Monday, November 19, 2018

Tip Time

When an agent you’ve sent your manuscript to asks to jump on the phone, does it fill your stomach with butterflies? Well, fear not, because this month’s tip is about talking to agents on the phone!



I thought of this tip after having a few of my own writer phone calls recently and realizing from some of their questions that they Googled “important things to ask a literary agent” and then printed out what they found.  There are some good articles out there about certain boxes you should make sure to tick when having a conversation with an agent, but in general, those Googled questions drive me nuts! 

A prime example of this is asking how many deals an agent as done in your genre. Definitely something worth knowing, but you can easily find out the answer yourself by looking on Publishers Marketplace or Publishers Lunch!  Other questions that fall into this category are, “Who handles your foreign rights?”, “How long have you been an agent?”, and “Are you a member of the AAR?”.

My advice is instead to do that kind of easy research beforehand and spend your one-on-one time getting a sense of the agent’s personality and work style and how well they gel with your own.  It’s more important to know how an agent communicates and what kind of editorial feedback they will offer!

Another question that I don’t love getting is, “What editors do you have in mind to submit my project to? Do you have connections at all the Big Five?”  I NEVER reveal my thoughts on submission lists to writers who aren’t clients (if you haven’t signed with me, I’m not handing out my thoughts willy-nilly!). Also, barring schmagents, we all know editors at all the major publishing houses, and if we haven’t communicated with a particular editor directly, that doesn’t mean we can’t pitch your project to them!

Instead of asking about submissions lists, I suggest asking an agent about the submission process and also what happens if your manuscript doesn’t sell in the first few rounds. It is helpful to know how long an agent will focus on a given project and if they prefer to work with you on revisions based on editor feedback or move onto something new if there are no bites.

Some other good questions to ask:

  1. What is your editorial style?
  2. How often do you communicate with authors at various stages of the publishing process?
  3. What did you like about my book (although be prepared for incoherent love babble if you ask me that)? What do you think needs work?
  4. How do you approach rejections from publishers?
  5. These are some of my other broad book ideas. What are your thoughts/do they fit into what you were thinking of for my career?
  6. What’s one of your favorite deal stories?
  7. Who is your oldest client? Your newest?
  8. Tell me about yourself!

I usually view these phone calls as windows into authors’ personalities and from that glimpse, try to judge if we will work well together and our visions for the book are the same.  Mostly, these calls are time for me to have a pleasant chat and get to know the person at the other end of the phone!