3 S.R. Johannes: Agents Insider 411

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Agents Insider 411

I thought I would outline a few things to remember for AFTER you get an agent. I wanted to give some inside scoop to having an agent and working on the submission process to editors.

I know there is a lot here so I'm sorry for the length, but I felt it was more important to share the things I was surprised about once I got an agent. So bookmark me for late night reading :) Keep in mind, this is my opinion. Everyone has one!

1. The saying is not "Happily Agent after" - Don't think that once you get an agent, you are done with the hard part in this process we call publishing. Oh Contrare Monfrare! Once you get an agent. Your book does not sail into the sunset from there. Getting an agent - is really only the beginning of this long journey. You still have edits and waiting and pressure and disappointment. The only difference is that now you have someone by your side (besides your mother and husband) who believes in you and your book as much as you do.

2. Your book is never done! - I have stopped tweeting the following statement "Yay! I'm done! Onto the next one." Why? because I've been "done" now a few times and I'm pretty sure I'm still not quite "done". In reality, I don't think you are "done" until your book is in print and even then, i think sometimes you have to revise for your foreign versions. Just say, "I'm done for now." Then you won't be disappointed or frustrated. But expect rounds and rounds of revisions with agents and editors before submission (sub), during sub,after sub, after contract, for foreign sales etc. Some agents don't do many edits but more and more are in this environment. Just know, your book will be better and you will grow as a writer.

3. Agents know things you don't! If an agent makes a decision that impacts your book's process at whatever stage it is in. Know that they have a whole lot of factors going into that decision that you might not know about. They live in this business everyday. They know things. Secret things. Unspoken rules. Secret handshakes. Coded messages. Things you and I will never know. Trust me, there is a whole secret society and set of rules that agents and editors live by that we do not see. Nor will we ever.

4. You have to trust your agent. This is why interviewing agents first is totally critical in your success. You HAVE to understand their communication process and style and submission process. B/c when things are happy, so are you and your agent. But if things get tough, and they will, you HAVE to trust your agent - their advice and their process. The reason we all get an agent is so they can help us visit/tour/stay in the Land of Publishing. Your agent is the guide and you are the tourist. You know where you want to go but they know how to get you there.

5. Be careful who you listen to. "They" are not always right. Rachel Gardner post about this today. Rumors go around that put doubts in authors minds. Rumors about agents, rumors about editors or houses, rumors about the process, rumor about books, rumors about authors, rumors about advances, rumors about rumors - blah blah. There are a 1,001 differing opinions and 1,000,000,001 ways to get published. Not everyone has the same experience, including agents or editors. You have your own path, don't let yourself get pulled onto someone elses's.

6. Revisions- quality not quantity. You will get "deadlines" from agents on when to turn your book back in. If the date is unrealistic - make sure you talk about it with your agent. Those dates are NOT set in stone. I hate pushing back on deadlines. I don't want anyone to think I'm slow or a slacker! I've learned that agents "suggest" deadlines and expect you to push back if its not realistic. You will not get in trouble if you don't meet them. Don't rush the changes or force your writing. Because, trust me, it will come back anyway. I realize now it is more irritating to an agent to have to send the book back. They are not impressed with fast turn-arounds if you miss something. So slow down and take your time. Sometimes the best moments in your book comes with time and sitting on it.

7. What exactly is a revision and how to deal? This was an eyeopener for me. Revisions are NOT just line edits and a comment here or there. When you sign on with a agent who edits. Revisions can be things like change your ending, this character sux, work on this, rework this. It is a 4 or 5 page editorial letter. Don't attack your agent for their letter or advice. I have found my first reaction to myself is always - i can't do that or that is crazy! But once I calm down and try it - it works so much better! and my book is better. So keep an open mind with revisions.

8. Express Yourself. Agents work for you just as much as you work for them. I think some people just grab an agent up b/c they offer. Because we try so hard, we grab the first think that comes. But as dating, we all know that doesnt mean "the first guy who asks you out" is right for you. Be sure you interview and ask questions. Hard questions. You need to know your communication styles and expectations match and compliment each other. I'm sure this pertains to editors too. You need to express your book and career visions and be sure you are on the same page. Be sure to say what you want or need to know and why. And find out the same from them. Here's a great article on how to choose the right agent. You need to decide if they are right for you. Because if they arent', those issues will only magnify as things get more stressful. A mismatch is worse than no match. When someone told me that - I used to always think "Yeah right easy for you to say, you have an agent!" But it really is true! Be sure you're clear all this stuff BEFORE you sign. This questioning helped me choose the right agent.

