An Agent Or Editor Is Interested! What Next?!

It’s a typical morning for you. Maybe you’re in the office, getting ready for a meeting, or at home putting in another load of laundry while the coffee brews. You decide to check your email before getting on with your busy day and you see:

Inbox (1)

YES! You got a new message since the last time you checked (approximately 2.5 minutes ago). “Stay calm,” you tell yourself. “It’s probably a shipping notice from Amazon, or Dad sending another cute cat video.” You let your eyes slide casually to the subject line as though you couldn’t care less what it might say.

And then your heart jumps when you read:

OFFER OF REPRESENTATION

Or:

OFFER FROM PUBLISHER

You read the email and it hits you: a publishing professional wants to work with you! And it’s not a mistake, because they even wrote a little paragraph about why they loved your manuscript! This is the point where you burst into noisy tears of joy and relief and exhaustion. You run out of the room and scream the news at anyone who will listen. You text your mom, your significant other, and that relative who smugly asks every Thanksgiving, “So, are you still doing that little writing thing?”

But then your smile fades. Your heart sinks. You slump into a chair. You have just realized you have NO idea what the !#$@ to do next.

“Oh, god,” you say, as you pull up Pub(lishing) Crawl on your phone, “I hope there’s halfway decent advice on how to talk to an agent without vomiting / how to know if the editor who’s offering is the right one.”

Disclaimer: The following information is relevant to traditional publishing, since that is what I know. I don’t have experience with self-publishing or submitting your own work to publishers to be able to speak knowledgeably about those paths.

 

…IF AN AGENT IS OFFERING REPRESENTATION

  • Schedule a phone call. Try to plan the phone call 1-3 days in advance so you have time to prep. I’m sure there have been cases where a writer accepts representation without speaking to the agent, but… why wouldn’t you? This is a great opportunity to get to know the person who may hold your career in their hands. You can find out things like:
    • The agent may be funny and nice online, but what are they like when they are speaking to you about your book?
    • Is the agent well-spoken?
    • Is the agent polite and respectful? Do they listen while you speak, or do they talk over you?
    • Does the agent seem knowledgeable? Do they sound confident?
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask the agent. Do a Google search for questions to ask literary agents. Ask your agented friends for the questions they asked. Write down the ones that are important to you. In general, you’ll want to include the following:
    • What do you love about my book? What resonated with you?
    • What are your ideas on how to make the book better? What is your revision plan?
    • Where do you see this book going? What publishers are you thinking of submitting to?
    • Are you interested in representing me for this book only, or are you interested in representing me for my entire career?
  • Prepare a list of other projects. If you are like me, you will forget your own name on important, nerve-wracking phone calls, so it’s good to have this at your fingertips in case the agent asks: “What else are you working on? What future projects do you want to write?”
  • Do additional research. If you queried this agent, you should already have researched them and know what agency they’re with, what books they represent, and what their latest book deals were. Use this time to privately reach out to writer friends for their thoughts. Do a last-minute Google search. Check Absolute Write (a really good place to get info), the agent’s website and social platforms, and blog posts or interviews with that agent.
  • Talk to the agent! Find a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted. Have a pen, a notebook, your list of other projects, and your questions handy. You may feel nervous, but know that the agent is probably nervous, too. After all, this might be the first step in a years-long relationship. Show your enthusiasm and be yourself!
  • Ask for time to think. Do not feel pressured to make an immediate decision. The agent will give you time to consider (and if they try to pressure you and threaten to withdraw their offer, well, you don’t want them to be your agent anyway). My agent said: “So how about you let me know your decision in two weeks? Is that enough time?” And that was one of many clues that she is amazing, thoughtful, and considerate. So what should you do with this time?
    • Ask the agent if you can speak to their clients. A good agent will happily provide phone numbers and email addresses. Always ask the clients about the agent’s strengths and weaknesses, their response time, their communication style, etc.
    • Continue doing research and asking other writers about the agent.
    • Mull over the phone call you had with the agent.
      • What’s your gut feeling?
      • Do they love your book?
      • Did they answer your questions to your satisfaction?
      • Do they have a clear vision on how to revise/improve the book and also where to submit it when the time comes?
    • Notify all the agents who currently have your query and materials. Reply in the same email thread, change the subject line to OFFER OF REPRESENTATION, and set a cut-off date and time for when they need to get back to you. That way, if they don’t respond by that date and time, you will know they’re not interested.
  • Talk to other interested agents. If you get multiple offers of representation, repeat this whole process for each and every agent. Carefully weigh the following: your gut feeling, your research, their answers to your questions, their ideas for revisions, which publishers they want to submit to (and whether they have strong relationships there), your chemistry on the call, their client references, etc. Make a comparison chart, if that helps you.

