QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 30, 2009

When the Agent Comes Calling

…it’s best to be prepared.

Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to our guests: Agented Authors! First, we have Cole Gibsen, young adult author of KATANA, represented by Chris Richman at Firebrand Literary. Lisa and Laura Roecker, young adult sister-authors of FINDING GRACE, represented by Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. And Leah Clifford, young adult author of REAPERS represented by Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio.

I’m ElanaJ and will be firing off questions about THE CALL. On Wednesday, Carolyn will be posting a cheat sheet of questions you can use when you're preparing to field the call. So let's get to it.

Q: How did you prepare for the phone call? Loud pitched screaming? Frantic web-searching? Large amounts of Dove dark?

Cole: I consulted with my fabulous friends that I made through Query Tracker – many of whom had already experienced “The Call” and had a wealth of knowledge to share.

Lisa: Before we started querying our first book, we researched all of these questions to ask agents. We were just so SURE we’d have tons of offers of representation right away. Yeah, 6 months later we felt pretty silly about that. But the good news is that when we got our first e-mail asking to discuss book #2 on the phone we were able to dig up all those questions. SO we had plenty of squee/chocolate/drinking wine time BEFORE we actually fielded the call itself.

And as for researching the agents themselves, for the second book we only queried 16 agents and we knew a LOT about all of them, so we didn’t really have to do much research on the agents themselves.

Laura: Luckily we had a little warning because we received an email that an agent loved the manuscript and wanted to set up time to talk. So, we dug up (and I mean dug) an old email that listed questions to ask potential agents. When we first started writing, we thought we’d be flooded with offers of representation (it’s easy to publish a book, right?), so we were totally prepared. The second time around, we had to do some digging to find that email. But the questions were the same. I think we found the bulk of them by researching on the Internet.

Leah: All of the above? I went on AgentQuery and they had a great article on what to do when an agent calls, so I relied on that pretty heavily. But I also had a very strong idea of what I personally wanted in an agent, so I asked specifically about communication and how they work edits (line vs. big picture and why). For me though, one of the most important questions I asked was what their favorite book was as a child. I wanted to see if they were as excited talking about my book as they were about their favorites.

Q: How did you stay calm during the call?

Cole: The smell of freshly made donuts kept me calm. Seriously. Chris and I had arranged our phone call via internet and I hadn’t quite made it home from work when my phone rang. I knew I would be too distracted to drive so I pulled into the first parking lot that I came to – which just so happened to be a bakery. Serendipity? I think so.

Lisa: Umm…I didn’t. The first call I was ok, because we had scheduled a time to discuss via e-mail, but we had written all of the other agents considering our full MS and when our future agent actually called me on the phone to tell me that she was going to be reading our book over the weekend and would call us on Monday, I was a blathering idiot. And then when she called AGAIN the very next day to offer representation I was a total mess. I have two kids under the age of 4 and it was 5 pm. Any mother knows that a phone call at 5pm on a Friday is pretty much a suicide mission. To say it was a trainwreck is a huge understatement. I had to put the agent on hold to give the kids lollipops and shortly thereafter one of the kids started gagging on the lollipop, it was kind of a nightmare. I finally ended up locking myself in the bathroom with my laptop. It was just really hard to focus and as a result I didn’t have a good impression of the agent. Thankfully we scheduled a second time to talk, so Laura, my writing partner, could be on the phone too. That time we were prepared and somewhat calm.

Laura: The only experience I have with business calls is when I would call parents in regards to student performance. So obviously, this is all new to me. I tried to remind myself that we have the goods—we are the writers and have produced something and are trying to find someone to best represent us. Clearly, my heart was pounding and my voice was shaking those first few minutes, but I settled down and felt more comfortable the more we got to talking. Deep breaths and lots of walking around in circles helped too. What didn’t help, was my daughter screaming to get out of her crib. Apparently, 11 month olds don’t understand the importance of business calls.

Leah: I was actually really surprised. I stayed pretty calm once I was on the phone, it was the before that made me nervous. The thing to remember is agents are just people.

Q: Did you take notes?

