not queries

Around the agent blogosphere one seems to see quite a lot written about queries. I suppose it’s really no surprise since the ratio of unpublished writers is high and the query is the first impression one makes to get in the door. And there seems to be a never-ending supply of them so there are always examples of what works and what doesn’t that might make fodder for discussion. However, there seems to be precious little written about what happens thereafter. Suppose one wrote a query which successfully snagged the interest of an agent and material was requested. Suppose even further that the material engaged the agent’s interest and seemed marketable, and the agent called to offer representation. The phone rings…. the writer picks up…. “Hello, this is Agent Such-and-Such from This-n-That Agency and I’d like to represent your book.”

Before I expand on this myself, here’s what I want to know: How might one expect the writer to respond? What do people think happens next? What should the resulting conversation cover?

36 responses to “not queries

  1. Well, first there’s the sound of the phone (And then the writer) hitting the floor.
    After the writer regains consciousness…
    Seriously, though. If any agent I’d queried (which thus far is a grand total of one) called me and said that, I’d have already made the decision that I wanted to work with them in particular (as opposed to having done a shot-gun approach and then having to be certain that the agent responding was one I had faith in. So my response would be “Thank you. What is our next step?”

    • I was thinking the same thing with the sound of the phone and writer falling to the floor.
      One kind agent did call me to make sure my manuscript was still available (which she didn’t tell me until after I’d lost the ability to use my knees). After introducing herself, she made the mistake of asking how I was doing. I’m afraid I was a bit too honest with the, “Having a heart attack. How are you?”
      I have since then practiced less honest answers to that question. 😉

    • I think Miss Snark has covered this one, if memory serves. Which it might not do…

  2. I’ve seen sites that mention having a list of questions to ask your new agent if you get “the call”. I’ve also heard agents mention that they hate the question list. I guess I would just try to stay cool, listen, and try not to make a fool of myself.
    However, a description from an agent’s point of view of the process that happens after the call (or email) would be very welcome.

    • But would you enter into any major contract without learning a _little_ more about the person/organisation you are willing to work with? (And who will, partly, depend on how professional you are in fulfilling your contracts, and will, in turn, hopefully provide you with the means to earn a living?)
      I am researching the agents I query reasonably thoroughly – but let’s be fair, the ‘research’ I do is pretty patchy for the most. Read their website. Read agency listings. See what they’ve sold. Try to find out what their clients think about them. Unless I know those clients already, and know them _well_, I am unlikely to write to any saying ‘I’m querying this agent/they’re reading my partial, tell me all about them’ because I am aware that agent/author relationships are personal things – one person’s dream agent is another’s nightmare. So I will enter into this phone call with information from the public domain that – unless the agent’s behaviour strongly deviates from the norm – is unlikely to tell me much about them, much less if I want to work closely with them – or they with me. (I’d rather find that out on the first date, too.)

  3. Ideally, the writer would know a fair bit about the agent. I do a lot of prelim before sending a query – but I refresh myself and dig a bit more once a full is requested.
    I wouldn’t have a full out to someone I wasn’t excited about having call me, and that phone call would certainly be good news. I would try not to have a heart attack on the phone (saved for later. I would expect the agent to summarize several things.
    As a professional:
    Why she liked the book – what she thinks are it’s selling points – in general what sort of editor/publisher she expects to find it a home with – if there is anything contract wise she feels are important to high light.
    To a prospective client:
    A curiousity about past and future work, the author’s goals, their writing plan (big and glamourous as well as small and immediate)
    I would expect that after an initial – OMG(author&agent) – for the conversation to flow well and for their to be a sense of humor on both sides and that both parties hang up reassured and confident in the other.
    Details in email, including the excited one by writer about all the things they forgot to say because they were excited, that the agent answers gracefully and forgiving that the writer won’t always be such a ditz.

