Monday, August 18, 2008

Discussions with Your Agent

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?

What a great list of questions. I’ve been trying hard to make sure the blog covers areas of interest to all writers, published, unpublished, agented, unagented, and anyone in between (if there is such a thing). Unfortunately, I think often I get bogged down in information more for the unpublished/unagented and not as much for those with an agent.

I personally like to hear what a writer is thinking right from the start. Presumably you need something to do while I’m off submitting your manuscript, and it’s probably best if you and I are on the same page regarding what that something should be rather than your wasting time. To me it doesn’t make a difference what level of interest I’m hearing from editors. I’m a big believer in keeping things moving forward, and sitting around, waiting for editors (or agents, for that matter) to respond definitely isn’t forward motion.

So my advice to my authors is let’s always think ahead. I know you’re under contract, we’re submitting, or you’re busy revising, but in the back of our minds we should always be taking that next step. The worst-case scenarios are that we get an amazing deal and you suddenly need to drop your WIP to focus on the new contract, or a sale isn’t made but we’ve got something fresh and new to send out.

As far as seeing proposals, I’m happy to see them whenever you’re ready to send them. Of course, I will warn you that if I’m actively submitting and you send me a new proposal, you’re not going to go to the top of my pile. Why? For the most part I feel we should only submit one project at a time. When we feel like we’ve exhausted or nearly exhausted all of our possibilities I’ll be happy to send around something new. That being said, I will get to that proposal as quickly as I can, but we both also realize we’ll need to sit on it anyway, so there’s not a huge rush. In other words, you might have to wait a few weeks. I’ll let you know that though.

I think to be truly successful in publishing you always need to think ahead, plan for something bigger and better, and it never hurts to do that from the very beginning of your career.



Kimber Li said...

I think one of the nicest things about having an agent will be having someone to ask what to work on next. I love all my stories the same. How do I choose? Even so, I think I'd be a little bit afraid to ask. Out here in the barren wastelands of Queryland we're constantly warned and even ridiculed about mentioning other stories we have in our heads. Well, sometimes it feels that way.

I'm afraid I might be an Eeyore kind of client. "Thank ya for noticin' me."

Oh, boy, I hope not.

Anonymous said...

Like kimber an, I'd be afraid to ask (I'm agented). Agents are so busy. I honestly don't think mine has the time to talk shop about projects I haven't completed.

How many of you (with agents) send a proposal for a fiction project and how many send the entire book once it's done?

Since I can't outline worth a damn, I only really know if the book will be worth my continued rewrites AFTER I've finished a first draft. So I'd pretty much never send a proposal.

Anyone else?

Stacia said...

Jessica, thanks so much for these posts, they're very helpful! :-)

I'd love to know more about proposals, too.

Anonymous said...

What a great post...and for me...totally in relation to where I am in the whole agent/subbing agent pitched a ms several weeks ago to various houses in NY. It's the first book from which I can write several, so I've got 20k done on the second, but I'm not willing to spend more time on the second in case the first doensn't it's waiting to be the mean time I have sent a proposal to my agent and hope to hear back from her this week. It's a YA story that I love and I'm about 20k into that as well. If she loves the idea I will finish it while waiting to hear back on the ms that is currently out.....I need to keep writing....if she's not fussy on it, I'll start something else....but I'm always writing, coming up with's just the waiting that sucks!

Anonymous said...

That's my biggest problem. I have a much easier time thinking about the next step then the step I'm on.

Julie Weathers said...

Great questions.

Being the restless type, I have to be working on something. Sometimes I work on "the other project" just to get my mind off the main one. Yes, I know, it sounds fragmented, but when THOUGH I SHOULD DIE is driving me insane it's better to step away before I murder it. Usually, whatever is bothering me works itself out while I am paying attention to my other child.

However, this brings up another question. If the work you are submitting is the first in a series, should I start work on the second one or work on the other project?



Julie Weathers said...

Anon 8:35, I had a horrible time coming up with a synopsis until someone reminded me of the Snowflake Novel Writing method. I was already familiar with it, but hadn't thought about it for building a synopsis.

You might check that out. Diana Gabaldon said her publisher still wanted a synopsis of the second book even though they were aware it would change greatly.

Either way, learning to write a synopsis isn't a bad skill to pick up.

Mark Terry said...

With fiction I always seemed to go from one project to the next without any real break in between. That's not quite as true at the moment.

With nonfiction, like at the moment, I'm focusing on finishing some paying work and drumming up more business, but I'm sifting through a number of potential nonfiction proposal ideas that I can research.

I think if you want to make a living at it, you've got to look at least a little ways down the road.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anon 8:35. I'm currently unagented. ButI prefer to work full-bore on my books without first discussing them with an agent. Once my latest is completed, then I'll present it to my agent. At that point the agent will say yah or nay. But discussing the project before I begin writing it?

I write without an outline. I simply have a premise with a beginning and a general idea of an end with no clear idea what goes in between. The meat of the story is to be filled in by me and my imagination as I go forward.

