Thursday, November 29, 2012

What questions should you ask an agent who offers representation or exclusive revisions?

Because you know you're most likely
to get "the call" while on the beach. ;)
By Peter Drier (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A couple of months ago, I was part of a discussion with a few other writers about what questions you should as an offering agent when you get The Call. I've been asked this question a few times, so I thought it was time for a blog post on it.

My first piece of advice is to download FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL by Elana Johnson. (Scroll down to the bottom of that page on that link-- there's a download button.) Not only is it free, but it saved me so many times! It even has information like what to name your file and how to format your email when an agent asks for pages of your manuscript. It contains a list of questions to ask an agent. When I got The Call, most of my questions came from there. I didn't ask all the questions--- just the ones that were important to me. You may have completely different questions that are important to you. Here's a few, though, that I think are big ones worth talking about:

Do you think my book is ready for submission, or will it need edits first?
How extensive will my revisions with you be?

I think it's also important to find out not just about how many edits they think your book needs, but how editorial they are in general. Not that a highly editorial agent is generally better or worse than one who makes minor suggestions (or none at all), but it's likely one or the other will be better or worse FOR YOU. So think about what you really want and need.

How many people do you represent?

This is another one where there's no right or wrong answer in general, but there's probably a right or wrong answer FOR YOU. An agent with a ton of clients will obviously be busier, and so you'll likely communicate less. But they sell a lot more, so generally have more contacts and a greater relationship with those contacts. As the amount of communication goes, it's likely to be vastly different between an agent with a ton of clients versus an agent with a few. So try to anticipate what you want from an agent. Do you want your agent to "check in" frequently, or are you okay going possibly months during the slow times without hearing from them? Are you looking for someone you can be buddy/buddy with, or someone with whom you communicate only when you have a need?

How long does it usually take you to respond to an email?

This is important no matter how frequent your communication is with your agent. I think that the number one complaint among writers who are thinking about breaking up with their agent is that the agent takes forever to respond to emails.

If you don't sell my book, what happens?

I had two agents offer. Both were powerhouse agents from powerhouse agencies. And that's about where their similarities ended. One was highly editorial, one was not. One tended to sub to a lot of editors at once, one to only a few (more on this in a second). Both had entirely different plans for my book, but they were both GOOD PLANS. I had a really hard time deciding for quite a while--- until I got their answers to this question.

I asked my agent that during our initial phone call, and she said, "Then we will go on another round. And another and another until either we've exhausted every possibility, or you tell me that you want to stop and work on submitting a different book."

The other agent's answer: "We would probably try a second round of editors to see if we could get an offer in that batch. If that didn’t happen, we’d talk about what other projects you have in the works. In these scenarios, I will often stay with the author for a second book and not issue a parting if the first doesn’t work."

Can you believe the difference between two agents?! That was a deal breaker for me. I think the answer to that is vitally important. It tells how much they are really taking on YOU versus YOUR BOOK better than anything else. I think it's important that an agent sees you as someone whose career they can build.
To how many editors do you generally submit a manuscript?

I've heard a lot of numbers on how many editors an agent normally subs to on the first round. It seems a lot submit to somewhere around twelve. There are agents that only sub to five, though, which takes your chances way down. I don't know if they just don't have as many contacts, or if there's a good reason to do it for that particular book, or if it's simply a preference, but it's definitely a huge factor and is something to ask about.

What if I wrote a book in a different genre?

If you've ever thought about writing in another genre, and think it's a possibility you will in the future, definitely ask! My agent reps kidlit, and rarely reps adult. When I asked this question, she said that one of her clients writes both kidlit and adult--- she reps the kidlit, and a different agent reps her adult stuff. If you're ever thinking you might genre jump / age range jump, it's helpful to know if they would rep both, or if they'd be open to you having a second agent.

 How agressively do you seek foreign rights?

Ask what is normal for him/her and his/her agency, and how they think your book might do in foreign markets. I know that right now foreign rights would just be icing, but trust me: when you get there, it'll be important to you.

A few others to consider:

How involved are you in brainstorming future ideas for books / how to promote / career planning?
What would your expectations for me be if we decided on a partnership?
Can I contact a couple of your clients to get a feel of what I should expect?
Is there anything else I should know that will help with my decision?

These aren't the only questions you should ask, of course. Make sure you download Elana's book! It is seriously helpful, and has a lot more questions for you to consider.

And one last thing that's not really a question, but so important.

How does the agent make you feel?