  4. First you need to expect a moment’s pause while I go ‘squee!’
    The next step is – if the writer really has their act together, and I wouldn’t completely guarantee that for myself – to confirm whether writer and agent really _are_ on the same page.
    Questions that come to mind are
    – How much work do you think this needs before you can send it out? (I’m not conceited enough to think that it will go out as is; but is the agent thinking of little polishes or major surgery?)
    – Do you have a submission strategy in mind? (I’m not going to be offended by ‘I probably won’t place it with the big players, but I know a number of editors at small presses who pay reasonable advances that might be interested’ – it beats ‘It’s going to be a sure-fire bestseller’)
    – I am trying to develop my writing as a career and I have <list other completed manuscripts/mss in revision/ideas burning brightly>. Would you be interested in discussing these?
    – Do you have a contract for me to sign (if not, ‘what are the terms of your agency agreement’)
    That’s all I can think of right now, but, of course, this is the dry run…

  5. Yes, as the previous poster said. After one had found one’s voice… and hopefully not blathered and babbled too much, yes, I, too, would ask, okay, what happens next? We are presumably speaking about a ‘first’ novelist? I would want to know exactly what I would have to do, what your expectations of me would be, and, I think, by asking those kind of questions I would be able to see what you would be prepared to do for me. We would discuss the novel, and again, a presumption on my part, you would either say, love the premise but… I think if you did so and so it could be so much better. Or, you might say, tis perfect as it is, can we go with it.
    I would rather discuss the novel first, simply because that is the thing I understand. Contracts etc would come after I’d settled in to talking to someone I really didn’t know. It is, after all, a voyage of discovering whether you can or are likely to be able to, work together.
    On another note, this querying business. I think the interest in it has piqued simply because of agents blogging. Whereas before, what an agent did in their office was a complete mystery to most of us, other than obviously reading stuff, now we have an insight. We’ve seen our queries dismissed and feted and shredded. And you do convince yourself that if you cannot write a decent query letter then you are never going to get anywhere. So it is another thing to obsess about. 🙂

  6. Oh, if my dream agent contacted me about my work I might say something intelligent like, “Wow, gee, um, that’s fab” and then pull out my handy list of brilliant and intelligent questions such as “what do I do now?”

  7. a thousand times a day
    Well, I’ve only run this scenario a thousand times a day for the last couple of weeks because I have two agents reading fulls (one said he’d do a “quick read” and get back to me ASAP, the other is reading a revision, so they could call at any moment, right?). Still, I think I’d pretty much be jumping for joy, while sounding calm (see, Mom…being a theatre major in college might pay off after all).
    While I do have the dreaded list, I’ve narrowed it down to just a few questions that I think are important, based on a similar discussion on another agent’s LJ. One thing she was quick to point out is she HATES it when people ask her questions that are covered on her website. She suggests if you can’t get the info (like percentages and so forth) that you say, “This is great. May I look over the contract and then call you in a few days with any questions I have?” because then you look more professional, and not like you haven’t done your homework.
    Of course, if I were trying to get that out, it’d be more like, “Ummm…okay…well…(jump! Jump! JUMP!)…so can I call you back? I mean, after I look at the contract? I mean…(stammer, stammer, spit it OUT!)” You get the idea.
    The questions I’d want to ask are as follows:
    1. How do you handle the revision process and how flexible are you on the changes you ask for?
    2. Are you the sort of agent who stays in touch generally, or only when there’s news? And can I email you questions periodically if I need to?
    3. Obviously you think you can sell this novel, but what about if I write one that you either don’t believe in or is just not your type of novel (i.e. I write contemporary fiction, but what if I try a fantasy novel?)
    4. And then I have one more question that most people wouldn’t have to ask. It’s likely that I’ll be moving to another country soon, and I’d want to make sure up front that an agent is cool with that.

  8. I’d respond like this: Where will you send this? Are you interested in only this book, or my entire career? How many books a year would you like me to produce? How much editing do you do? At what point do you want to see my next project?
    Stuff like that…also, is it acceptable to ask for a couple of days to think about it? Especially if other agents are also currently considering other work?

  9. Well, if any agent besides you called me, I’d say “I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number.”
    And then the agent would say “Oh, dear, my mistake. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
    Then I would say, “Oh, no trouble at all,” and we would both hang up.
    If you called me, I would assume it was an attempt to cajole me into doing something for TBR, and I’d say “whaddya want?”