 

… IF AN EDITOR WANTS TO BUY YOUR BOOK

  • Let your agent be your guide. They have shepherded many writers through this! (Or, if they are new, they will hopefully have an experienced mentor to help them.) They’ll tell you what they think about the editor, the publishing house, and the deal, and will walk you through all the details of the offer. They will set up a call between you and the editor. They may also nudge other editors who have your manuscript and will share any further interest with you.
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask the editor. Ask your agent and your writer friends for suggestions on what to ask. In general, the questions aren’t too different from what you would ask an agent offering rep. A few you may want to include:
    • What do you love about my book? What resonated with you?
    • What are your ideas on how to make the book better? What is your revision plan?
    • Why do you feel that your imprint/publishing house is a good place for my book?
  • Prepare a list of other projects. If your book has series potential, have a synopsis ready for Book 2. If your book is a standalone, then have a synopsis ready for the next 1-2 projects you plan to write. Every single editor I spoke to asked me: “What else are you working on?” You can describe it to them briefly on the phone, and if they are interested in hearing more, your agent can forward your synopsis to them at once.
  • Speak to the editor on the phone. Just as you did for your agent’s offer of rep, you’ll need a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted and a pen, notebook, your list of projects, and your questions. You will probably be very nervous, but remember: they want your book! They wouldn’t be offering to buy it if they didn’t.
  • Speak to other interested editors. It’s likely that when your agent notifies other editors about this offer, they’ll speed-read your manuscript and decide whether they want to bid on it, too. Follow the same steps above for each person. I found it very helpful to debrief with my agent after each editor call and discuss my thoughts, my gut feeling, what the editor said, whether that deal and that publishing house is a good fit for me, etc.
  • Take everything into consideration if you get multiple offers. Don’t just look at the money, because a big advance is not worth it if you don’t feel like the editor gets your book. On the flip side, don’t just look at how friendly the editor is if you feel their list isn’t the right place for you. A few things you’ll want to weigh together:
    • The money
    • The editor’s revision ideas
    • The editor’s revision timeline
    • The potential support and proposed marketing plan
    • How many books they’re buying from you
    • Whether the publisher handles subrights (i.e. foreign rights, audio, film/TV) or not
    • The details of the contract (if they’re willing to send one over)
    • Whether the editor truly loves your book
      • NOTE: Your mileage may vary on this last point. But it was important to me that the editor be CLEARLY enthusiastic, even if they felt it needed lots of work. I ruled someone out after a phone call because they never once gave the impression that they even liked my book. I don’t want an editor to buy my book because they think it’ll sell; I want an editor who loves my story so much that they will champion it, fight for it, and work as hard as I do to make it the best it can be.
  • As always, trust your agent. In the end, it is your decision, but your agent has the expertise to help you. They will have your back, whether you get one offer, multiple offers and the book goes to auction (where interested editors bid for your project), or multiple offers and you get a pre-empt (a big offer a publisher makes to try to woo you and prevent the book from going to auction). If you’re like me, you got into writing because of the art, not the business, which is why it’s vital to have a business-minded advocate.

 

It is impossible to make a checklist that is completely comprehensive and covers every single scenario, but I think this general one should at least touch on the major points.

If you have an offer from an agent or an editor (or are preparing for that happy day! Think positive!), congratulations, and I hope this post helps you!

13 Responses to An Agent Or Editor Is Interested! What Next?!

  1. Susanna Jan 26 2018 at 8:28 am #

    Thanks for this advice! It’s nice to feel (sort of) prepared for the next steps in the traditional publishing process!

    • Jules
      Jules Jan 26 2018 at 3:00 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Susanna! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and wish you all the best with the next steps in your journey!

  2. Cyn Vannoy Jan 26 2018 at 8:58 am #

    I cannot thank you enough for these details! It’s blatantly obvious from what you’ve written that I would have been woefully unprepared for those phone calls.
    This is getting reblogged, posted for future reference, AND printed!

    • Jules
      Jules Jan 26 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Totally my pleasure, Cyn! And I only learned this steps through trial and error myself, and making many blunders and asking more experienced friends. Wishing you the best of luck!

  3. Marc Vun Kannon Jan 26 2018 at 9:17 am #

    Self-publishing is pretty simple, since you’re your own agent and editor, so you can skip a lot of these steps. I was published by a small press at one point, they were as green as I was. I’ve never been traditionally published, nor do I expect to be, but if I ever do it’s nice to have some tips like these.

