Thursday, January 10, 2013

So You've Got an Agent... Now What?

When I signed with the brilliant Karen Solem after meeting her at the 2012 ACFW Conference, a million things went through my mind. Elation, thankfulness, and shock, to name a few. I was so grateful for the opportunity I had to meet her and that we'd clicked so easily.

Then at some point, I realized I had no idea whatsoever what I needed to do next.

We spend a lot of time on blogs and at conferences talking about how to nab an agent or an editor, and I think that's great. That's where it all begins. But today I want to talk about a subject I think often gets neglected amidst the glitz and glamour of that initial contract. What in the world do we do once we sign one.

I do want to mention that all agents are different and expect different things from their authors. That's why it's important that you talk to your agent about expectations. Karen, for instance, is more of a big-picture agent. I love talking to her on the phone about book concepts as I'm working to start a new story. Other agents like to get more into the nitty-gritty details of your book and proposal, and may even do some line edits with you. It all depends on their preference, experience, personality, and your particular needs. So be aware whenever you're chatting with different folks that they are all going to have different ways of doing business. One is not necessarily better than the other, but you need to find what works for you.

Let's start by talking about what not to expect from your agent.

Don't expect...

  • Your agent to update you with every detail. It only makes sense that we want details. We've worked tirelessly to craft the best story we can. We've edited. We've gotten feedback. We've edited again. We're on pins and needles about sending our books out into the world. It's natural that we feel very closely tied to the submission process. But expecting real-time updates from your agent about the tone in each editor's voice as she/he pitched your project is just not realistic. Your agent should be very interested and invested in your work, yes. And she/he should keep you updated when there's an update to make. However, your agent has a whole slew of other authors to keep up with, and expecting her/him to single you out all the time is like expecting an instructor to only teach one student in the class. We just have to trust our agents will tell us the important stuff!
  • Your agent to do detailed edits on your book. Some agents will do line edits, but most prefer to work with higher level concepts. If you feel like you're going to need some line edits before pitching a story to a publishing house, look into paying someone to do freelance edits, or as a cheaper alternative, look for a critique partner with strong grammar skills. :)
  • Your agent to love every idea you come up with. Your agent is going to have your long-term career in mind. Some stories simply might not fit into that. She/he might encourage you to let go of a book you've worked on for a while if it just isn't selling, or to focus on one particular genre. That's why it's so important you find an agent whose advice you can trust.
  • Your agent to always initiate contact. Like any other relationship, your relationship with your agent is a two-way street. Many times, your agent will be the one to initiate contact in the event she/he has news to share, but if you have questions, you should feel comfortable calling your agent or sending an e-mail on your own. Don't expect your agent to be a mindreader, and don't worry about being a pest. If you have questions, even about the little things, it's okay to ask.
DO expect...
  • Your agent to keep you up to date. While your agent isn't likely to e-mail you every few hours with updates, she should give you news as soon as she receives it. If you feel out of the loop, you need to either talk to your agent or get a new one. You have a right to know what's going on with your book.
  • Your agent to offer helpful feedback. While your agent may not go through your entire project with a fine-tooth comb, she should offer constructive criticism. If an agent offers you representation, it's a good idea to ask what areas of your writing they think could use strengthening before you sign with them. An agent who simply tells you you're brilliant all the time is not going to help you grow. Likewise, though, your agent does need to believe in you and your book, and should be equally clear about your writing strengths so you can further bring those to light in future work.
  • Your agent to have a long-term vision for your writing. Good agents are career-focused, not book-focused. It's not just about getting a sell. It's about finding the right fit at the right time.
  • Your agent to believe in you and to garner respect from other industry professionals. This person is going to be offering advice that could potentially shape the future of your writing career. It's important you find someone whose advice is good and trustworthy.
When you first sign with an agent, it's a good idea to ask your agent expectations for timeline and how many/what kind of edits your book and proposal might require before submission. You may also want to ask about your agent's long-term vision and goals for your writing so that you are on the same page and nothing important remains unsaid.