Cole: I did! I’m a nerd like that.

Lisa: Yes, for each of the calls I had a word doc up with all of the questions I wanted to ask and I typed furiously the entire time. I wanted to remember everything they said about our writing and the potential for the book, so Laura and I could discuss it later.

Laura: Yes. I wanted to make sure that when I was done with the call I could report back to Lisa. It also helped to take notes so I could keep track of which agent said what. It’s funny how much is forgotten out of excitement.

Leah: I took almost two pages of notes for each agent that I spoke with. I wrote out all of the questions I wanted to ask, with big spaces in between so there was room to write the answer. It really helped because I could see if I’d missed anything.

Q: About how long was the call?

Cole: Over an hour – but it hardly felt like it. That’s one of the benefits of having an agent who used to be a comedy writer. I was too busy laughing to be nervous.

Lisa: It varied from agent to agent. The shortest call was probably 10 minutes, the longest call was probably 45 minutes.

Laura: Two of our calls were around 45 minutes and the other was around 30 minutes, I think.

Leah: My phone calls lasted anywhere between an hour and two, give or take. Your phone call should last as long as it takes for you to be comfortable enough to have your questions answered and have a good sense of the plans for your book. It should last as long as it takes for you to be comfortable with that person handling your career.

Q: If you feel comfortable, can you name some specific things you talked about with your agent?

Cole: Basically I asked the questions that I had outlined and Chris gave me straight up answers. I asked him about his ideas for revisions, his ideas for submission, and his availability.

Lisa: We spoke a lot about how she would be marketing the book to editors. She told us that when she evaluates an MS for representation she looks at all the reasons why an editor would say no and she does whatever she can to fix those issues. So she ran through that list with us and talked about whether or not we’d be comfortable with her suggestions.

Laura: We talked about how the economy is affecting publishing and the impact that has on debut authors. One agent actually said debut authors have it better right now because we are cheaper. Good to know. We also talked about how to best communicate and what we could expect of the entire process. All the agents we spoke with were extremely involved in the process and would communicate on a regular basis. This is important to us.

Leah: I might not be like others, as I didn’t really concentrate on being uber professional on the phone. I tried my best to be myself, and knowing that I joke around a lot and I’m sarcastic, I wanted an agent who would get that and get ME as a person. My agent calls ranged over pretty much every topic imaginable. The focus was the writing and my future, but I covered a ton of really interesting subjects while trying to feel each agent out and make sure they were the best fit for me.

Q: If you received more than one offer, how did you know which agent was the right one for you?

Cole: At the time I received “The Call” from Chris, I still had two fulls out with other agents. I picked Chris, because I feel the agent/author relationship should be a little bit like a marriage. I want an agent for life. I don’t want to have to go through an ugly divorce a few years down the road, and the lack of enthusiasm I received from the other two led me to believe that might be the case. I felt like they only wanted me for this one story. Chris made it clear that he saw beyond the story. His interest in my other projects (even in the initial phone call) proved that. He also emailed me back within 24 hours from every email I sent to him – the other agents took up three days. I thought, “If it takes them this long while they’re ‘wooing’ me, who knows what it will be like once they ‘got’ me.”

Lisa: This was SO hard. At first we were completely torn. We just didn’t have that gut feeling about any of the agents. There were things that we loved about all of them and we just couldn’t decide. But then we had one last conversation with Catherine and we both hung up the phone and just knew that she was the agent for us. She had a vision for our book and she loved it. It was actually a little surreal that she loved it, but she did.

Laura: At first, we didn’t. Lisa spoke with the first agent before I had a chance to and instantly felt a connection. After I spoke with her, I felt the same way. Then we both spent time on the phone with the second agent and saw a lot of positives to going with that agent as well. The third agent called Lisa to offer representation without warning. Needless to say, there were a lot of lollypops shoved into little mouths at Lisa’s house that night. She talked to each agent before I had a chance to, and had no idea which one was right for us. She was torn. And then we had one last conversation with Catherine—we were both on the phone together. I remember thinking the entire call, this is her. This is our agent. And I wondered if I would have a hard time convincing Lisa. As soon as we hung up with Catherine, Lisa called. She’s our agent. We practically said it at the same time. I was hoping the entire time, I would just know, and I did. You just know.