  10. How would the writer respond?
    “Buh. Buh. Oh My God!” *Squee!* *thunk*
    (well, the *thunk* is optional — they might’ve been in a chair when they answered the phone. Personally, I have a tendency to wrap myself in my phone cord and half-strangle myself when receiving good news.)
    After the squeeing, when rational thought began to return, the writer would ask things like:
    What is the agent’s preferred method of working, via phone or email?
    How much contact does she usually have with her authors, if a contract negotiation is NOT underway?
    Does the agent get involved in critiquing manuscripts prior to submission, or does she leave that strictly to the editors?
    Does the agent get involved with helping to shape an author’s career, and if so, in what way?
    What are her plans for this particular manuscript?
    Who does she think is a good fit for my style, and why? (This is mostly to find out if we view my writing the same way, but also a good chance for ego gratification. *smile*)
    Does she have an agency contract?
    What does she think I should do next? What will she do next? (Assuming I sign the contract.)

    *pause for agent’s ears to recover*
    Who do you think might want to buy it?
    agent’s side: What else have you got?

  12. I may have missed it, but no one seems to be asking about the legal end of the agent/writer relationship. I’d expect the writer to have done his/her research and perhaps already know s ome of the answers, but I’d be asking the questions just to confirm. I’d certainly want to know if this agent operates on a handshake or does she/he use a written contract, and if the latter, can she e-mail me a copy so I can look it over. I’d also want to know such things as what percentage does she take, does she charge her clients for anything else, and how ‘interactive’ is she with her client’s work?
    There are a thousand questions to ask… and I’d probably forget most of them in the excitement. 🙂

  13. what happens next
    After picking myself off the floor, I’d ask questions, probably lots of questions, about the agent’s submissions strategy and the details of the contractual agreement. I’d want to know if the agent felt the manuscript was good as is, or if she wanted any changes made. Although I’d want to know what to expect in terms of communications, periodic status updates, I probably wouldn’t bring this up myself until the deal was signed, for fear of giving the wrong impression.
    I’d express great interest and enthusiasm but would ask for a bit of time to review the contract before signing.
    Then I hope we might talk a bit about other projects I’m working on.
    I’m curious about that… Do agents typically ask about other projects before signing? Once the new client is signed, does the agent usually want to see their other completed manuscripts or works-in-progress?
    Virginia Miss

    • Re: what happens next
      Do agents typically ask about other projects before signing? Once the new client is signed, does the agent usually want to see their other completed manuscripts or works-in-progress?
      Reading between the lines I would suggest that they might want to see two or three earlier manuscripts, but not the whole contents of the trunk under the bed.
      Because unless you’re very experienced indeed – or pretty hopeless – anything that’s more than 200K ago will be much weaker writing, so you should not let even your agent see it without revision. The correct mode of presentation appears to be ‘I have another idea on which I have taken extensive notes and which I would like to tackle again’ rather than saying ‘I have five novels in my trunk.’

  14. Well…
    Well, I imagine the first thing the writer should do is listen. Listen to what the agent wants, and then cooperate. Don’t try to be a jerk, stubborn or foolish. Act professional, be flexibile, humble and polite. Listen, listen, listen. Be willing to learn.

  15. I would probably be so thrilled by an agent’s call that I would sound like a complete airhead for a minute or two, so hope agents have encountered this before and are prepared to be patient while I reboot my brain. After that, I would most like to know his or her feelings on my book: what she likes about it, does she think it needs a little more work and how does she see her part in that process, what does she want from me, what plans she might have for selling our baby, what amount of contact does she like from her authors. Does she sound open to eventually representing more of my books? Want to see more from me? Signs of excitement go far. I, in the meantime, will have gotten my hands on my checklist of questions to ask an agent and begin weaving those in as the conversation allows, things like fees, percentages, etc.
    Some things are more important to me than others. Because I research agents extensively before querying, I wouldn’t be checking on credentials so much as testing the water for how they do business. I’d also be assessing the agent’s personality and communications style for compatibility. I work well with lots of kinds of people, and like to know which kind of person I’m considering as a partner. I would ask for a couple of client references, people I could contact confidentially about their relationship with the agent.
    What I’m looking for (after that first couple minutes of looking for my brain and reassurance that they like my book) is someone who’s professional and with whom I feel comfortable.

