions with a potential agent now, how is that going to change when the contract is signed?



Jessica Nelson said...

Communication is SO important. I think writers sometimes are so desperate (talking about myself, lol) to get published that we may tend to grovel a bit. Thanks for pointing out the obvious in that we help the agent get paid. And the agent helps us get published.

Kate Douglas said...

So often the information in your posts comes down to two distinct yet connected points--common sense and common courtesy. Not a bad way to do business, though I can't imagine an agent actually sending out proposals for a client without said client first signing a contract. Does that actually happen?

Anonymous said...

I've been in that position. I think the writer/querier has a right to feel that because the agent has taken the time to make suggestions and ask for revisions, there is an implicit contract. We all know how busy agents are, and if they were not interested, we'd get the dreaded form letter.

But from your perspective, how often are you testing to see if the author is someone who will be easy to work with--who will take constructive criticism, who will understand comments and act on them effectively? Sort of a dry run for a real relationship?

Of course, nothing beats just asking the question: will you represent me? No matter how hard that is for the hopeful writer.

Anonymous said...

You're amazing. Thank you for this post. I needed it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughts. My take is that an agent who is willing to work with me on revisions is now my first choice for representation. I would desist from other queries to concentrate on getting the book revised to the point the agent working with me will represent that work...or not. But at least I would run it out to its conclusion with that agent. I find your comments regarding working on revisions with a potential client only to have him/her go with another agent after you have spent your time and efforts working with that author on their book. Seems to me that is pretty damn shabby.
Another point your brought up: when do you mention other projects. You inicate immediately. But what if you are working on a revision and then you represent that work and now the author has other works he wants you to look at. But what if those projects are books he/she had PREVIOUSLY queried you on and you passed? Or what if you had requested a partial on another book and after reading that one passed? Would you not consider those? Or would you take another look and see if, with additional re-writing it would work for you? How do you handle those situations?

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I have to admit that sometimes the whole process reminds me of courting during the Victorian era.


Anonymous said...

When my former agent provided feedback on my ms, she said it was with "an eye toward representation." I knew where we stood. However, once I made those revisions and sent them back to her, I also sent out another batch of queries as insurance.

Kate, i love what you said about common courtesy and common sense.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add to Anonymous's question, if I may. When you've signed a client and are submitting his/her work to editors, at what point do you want to hear about the writer's other ideas? When do you want to see proposals for them or want them to start working on other books? Or do you want to exhaust all avenues with the book on submission before you start talking about other projects? Does it make a difference if you're getting editors who are interested but haven't finished the book yet, so you feel confident an offer will come in soon--so you don't want the writer worrying about something new when you feel a sale is imminent?

Anonymous said...

I went through this process, starting in December 2006 with an "I'm love your manuscript" phone call to a spring 2008 submit of my novel to major houses.

There were a number of events that popped up between then and Spring.

Revisions were part of it, getting to know my agent was another part (and him getting to know me). My gut tells me timing is an unspoken element, too.

I was offered a contract in an almost offhanded way -- "oh, have we sent you a contract?" in August 2007. I'd WAITED for him to ask. I never pressured, just did the work and let it all unfold.


Then, another last minute revision in November and ... up to now. Waiting to hear back from editors. And, yes, I keep in touch and I'm interested, etc. but it's a more effective use of my time to write another novel (and draft another).

I think the getting to know one another part is essential. I feel like a lot of what I read here and on other agent / writer blogs is almost a sort of desperateness: "If only I had an agent, then ____." What always seems to be left out of the endless discussions about queries, behavior, etc. ad nauseum is a) the quality of the manuscript (have a completed on if you're writing fiction; you'll get a better deal!) and b) that "having" an agent means having a relationship. Truly. You will have to speak to the person, be transparent, agree to a business contract, be proactive about your a career --- essentially a range of basic, good common sense and communication skills.

To my mind -- and how I approached the phone through the revision process -- was that everything I did and said would be, from my agent's p.o.v., exactly how I would be were he to take me onto his client list and bring me into the fold of a super prestigious agency.

Likewise, how he presented information to ME was on my mind, too. All my questions were answered but in a very indirect way. Meaning, as an organic part of the conversation. He volunteered information, mentioned other clients ... I was given a LOT of information and shown how he operates in the world. And I liked it.

Now, when we finally met, I was a nervous wreck. And it took me a while to be able to talk in complete sentences. But that's the cool thing about being a writer: it's a lot different from being an orator. I can be kind of weird and quircky (qwicky?) ...

So, patience, persistence, politeness.

Karen Duvall said...

I think when you have that first conversation on the phone about the manuscript and if the discussion steers toward the kinds of revisions the agent would like to have made, that's when you ask if this is an offer of representation. Get it out in the open from the start. That's what I did, and she was like, "Oh, yes, of course! I'll be sending you a contract in the mail." And that's how we started off. She didn't offer representation the second she had me on the phone. She wanted to see how open I was to making revisions because she's part of a very hands-on agency that works directly with their authors in the revision process to get the manuscript as perfect as possible before submitting to publishers. She's just terrific to work with, too. I count my blessings every day. 8^)

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Thanks for this post. Very timely for me indeed.

Santa said...

Thanks for the insights.

I'll keep these posts in mind as I start my querying.

Lynne Sears Williams said...

Excuse me...an agent who works *with*
an author? Sign me up!