Monday, November 16, 2009

Preparing for THE CALL

So, you’ve written an amazing book, you’ve revised your query letter to perfection, and the responses you’re getting are more consistent – they have more to do with finding the right match rather than revising to make your story stronger. You’re close, and that means you should start preparing for that thing we all look forward to...


There are two different kinds of phone calls you can get. One is when the agent just wants to chat about your story, perhaps give you a revision request verbally instead of via email or paper. This can be particularly vexing for the writer because phone calls don’t happen often, so it’s easy to get your hopes up a bit too high.

The other kind of phone call is THE CALL, with an offer of representation. Sometimes agents will send an email ahead of time, asking to schedule a phone call, and others will just call out of the blue. I experienced both, and my planning-oriented brain much preferred the scheduled phone call. Because you just can’t get your brain oriented properly for a spontaneous phone call. :)

That said, you can do lots of planning ahead of time. In fact, you MUST plan ahead of time, because, when you get that call, you need to be able to ask your own questions in a coherent manner. If you don’t ask questions, then you have no idea what you’ll be getting in to. And you need to be able to get a good idea of how this agent works.

I spent months researching questions to ask, and compiled a huge list. I went through them during both of my phone calls, and asked each question at some point in the conversation.

Here’s my list:
* Are you a member of AAR? If not, do you follow the same guidelines as the AAR?

* Are you an editorial agent? If so, what are your ideas for revisions? Or is my project ready for submission?

* What do you like best about my work? What made you decide to represent my work? Do you have any other clients with projects similar to mine?

* Are you interested in representing my future novels?

* How involved are you in working with your clients on developing new ideas?

* What are your ideas for submission? Which houses do you think will be a good fit for my work? And how many editors will you pitch to in the first wave? Will you inform me of any and all offers? As well as rejections?

* Have you placed projects similar to mine before? If so, where? How many projects have you placed so far?

* What can I do to increase my book’s chances of selling?

* How quickly do you respond to client questions? How often do you check-in with clients on submission status? And what is your preferred method of communication?

* How many clients do you have? Do you have an assistant or any other kind of support?

* Will you represent me personally, or will my book be assigned to an associate within the agency?

* Do you use a written or verbal agent-client agreement? What does this agreement include/exclude? What is the duration of the contract?

* Does your agency handle the sale of subsidiary rights, like foreign, film, audio, and translation (or do you have a relationship with a sub-agent who handles the sale of these rights on your behalf)?

* What are your commission rates? [Standard is 15% domestic, 20% foreign/film.]

* When you receive money for me, how quickly do you pay out my share? Will you issue a 1099 tax form at the end of the year? How do I get my money if something happens to you?

* If an emergency should happen such that you are no longer able to represent my work, do you have a plan for me or will I need to seek other representation again?

* What are your policies if we should part company for any other reasons?

* How long have you been an agent? How do you like it?

* If you can’t sell this manuscript, what happens? Will you look at my other work? Will you help me develop a new project?

* What happens if two of your clients present you with similar projects – will you take them both on or only one?

* What if I decide to write something in a genre you don’t normally represent? Would you represent that book as well? If not, how would you feel about referring me to another agent?

* If my work goes out of print, but is then picked up by another house, how does this work for you?

* In your mind, what is an ideal client? What are your questions or expectations for me if I decide to take you on as my agent?

I printed out this list, with enough space between the questions for me to write down the answers, and had them handy in case I should get a call. When I did, it took forty-five minutes to get through all these questions, both times. Though it was more a conversation, not an interview, and I recorded the answers as they came up.

I have heard many stories where writers have had to part ways with their agents because of differences in working styles and communication. I really didn’t want to be one of those people, so I tried to put together questions that would at least tell me if we differed on a fundamental level. It gave me peace of mind.

Plus, if I hadn’t had these questions ready, I never would have been able to make an educated choice about which agent I should be working with. And I’m very happy with the choice I made. :)

That said, what if you get one offer? Should you just take it? Maybe, maybe not...but that's the topic for my next post.


Michelle Sussman said...

Wow - what a great list. I'm bookmarking this post!

J.Tuttle said...

Me, too! A valuable treasure trove of great information!

Keri Mikulski said...

Great resource! ;)

Sherrie Petersen said...

Omigosh, Tabitha, I am so GLAD you posted this today! Crossing my fingers that I'll be using this list sometime soon :D

Tabitha said...

That's awesome, Sherrie!!! Fingers crossed for you!!! :)

Michelle, I'm so bummed I didn't get to meet you on saturday. I looked for you, but there were so many people there that it was like finding a needle in the haystack. :) Definitely next time, though!

Janet and Keri, glad you liked this! :)

Donna Gambale said...

Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I'm going to be doing my own hefty research come December, and this is beyond helpful! Actually, it's so helpful that I feel like I'm cheating. Anything I can help you out with? :)

PJ Hoover said...

Great roundup of questions, Tabitha! I'll look forward to the next post!

Unknown said...

That is a spectacularly useful list! I've already bookmarked it and forwarded it to half a dozen friends. Thanks!!!

Crystal said...

Great, great list of questions, Tabitha! If I ever do get "the call" from an agent, this list will DEFINITELY be by my side; this list has practically everything I would want to ask . . . thanks so much for sharing it! :)

Donna Gambale said...

Just letting you know, this post earned you the title Most Helpful on the First Novels Club blog!

redheadedali said...

This is really helpful. Thanks!

Tabitha said...

I'm so glad everyone finds this useful.

If anyone has anything to add, just let me know and I can add it to the list.

And Donna, I didn't know about the First Novel's Club! Thanks!!

Merc said...

Awesome list! I've saved and bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks!

Ronald L. Smith said...

Uh, hello? You are awesome!

Thanks for that list Tabs.

Heather said...

This is a great list! Copied and saved!

Mary Witzl said...

Phew! I'm torn between wanting to write all this down myself and feeling superstitious that if I do, I'll be jinxing myself.

But no, forget superstition, I'll be writing down all the questions I don't already have the answers to, which I would NEVER have thought of but for reading this post. Better to be prepared even if does seem like I'm tempting fate.

And now I see one way agents spend a LOT of their time; I pictured a quick "Are you in?" -- "Okay, yeah, sure!" exchange. (Blush.)

Lily Cate said...

This is fantastic!
Thanks so much for posting!
With a few ms's out for consideration right now, I'm finally in the club where The Call really could be any day.

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Erin Edwards said...

What a thoroughly researched and thoughtful list.I'll have to look through your blog posts and be watching more for more great info like this on finding an agent. Thanks!