  16. Does a piercing scream coming from the writer count as a response?

  17. I’d probably be too excited to say much at first and I’d expect to do a lot of listening. I’d want to discuss any changes the agent thinks should be made with my novel before sending it out, and while I’d be excited to talk about future novels and ideas I have I probably wouldn’t unless the agent brought it up. I certainly would not bring up past unpublished material, because there’s a reason(probably more than one) they’ve been sitting untouched on my hardrive for years.

  18. My personal experience has been to hold the phone at least one foot away from my ear or risk hearing loss. ;^)
    More seriously, though, I find that only about half my clients were able to articulate all they wanted to in that first call, and followed up with a later call or email to ask all the questions they forgot to in all the excitement. I don’t mind…I’m not going to change my mind about wanting to represent them. Unless of course they’ve turned into Dr. Jeckyll or something for that follow-up contact…which might even make it more interesting, who knows?

  19. Count yourselves lucky!
    In the ideal world, the offer of representation would be made, and a contract would be put into the mail. The agent and the writer would discuss other work that the agent might like to see. Perfect world, indeed.
    This topic interests me, as I’ve just blown (I assume) a similar contact with one of the agents on the top of my “wish list.” First, I got an enthusiastic e-mail telling me that the agent would like to call and offer me representation for the novel I had sent, and that we could schedule the call for after the agent’s vacation. We did so, and the agent called me on the phone on the appointed day. I didn’t squee. My business persona (developed while working as a software engineer and project leader) took over. I said that I was very pleased, and that I didn’t have any questions about the agency, as I had researched them thoroughly and they were at the top of my list.
    The agent said that zie (I am trying SO hard here not to state or imply who the agent is or even the gender because I still wish I could work with the agent, or any agent) loved the book and saw it as fitting a particular genre/market. I was surprised, though I probably shouldn’t have been. Then I made my fatal (apparently) error: I said that I was surprised, that I hadn’t written it specifically for that market. I didn’t say that I would fight this marketing plan; I only said that I thought of the book as appealing to a larger segment of readers (TACTICAL ERROR). We talked about that for a moment. I agreed that this was a good plan.
    Then the agent mentioned that there were a few changes the book would need in order to fit into that market. We discussed them, and I agreed that they would improve the work. The agent e-mailed me a file containing the suggestions while I waited. Then I asked, “Where do we go from here? Are we going to talk about representation?” (Which was what the agent had said in the e-mail.)
    “Well . . . I’m reluctant because of your reaction to the market that I am thinking of.”
    I hadn’t meant to imply or state that I didn’t want to go for that market, but at this point, I was stuck.
    “E-mail me the modified file on Monday. Why don’t I call you back on [date] and we’ll talk? That’s a commitment.”
    I made the changes over the weekend and wrote up an executive summary citing where I had made the changes and what was changed. My critique partner read and applauded the revision. I e-mailed it Sunday night. I e-mailed a follow-up two days before the call was supposed to come, asking, “Are we still on for the call?” and reiterating that I was very excited about marketing the book in the genre we had talked about.
    No answer. No reply in e-mail. Of course, no call.
    I don’t know what I did wrong, and I probably never will.
    This is how all of my contacts with agents and editors go. I agree to the changes they have suggested and mail or e-mail back the file with embedded comments (using the Word comment function) so that they can click on the comment and go to the newly revised passage. (Perhaps I am doing too much and seem too eager to please? My bosses in CorporateUSA loved this.) Then I either never hear from them again, or I get a photocopied rejection several months later. I never even get the famous “you took all the life out of the book” letter that Harlequin likes to send out to people who have revised to spec. It’s mystifying. I believe I am cursed. I don’t know who I was in that past life, but I must have been one King Kamehameha be-yotch.
    If this were a different business, I would call the agency and leave a message asking whether I misinterpreted the statement and whether the files were received, and saying that I am still available for a call. In this business, however, would that be interpreted as my being too pushy, “difficult,” and a pest? I’ve been afraid to do anything.
    So . . . do other people actually have experiences in which they are offered representation by phone? You are blessed. Enjoy your charmed lives. Write on.