    • Jules
      Jules Jan 26 2018 at 3:03 pm #

      There are pros and cons to all publishing paths, and none are better than others because it depends on what the writer wants. If you find that self-publishing worked out well, great — these steps are for those who are looking into traditional.

      • Marc Vun Kannon Jan 26 2018 at 4:33 pm #

        I would love to be traditionally published. I only self-publish because there is no way any traditional publisher, or more important, an agent, would look at the weird stuff I make and take a risk on it. They’re not very interested in creativity, unless it’s within extremely narrow bounds. The query process selects for a specific type of book, and that’s what they produce.

        • Jules
          Jules Jan 26 2018 at 5:05 pm #

          I’m sorry you feel that way. I strongly disagree that traditional publishing stifles creativity, but as I mentioned in my previous comment, it’s up to each individual writer which path they feel suits them, their strengths, and their preferences best.

          • Marc Vun Kannon Jan 26 2018 at 9:37 pm #

            It doesn’t stifle creativity, within certain bounds. I was just reading Save the Cat, and in the first chapter Mr. Snyder says it’s not that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, they just don’t think the public really wants anything new (I’m paraphrasing, but it’s on page three). I feel like publishing is much the same, wanting yesterday’s book, with perhaps a .05% bit of something new for today. Hence the emphasis on comp titles and query letter structure. I write next week’s book (no comp titles for me, and I invent new structures as I go), so no, it’s not up to me which path suits me. For authors like me, ‘choosing’ to go the traditional route is choosing to suffer, trying to squeeze my story into the straitjacket of the ‘standard’, ‘mainstream’, ‘typical’, ‘ordinary’ story structure, sending out query letters that never get a reply. I self-publish because I have to.

  4. Jake Jan 27 2018 at 8:55 pm #

    This was incredibly helpful, and gave specific details about things I had questions about but didn’t know what to articulate.

    If we really value the idea of all subrights (foreign, film/tv, audio, digital, and the unknown), what kinds of questions should we be asking potentially offering agents about them? If they work for an agency that doesn’t have internal people who represent all subrights (or only represent some of them), what do we ask to ensure that we’re picking an agent who can protect all of them?

    • Jules
      Jules Jan 28 2018 at 8:30 pm #

      Hi Jake, glad you found the post to be helpful! This is a great question. I’m not well-versed on subrights, but I do know that they vary from agency to agency. Some agencies have staff who are designated subrights specialists and therefore consider themselves to be “full service” (see for example, New Leaf Literary’s website), while others have what are known as co-agents who handle foreign rights (like my own agency, Laura Dail Literary). So I would ask an offering agent what kinds of subrights have been sold for their clients in the past and how these have been handled. Are they in-house or do they have other people with whom they partner? This would be a great question to put to the offering agent’s clients as well, when you ask for references. I’m not sure how much this response helped, but these are the questions I asked my agent before we signed. Good luck!

  5. Ken Jan 28 2018 at 8:16 pm #

    Thanks so much for the benefit of your experience. What you describe sounds a little like a job interview, yet (thankfully) also quite a bit different. Here’s a couple questions which might not have answers:

    You mention talking with other agents, or editors, about the same work. How long is the person who called you first going to wait? Should you disclose that you’re working with other offers?

    Is there any sort of general pace at which chapters are expected…? If so, how many weeks? Is any of this established in the contract? How flexible are editors about how quickly you turn out chapters?

    When does the topic of money come up?

    Thanks once again for sharing.

    • Jules
      Jules Jan 28 2018 at 8:46 pm #

      Hi Ken, you’re very welcome! It is indeed a lot like a job interview in that both parties are trying to find the best fit for everyone involved and produce a long-lasting professional relationship.

      When an agent calls to offer representation, the two of you will likely discuss a suitable length of time on the phone. This length of time varies, but I think in general it is 1-2 weeks. Agents are completely aware that you’ve sent your work to other agents, and this time is given as both a courtesy to you (because this is an important career decision) and also a courtesy to those other agents, to give them time to read and consider your work. There’s no need to disclose anything because the offering agent knows what you’ll use this time for.

      Not 100% sure what you mean by chapters expected… the whole manuscript will be complete and revised by the time your agent submits to editors. Since everyone’s editorial style is different, I can’t speak for all editors, but from my experience, each round of revision with my editor has been for the entire manuscript – not individual chapters. He will read the whole book, make notes, and send the whole thing back to me, and then I will apply the edits and send the whole book back. Deadlines depend on the publisher’s schedule and timeline, but your editor will always do their best to make sure you have enough time to apply edits as comfortably as possible.

      Topic of money will come up when an interested editor tells your agent they want to buy your book, because they need to let the agent know how much.

      Hope that helps. Good luck!

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