Back to the decision between my two. One made it clear that she was the boss. That I needed to jump if she said jump. The other made it clear that she was my partner. That we would work through things together. As I was getting paper to make a pros / cons list about which agent I should choose, my hubby gave me a look like he couldn't believe I was even going there--- and not because I don't go there often--- but because to him, the choice was clear. He said, "When you talk to / about the other agent [the boss one], you're stressed out, worried, and unsure of yourself. When you talk to / about Sara [the partner one], you're calm and peaceful and excited." Um... Duh. My choice really was made from the start. I don't know why I had to get all technical about it. PAY ATTENTION TO HOW THEY MAKE YOU FEEL. This is the person you'll need to go to when you need to be talked down from a ledge when things get crazy. You do not want to be afraid to email them.

A few other non-question things:

Keep in mind that a LOT of agents ask for exclusive revisions, or an Revise and Resubmit (R&R) before they sign with you. If they do, don't let that make you feel like your book just wasn't good enough! If the agent tends to be very editorial, that's the kind of thing they'll tend to do with every potential client. They want to see how you'll work together editorially first. But if they ask for an exclusive, the phone call might be focused on the edits, not on them as an agent. Don't get flustered, and don't let them skip past the part where you ask questions. You want to make sure if you do enter into an exclusive, that it's someone YOU want to continue with.

And figure out exactly what you want in an agent BEFORE you get The Call, or the email requesting The Call. If you have one agent offering, it's easy to get so excited that you don't really care what the answers to your questions are-- you just want them to sign you! But if they aren't the right agent for you, signing with them is a much worse road to travel than continuing to query is. And if you don't decide ahead of time what exactly you want/need in an agent, it'll be so much harder to make a logical choice (instead of just an emotional one).

When you get that call, remember most of all that they're a person! And chances are, that phone call makes them nervous, too.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mine, in pictures. How was yours?

This Thanksgiving week, I got to:

Go to two Thanksgiving dinners-- my family and my hubby's.

By TheKohser (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Spend all day long with my kiddos.

Saw this movie with my family:

And this movie with my oldest son:

Watched my sister get excited for her favorite "holiday"-- Black Friday, and wondered for the three billionth time how that could be someone's favorite holiday.

Got to hear funny conversations, like this one...

Son1: Did you bring home the cranberry cheese ball?
Son2: What? Cheese ball?
Mom: [Pulls out of fridge, shows Son2]
Son2: Oh! I thought that was ice cream! I was wondering why there were crackers by it...

Got an insane amount of revisions done on book 2.
This artwork is fully created by Aziz Natour. [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Put up my Christmas decorations.

And enjoyed being a mom.

How was your week?

Friday, November 16, 2012

I miss you, bloggers!

Alex Cavanaugh, Matthew MacNish, and Andrew Leon have teamed up on a blogfest that I think is brilliant! It gives us a chance to give a little shout-out to the bloggers who haven't been blogging as much lately, to let them know that we miss them.

And also a shout out to those we'd miss if they ever stopped.

There are so many bloggers that I miss! I am thrilled to highlight a few of them.


When I read about this blogfest, the first blog that came to mind that I miss is C'MERE! Whatcha doin?, the blog of K. Marie Criddle.

Marie is one of those people that is amazing at every single things she does. And she does a lot! She's not a bragger, so she doesn't inundate you with the awesome, but even still, you're blown away at first sight. SHE DRAWS ALL OF HER POSTS, people! And not only that, but she is layer upon layer of funny! And thoughtful. Every once in a while, another detail of her incredibleness eeks out, and you'll find your jaw was still dropped in awe from the last time. I think there's probably nothing she can't do. Hop on over and say hi! Marie's blog.

Another blog I miss is Empty White Pages, the blog of Sarah Pearson.

Sarah is thoughtful and kind and very supportive of the writing community. Plus, she's a music savant! She used to do a lot of posts where she took someone's book blurb, and found songs that she felt represented their book, in a Musical Impressions series. It was so much fun to see a WIP represented like that! I loved it! Go let her know you miss her! Sarah's Blog.

I also miss The Startled Spyglass, the blog of Brenda Sills.

Brenda is fun and amazing and insightful, and has a great blogging voice. Plus, I've met her in real life a few times, and I've got to tell you-- besides being a great writer, she is an incredible human being. Stop by! Brenda's blog.


One of my very favorite writing blogs out there is Pub(lishing) Crawl.

If I had to recommend a blog to writers, it would be this. The ladies at Pub Crawl rock. Their posts are thought-provoking, insightful, well written, and helpful. They are written by authors, a publishing sales rep, agents, editorial assistants, and a book wholesaler, so there is such a broad range of information and perspectives on the writing world. Even when they are talking about a subject I know quite well, I still learn tons from every post. If you haven't already been reading Pub Crawl, check it out! They are definitely worth it. Pub Crawl Blog.