    • Re: Count yourselves lucky!
      Wow. That’s too bad. If it were me, I would get out my very best stationery and handwrite a note thanking her/him for the call and the suggestions. I would reiterate that while I hadn’t thought of that market, I genuinely think after consideration, it is a good suggestion (BUT ONLY IF I REALLY DID- if I didn’t I wouldn’t be happy with them anyway, in which case I would still send a thank you note, but not mention that part). And then I would thank them again and send it off. Maybe it wouldn’t help, but at least it would show that you’re professional overall, even if the phone call didn’t go that well.

  20. Howdy. I’ve never commented here before.
    How might one expect the writer to respond?
    So I recently received The Call from my first choice agent and was a complete dork on the phone. I didn’t ask any questions except for one, at the end of a 20 minute conversation in which she initiated the questions about the book, my interest in revising, my writing process, my contacts, etc, and I responded with complete tongue-tied dorkiness. We’re writers, right, and not so good at the talk-on-the-phone-to-total-strangers bit. My question was, “So, are you offering literary representation?”
    Well, yes. Duh.
    So basically, as others have said, expect the callee to respond with blank shock and probably little ability to process anything beyond the fact that it’s a call! From a real live agent!
    What do people think happens next?
    I hadn’t even gotten to the point of thinking about what would happen next when I got The Call. It’s such a huge big deal–that’s the goal, getting The Call, so why think beyond it? Fortunately, the agent was very clear about everything. She emailed a contract. She emailed (excellent) revision suggestions. She outlined a timetable of when things might start to happen once I’d gotten the revisions done and approved and everyone in publishing got back from vacation in Cape Cod.
    What should the resulting conversation cover?
    Given my own experience–which was not a bad experience, just lame on my part–I’d suggest making the initial call and only covering a few essentials, and then arranging a time for a second call so the writer can finish jumping around on the furniture and get her shit together, and have a good, professional discussion.

  21. If this was the only agent who was currently considering my work, or my favorite of those who were, I’d say great, fax me your agency agreement, and once I get it and sign, do you prefer contact by email or telephone?
    If the agent wasn’t my top/only pick, I’d say great, let me contact some of the other agents considering my book now, and I’ll get back to you in a day or two.
    I assume once the agreement to be agent and author is undertaken, we’d discuss revisions, a marketing plan, the next project, and career strategy.

  22. First words out of my mouth would hopefully, be: “Wow, that’s great news!”
    The rest of the conversation would be finding out how the agent envisions us working together, and asking an open-ended question about the marketing plan for the book. If I still felt the agent was the right choice, I’d ask for the contract… and would ask what the next steps are.
    I think I saw comments from someone mentioning wanting to get back to other agents. Is it usualy to have a full manuscript with multiple agents? I thought that only one or two agents would have a full manuscript…. although there might be queries and partials with other agents. Do I misunderstand?

    • Multiple submissions and exclusives
      It’s usual for me to have full manuscripts of various books out to more than one agent and sometimes an editor as well. It takes so long to hear back that unless an agent or editor has asked for an exclusive (and that’s usually with a time limit of three months at the most), it makes sense to have the book out to whoever is willing to take a look. I often get requests for fulls from my partials. Anyone I’ve sent a partial to has been researched to the best of my ability and is on my “go” list, so I’m always happy to spend the extra money to print the 300 pages, pack them into a Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope (if they’ll fit) or into an Amazon box, and trek to the post office. They don’t ask to see the stuff on a whim. On the other hand, very often I don’t get the SASE back. If I didn’t keep a submission log, I wouldn’t be able to say stuff like this, but since I do, I can say that the “average” response time on a full manuscript is anywhere from three months to three years. *GRIN* Editors take longer than agents, of course.
      Because I write (or have written) cozy mysteries, urban fantasy, traditional YA fantasy, futuristic/SF romance, mainstream women’s fiction, mainstream literary fiction, and Southern gothic novels, I’ve had to research agents who work with those genres. Sometimes an agent will carry only mystery or only fantasy. That may mean that an author will end up with one agent for SF/fantasy only and another for the rest of the stuff. I can see this getting fairly complicated, but I’m up for it.
      Assuming you get calls from more than one agent regarding the same manuscript *in the same timeframe*, you will have the luxury of choosing who you feel is the best “fit” for you to work with. If you sign with one agent and then get interest from someone else later, you don’t have that choice. So it’s probably best to query your top three with manuscript A and then sit back and wait a while to hear back. Meanwhile, work on manuscript B.