I hope this list helps you feel like you have a better idea what to do on the other side of that contract. I want to hear from you! Do you already have an agent? If so, did you feel a bit flustered about expectations when you first signed that contract? Or are you still waiting to find the right fit with an agent? If so, what kinds of things are you looking for?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow, Ashley, those are great thoughts...some of which I never would have thought of. I will be clipping this post for future reference!!!

Joanne Sher said...

LOVE this post - so incredibly insightful and helpful (for whenever an agent calls my name ;)). Thanks, Ashley!

Jeri Hoag said...

Thank you Ashley, this was extremely helpful. My book is currently under consideration by an agent. It is the first time an agent has asked to read the whole book so I am nervous, but hopeful. This has definitely helped me since I am a novice to the industry. I have been reading blogs and articles on writing trying to do all the right things. It was just great to get good information.

Jeri, Buena Park, CA

Lindsay Harrel said...

Love your advice, Ash! I definitely want an agent who is interested in helping me develop a long-term career. I want my agent to be okay with me asking questions about the process, etc. I'm a journalist at heart...I can't help asking questions!! I'd also love one who can give me advice regarding marketing, proposals, and whether a book idea is unique enough to sell.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Good stuff here, Ash! It is difficult to know exactly what to expect... after all, for a little while your world seems to revolve around your agent and their correspondence, even though that will not be the case on their end. It's important it keep that perspective in mind when you are stalking your inbox like a desperate woman waiting by the phone on Friday night. :)

Jeanne T said...

Ashley, what great advice. I liked your don'ts and do's. Great list. :) I want to be with an agent who will look with a long term career focus, one who can pinpoint things in my story that need work before sending it to a publisher and will give specific feedback, when possible. One who is good with communication--realistically, of course. I'm sure there are other thoughts, but these are the ones that come to mind quickly.

Thanks for sharing your insights!

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks, Sherrinda! I'm so glad you found it helpful! :)

Joanne, you are always so sweet! Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you get that call sooner rather than later so we can all cheer you on!

Jeri, congratulations on the agent interest! That is a HUGE step, especially for an agent to be reading your full mss. I'm glad you found the blog helpful! Best of luck to you going forward! :) I hope you are able to find a really great agent relationship quickly and easily.

Ashley Clark said...

Lindsay, you bring up such great points! All too often, authors get one-book focused and just want to sign with someone--anyone--who will put their work in front of a publisher. But I think looking for an agent with a career focus is so important, because it often means the difference between being a career author and a one hit wonder. Loved what you said about marketing and proposals too! So true, and agents have such different approaches to feedback on those things!

Ashley Clark said...

Amy, isn't that the truth? It's so difficult to transition from agent-stalking mode to okay-I-actually-signed-a-contract mode, and I think that's one of the reasons it's so easily to idealize an agent/author relationship where the agent sends us flowers every morning and notes of encouragement each night. ;) And as for inbox stalking, well... I think we can all identify with that! :)

Ashley Clark said...

Jeanne, thanks for sharing! I think your agent "priorities" are right on the mark and are going to lead you to a stellar agent relationship... can't wait to see pictures of you signing a contract someday! :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great advice, Ashley. Hopefully I need to use this one day.! LOL.


Ashley Clark said...

Aw, thanks, Sue! I'm sure your day will come sooner than you think! :)

Pepper said...

Expectations are SO important, Ash.
And knowing them really helps diffuse miscommunication.
Kind of like marriage :-)
BUT, like marriage, you don't find out how well the two of you really work together until together.

Personality meshing and similar goals, along with open communication is vital.
GREAT post!!!

Ashley Clark said...

Great points, Pep! Thanks for sharing! :)

Angie said...

I'm a little late in responding, but these are great points, Ashley! Sorry your crit partner isn't much for grammar! HAHA!!