Leah: For me, this was the hardest question to answer. I received four offers from four amazing but very different agents. What it came down to was who I connected with best and who I felt would be the best advocate for my novel and my career. I really feel that I found that in Rosemary.

Q: Overall, what’s the one piece of advice you have for authors who receive the call?

Cole: Stay calm, have a list ready, a donut in hand, and when it comes down to it, go with your gut instinct. It won’t steer you wrong.

Lisa: Be confident! An agent loves your book. It’s their turn to impress you. A couple of the agents we spoke with mentioned that they were turned off by authors who didn’t come across as confident.

Laura: Remember, they want you. They are calling because they saw something in your writing (maybe money signs, but hopefully something more than that) and want to use their connections to help you. The querying process humbled me. Especially with our first book. We received rejection after rejection. I began to consider agents more powerful than God. They had the power to make or break our book. But after learning from all (okay, maybe not all, but hopefully most) of our misakes the first time around and producing something we thought was successful, we grabbed some of our confidence back. Agents are not God. They are just experts with a bunch of contacts that we need. We need eachother. Remain confident, especially during that phone call. You’re good and you deserve this.

Leah: Have fun! Be yourself and don’t hesitate to ask questions they may not have heard before…chances are they’ve heard a LOT and had a chance to get their answers down over the years. I had great fun asking really random questions just to keep them on their toes. ☺

Thanks Cole, Lisa, Laura and Leah! We appreciate you sharing your wealth of knowledge with us. Hopefully, we’ll be recording success stories for many years to come!

Don't miss the second installment of THE CALL--Questions to Ask--coming on Wednesday!

Elana Johnson writes fantasy and science fiction for young adults. When she's not doing that, she's blogging, facebooking, eating out, or wishing she could do any or all of those things.


Stina said...

Great interview, Elana! Loved hearing about balancing The Call with the demanding young kids. Can totally relate to that. The kids part, that is. Never mind donuts and questions by the phone, bribes for the kids might be a good idea. Just toss a new one at them every five minutes and everything will be okay. :0)

Can't wait to read the questions on Wednesday.

Tabitha said...

GREAT interview!

Lisa, I could not stop laughing about the phone call at 5pm on a friday. I have two kids under the age of 5, and I know EXACTLY what you mean. :)

Thanks to all the authors for sharing this info, and to Elana for posing the questions. This was chock full of great info. :)

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is an awesome post! I sure hope I get to use some of this advice someday!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Thanks for the insight, I hope to put it to use one day soon :D

Danyelle L. said...

Awesome! Thank you so much for the wonderful interview and all the great information!

Cole Gibsen said...

It's so funny that Lisa said that. I've been on the phone before with Chris from inside my bedroom closet, in the hopes that the clothes would act like sound proofing from my screaming toddler :)

Elana Johnson said...

Cole! Too funny! Thanks to the ladies who gave the interview. I'm glad this was helpful to others. :)

Anonymous said...

What a GREAT interview....and a great topic. nice.

Lisa said...

I'm so glad to hear that there are some other moms out there who are unafraid of bribing their kids and hiding in closets and bathrooms for the sake of their writing. Oh, how we (or our kids?!) suffer for our art.

Yeah, I didn't realize that Elana would be printing our answers verbatim and I'm actually a bit relieved that child services hasn't showed up at our house!

lisa and laura said...

Being introduced sister-authors sort of makes us sound like sister-wives. Nice! Imagine the publicity around THAT.

Elana Johnson said...

Lisa and Laura! Man, you guys have me rolling! I hope no child service agents show up. ;) Sister-wives!! Can't. Stop. Laughing.

Jade Hart said...

Wow, that's so great to read. I'd never even thought about 'the call.' I've been so focused on getting an agent, I never thought about what would happen when one decided to take me on! Eep. I better get studying those questions ;)

I'm a new follower, look forward to future posts. :)

Thanks so much for sharing a wealth of information :)