  23. My questions is – why a phone call? Assuming the query was done by e-mail, wouldn’t an e-mail be better? Or a letter if the query was sent snail mail.
    I’m notoriously bad on the phone – tend to blither when cornered and have severe brain disconnect, lol. Seriously, I’m not at all good with aural communication.
    My agent and I communicate by e-mail. I can study her proposals, better understand them, and calmly write an answer.
    Do you always call the author? I suppose it would be good from the agent’s POV – but I imagine the author would be at a disadvantage.
    Questions I wouldn’t think of asking on the phone:
    Is your contract binding? Are you interested in looking at books I have already written and would like to publish? How long would you be willing to work with me on selling a book? Do you edit? What publishers do you think this books would fit? Do you like lots of communication from an author or not very much? Will you give me status reports? how often?
    I can go on, but you get the gist, lol. These are questions I worked out with my agent over a period of about a month. I imagine that any working relationship is tricky in the beginning, but these were the questions I most needed answering for my own peace of mind.

    • These are indeed great questions, but I suspect they’d overwhelm an agent or anyone else if asked all at once on the first phone call.
      Except perhaps for the communication styles question. It would be nice to know going in whether your prospective agent thinks that one e-mail every couple of weeks would be “bugging her,” or if you should just wait to hear from her and then ONLY reply with a very brief answer to the specific question. Different bosses like different ways of checking in, and I’m sure this relationship is similar. It’s easy to get yourself tagged as a Pest, and after that, anything that you send will be an automatic eye-roll. Above all, be careful during that first phone call.
      I think that the suggestion I got to send a handwritten thank-you note is a good one, but *still* might be interpreted as too much aggression on my part. I’m just going to sit tight and shut up. The agent knows where to find me if zie is interested.

      • What is hard to do is think of agents as people working for you once he/she accepts your manuscript. It’s mutually beneficial to have as open a line of communication as possible for future sales: you create the product, the agent is your salesperson/ negotiator, the publisher is the buyer.
        I’m sure Ms. Jackson will correct me if I’m wrong – but polite communication will rarely get you tagged a ‘Pest’ and you should never be afraid of provoking an eye roll, lol.
        I don’t think you should ever feel you are bothering your agent if you attempt to communicate. And a handwritten thank-you note is never out of order (Quoting Miss Manners here, lol).

  24. The Call
    If I ever receive the much anticipated offer for representation from an agent, I’d prefer an email to a phone call. I’d probably act like a blundering fool on the phone, forget pertinent questions, and squeak a lot.
    There’s also the frightening possibility that either my kid would answer the phone and forget to forward the message, or a power outage would knock out the answering machine just when I need it the most.
    Of course, a responsible agent would be sure to follow up with another call, or better, an email. I would hate to have such an opportunity ruined by circumstances I can’t control.

  25. I’d prefer an email for a different reason. “Thank you so much, I’m v. excited!” would be so much easier to pull off on email. My voice might take on a disbelieving edge over the phone and I wouldn’t want to give that impression.
    I’m not terribly jaded but I have had a few offers that have sunk miserably and I’ve learned to reserve enthusiasm until things actually appear. It’s embarrassing telling people that books are going to be made into cartoons and then have the cartoon company change their mind.
    Waiting-to-celebrate mode is a kind of numb, yet heart pounding place I enter at the whiff of an opportunity and where I wait for something to go wrong… or right. I’m there now actually. Slowly over the weeks and months that follow, limbs regain feeling and the heart slows to normal… unless a publication actually goes thru and something solid like a book arrives in my hot little hands. Then rampant hooliganism ensues followed by a nasty hangover.

    • What would I say? THUD comes to mind. 🙂 Seriously, I doubt if I could collect myself enough to answer or ask questions. So I’d probably say, gosh agent, I need to go 1)faint 2)turn a few cartwheels 3) Call every single person I’ve ever known who said…that gentry girl…she’ll never amount to a hill of beans. Then I’d call you right back. I swear.

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