So, to get clearance from my agent before I put words to paper? Not gonna happen.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Wouldn't it be somewhat wise to discuss at least general ideas for future works before actually signing with an agent? Obviously no one's going to say that it's good for a new author to genre-hop, but what if your first and second works are in different (but closely related) subgenres, and for whatever reason, the agent won't rep the second. For example, say you write urban fantasy, and you know without a doubt that in your second novel, you want to write about werewolves, but the agent in question absolutely hates werewolves to the point where she can't sell them effectively? Purely hypothetical (I'm not a big fan of werewolves myself), but wouldn't it be good to discuss these ideas before the author signs with an agent?

Julie Weathers said...

Kristin, I agree.

I want to lay out everything I have when I discuss representation. If they really hate something that I completely have my heart set on writing someday, we need to know from the get go.

Anon 11:55

Couldn't disagree more. When I get my agent, I want it to be a working partnership. If my next pet project is an historical novel about George Custer's wife and someone has just sold or finished one, but it isn't public knowledge yet I don't want to waste that time on research and writing.

If I have another pet that is in a saturated market, it might be a very tough sale to jaded editors.

Agents know, or should know, what's going on inside the industry much more than I do. If I have enough faith in an agent to hire them, I have enough faith in them to advise me on career decisions.

Chris Redding said...

I don't think I'd want to work with someone that I didn't feel comfortable enough with to ask these questions.
I think once we had the conversation about where they were pitching the ms my next question would be what do you want me to be doing now? Or do you want to know what else I have?
When I get an agent, I want them to be my partner. They need to help me with the business side of this.

Anonymous said...

Julie W is need to discuss all of your goals and ambitions with your agent...and that should happen before you sign...the beauty of having an agent is that you can get feedback from a proposal and know if what you're writing will be sellable. Publishing takes an enormous amount of time, so why waste it on something your agent can't sell? And the reason for not selling can be a number of reasons....if you have a great agent they're in touch with the editors that they have relationships with...they know what various editors are looking for....use your agents knowledge to your advantage...thats what I am doing, and I'm not wasting a huge amount of time writing a project that will not be shopped....the key is to have an open dialogue with your agent and not be afraid to ask questions and ask for her advice...

Angie said...

With short stories, the rule has always been that you put something into the mail and immediately get out a fresh sheet of paper (or open a fresh WP file) and start your next story. Sitting around biting your nails while waiting for word on a project which is out of your hands does no one any good. I don't imagine it could be all that different for novels. Even if you don't want to start actually writing until you've discussed the marketability of the project with your agent, there's still pre-writing to do -- assembling ideas, taking notes, preliminary research, etc. I can't imagine deliberately sitting around doing nothing while an agent shops my manuscript. :/


Karen Duvall said...

I also believe it's important that your agent partner with you in managing your career. The contract I have with my agent pretty much says just that. She and I discuss things on the phone and via email. We have a working relationship and I present ideas, ask questions, and she always responds immediately. She's a dream come true.

She made revision suggestions to my manuscript, which I made, and now the manuscript has started making the rounds to publishers. Though I've not started the second book in the series, she did ask me to sketch out a synopsis for it that she can present to any publisher that makes an offer. In the mean time, I'm prewriting the first book in another series as our back-up plan.

I love having an agent on my side who has my best interests in mind. I can talk to her about anything having to do with my career. But not all authors agree with this kind of arrangement. Some authors just want an agent to rep what they write, period. If that works for them, great. I just know that a dry, impersonal relationship like that would never work for me.

Anonymous said...

julie weathers --

re: 1:09 p.m. comment.

In thoery it'd be great to banter ideas back and forth with agents, but realistically the market can change so much in the time it would take any writer to go ahead and write the project in question, do rewrites, polish, get agent feedback, and finally get it sent out to editors, that the market that was "hot" or at least "ready" for that book when it was brought up to the agent may very well be balking at that book now.

Just my opinion.

Julie Weathers said...

Anon 6:42

Back when I was a young whippersnapper I had two agents. One agency for my suspense novel, Dancing Horses, and one for my children's books.

Agency A (Dancing Horses) knew I had been researching some historical novels. Actually, they were novels about a group of seven loosely connected, powerful women. They strongly encouraged me to keep researching the historicals while they were working on the suspense.

To this day, I am convinced they will sell when I write them. A powerful story is a powerful story and these women were amazing.

The children's agent wanted to see everything I had. The rhyming ones needed work, but she fell in love with the middle grade one. She encouraged me to polish the others while she pushed my moose story.

Both of these agencies were looking down the road with my writing.

I do think there are times when timing is just horrible and someone else has had the same idea you had. They got their manuscript out there first and you got practice writing.

I wouldn't try to jump on some fad bandwagon because, as you said, it just takes too long to get it out there. However, I do want the agent to know what I have on the back burner and I want them to help me plan out the best route to get where we're going.

The agent is the professional. They know the market changes. They also know the strengths of my writing. If they can't give me solid advice about my career I don't know who else can.