Thanks, Alex, Matthew, and Andrew for the great blog hop!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Choosing a title, and my brand-new official one.

My hubby and I watched the movie SKYFALL on Friday. As I was walking out of the theater, wanna know what struck me the most in the movie? The ability to breathe new life into a 50 year old franchise? That it had the biggest 007 opening of all time? *Gasp* Who died?

Nope. It was THE TITLE. (Which may or may not have been a direct result of me recently focusing so much on title.)

SKYFALL is not just a great title-- it's INCREDIBLE. Memorable. Intriguing. Pulls you in.

What is interesting about the title, is WHAT was called Skyfall. It wasn't the name of the secret plan. It wasn't the name of the bad guy. It wasn't the name of the object they needed. It was the name of his childhood home. It could've been named a million things that would've fit the look of the home better, but Skyfall fit the mood of the movie better. It even fit the theme.

I imagine that as they were brainstorming names for this movie that didn't have a plan / object they could go to for a great name, they started looking at word combinations that fit the movie, and then found a place to put it. In this case, a location. And it worked. I can't say I totally bought that his childhood home was named Skyfall, but the name definitely made me want to see the movie. And that's what really matters, right?

I guess my point is, when you're brainstorming titles, don't limit yourself. Look into things outside of the obvious in your book. Heck, even look outside of what's in your book! If it truly fits the feel of your book, it will work in your book.

Now, a little update on my own title.

My book has been named THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH for as long as it's had a title. At one point, the cover team thought that something wasn't quite right. All the pieces weren't quite falling into place. So they asked for alternate titles. It was hard enough to title it the first time! How in the world was I supposed to come up with even more?! I sent.... maybe eight. After a couple of weeks, they decided to keep my title. I was so relieved!

I knew it might come up again. I was with a bunch of writers having a write night, and mentioned how hard titling my book was. They said they bet that we could brainstorm 100 titles. I think I actually snorted. We set to work, and stopped at... you guessed it! 100. The difference? We looked outside of the box.

Then my book got to marketing, and they decided something wasn't all the way right with the title. They worried that it wouldn't be seen in the right context, and people would think it was a darker book than it was.When they asked for us to look at titles, I narrowed that list of 100 down to 40 and sent it to my editor. She gave me a list of probably 20-30 more. I came up with about 20 more. Then we narrowed it down to a dozen.

I'm not gonna lie. I've told my title to hundreds of people in the past year and a half, and I've seen their reactions. I know it's a good title because of the look on people's faces when I tell them. So I was a little (okay, a lot) afraid to change to an untested title. And since we only had about 48 hours to come up with a new one, there wasn't much time. I emailed everyone I could think of who had MG aged kids and begged them to have their kids vote for their favorite of the twelve. I took ballots to my local elementary school's 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes. A sweet author / teacher in Ohio took it to 5 classes at her elementary school. In the end, I had votes from 460 kids, and titles that showed very clear winners.

I gave that info to my editor, who then shared it with marketing, and I FELT GOOD. It no longer mattered to me which of them was chosen. I now had tested titles.

Marketing, sales, my cover team, my editor-- everyone fell in love with the same title. Oh my gosh. I'm getting goose bumps writing this. The one they fell in love with, when used as SERIES TITLE, fixed everything. It was the missing piece. The book title WAS exactly right-- it was just missing the series title. Without further ado, I present to you my brand-spakin' new title.


It makes me giddy to see my title! Every time I look at it, everything feels exactly, completely, finally right.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wanna NaNoReviMo with me?

Last year, a bunch of us who were all revising got together for something we liked to call NaNoReviMo. I've got to tell you-- it was AWESOME to have so much support and encouragement. Not to mention how much more fun it is to revise with others!

Since it was such a great success before, we've decided to do it again. The lovely Jessie Humphries is spearheading it this time. Head over to her blog, The B-Word and let her know if you want to join! (Or leave me a comment letting me know, and I'll pass the word along.)

If you join, what will you get? Well, along with a manuscript so shiny you'll barely be able to look at it, you'll get the choice of displaying one or more of these fabulous buttons.

Created by Mara Rutherford:

Created by Tara Tyler:

Created by Carrie Butler:

Sounds fabulous, no? Makes you want to join, doesn't it? I highly recommend it!

And now to make my goals for the month public, thereby making them more likely to happen. (That's the way it works, right?)
  1. I'm somewhere in the last 10,000 words of drafting book two. My goal is to finish before this week is over, NaNo style.
  2. Make it shine, before my December first deadline to my agent, and not go insane doing it. 
There. Nice and simple. ;)

Head on over to Jessie Humphries's blog and let her know if you want to join us! You can email her at jachumphries (at) gmail (dot) com if you'd rather.

What are your goals this month?