9. Know the plan for your book/career. Now, some authors may disagree, but personally I do not think it is plain business smart to be involved (at an appropriate level) in some of the strategy decisions or in the planning process for your own book. Do you want to railroad over them or boss them around? No! because they know the business!!! But why would you not want to know the rejections, the editors, the houses, the plan? Would you send your kid to a nanny without finding out more about how they handle kids. Would you hand your money over to a financial advisor without asking about the investments he/she is planning for you? I think the more you know, the better. Just b/c you ask questions, does not mean, you do not trust your agent!! It means you CARE about your future in this business and are an active participant in partnering with your agent to make it happen. To me, a good agent should not MIND answering questions that you feel you need to ask. I'm happy to go where my agent wants me to - as long as I understand where I am going and why.

10. You should never be afraid of your agent. Your agent is like your 'business partner'. You have to trust them through the good times and hard times. If you're afraid to voice your opinion - you should not be with them. You should not be afraid to speak up or contact your agent if you have a valid reason. Not every day and obviously in a respectful way. To "professionally discuss" why, when, how, and what. I personally think a good agent would respect and honor that (Again, professional is key). Most agents don't want you to be intimidated and want you to feel comfortable with them.

11. You are not the only one. This is so hard to keep in mind as you continue through your publishing journey. Your agent has other clients, a boss, colleaques, a family. Guess what? They have a life outside of your books, publishing dreams, and revisions goals. WHAT!? I know that is hard to believe b/c we breathe our books, our writing. But it its true. Your agent has about 20-40 Yous reacting the same way you are. They only have so much time - so pick your battles. If you become annoying, you are doing yourself any favors. On the other hand, if you don't hear from them timely, it could be a problem.

12. They want your book to sell just as much as you. Agents (and editors) want to sell your book as much as you do. Agents don't get paid until you do. Agents have to query just like we do. Agents have to accept rejection just like we do. Agents get excited about successes just like we do.They have to read your book a gazillion times, listen to you moan, respond to all your annoying emails, keep you calm, answer questions - all on a hope and a prayer that your book will sell. They hate rejection just as much as we do. They care about our books just as much as we do. None of them want us to fail. Because then they fail too.

13. Don't be a hound dog. Don't shoot off 100 emails a day. This sounds like "duh!!" but seriously it is soooooo hard when you start freaking out about something you heard or read or saw or think. Probably worse when you are on sub b/c everything takes so long. But use your support group to vent, freak out, cry and solicit advice. Go to all of your support people BEFORE you go to your agent. Agents are not your therapists, your BFF, or your mother. Also - when you send an email, try to save it and wait to reread. Email is tricky and innocent things can come off completely wrong. I personally think its better to talk on the phone but that is not always possible. Another thing, try to keep emails short and to the point. They dont have time to read a 8 page letter and they probably dont really care what you did last weekend.

14. Run future projects by your agent. Kirsten White did a great post awhile back on this. Of course we all want to write the book that is in our hearts. I do too. I don't want someone telling me what to write. But from a business/marketing side - you have to consider what is selling. I think its important to have a discussion with a perspective agent or your agent about what you want to or are working on next. I'm not saying write what they want you to write. But, i think as your agent, they deserve to be involved (just like you do in their process) since they're time and energy goes into it as well. If you have differing opinions - it could be a problem but better to have that discussion on word 1,000 than on word 80,000.

15. Try not to worry about your agent dropping you. Getting an agent does not mean you will sell your book easily. yes it opens doors. But there is always a possibility - especially in this market - that you will not sell. Know that if you get the RIGHT agent, most WILL stick by you. Most will not drop you. Most will help you with your next project. I think that fear always lingers. "Will my agent drop me?" I don't think they do unless something is seriously wrong in the relationship. So just know, if you don't sell and you have the right agent, you will be OK and move onto the next project. There are tons of authors out there who did NOT sell their first book and their agent stuck by them to sell their next project.

16. Be patient. If you push at this process, it will crush you. You have to try and be patient. Trust me, it is soooooo hard. Especially when people around you get deals or get agents or finish books faster than you. I have found that if you push at this process, the process only gets longer and slower. Try to breathe and know things will happen for you when they are supposed to. There is only so much you or your agent can do. Timing comes into play. Finding the right house or editor comes into play. Then something bigger takes over to create that serendipitous moment. Try to relax. Easy to say, hard to do.

If any other agented authors have some tips, please put them in the comments.

What did you learn? What were you surprised about? What do you wish you had asked an agent when you got an offer?

36 comments:

Andrea Cremer said...

Shelli - you are very wise. This post is dead on. Having an agent is wonderful, but it's only another (very important) step in the publishing process. I also very quickly let go of "I'm done!" as a usable phrase.

PJ Hoover said...

Sweet post, Shelli! Thank you for taking so much time to write it!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Good stuff here, Shelli, though I wouldn't say the journey starts with an agent but takes a new direction.

As SLOW as the process is (I'm also one to want to fight it), I keep telling myself submission with an agent is 100 times faster than the years I'd wait 13-14 months just to get a rejection all alone.

It feels good to be validated by seeing my writing get into the hands of editors/houses I've admired for ages.

I also had to remember I'm not my agent's only client, and she does have a life outside of me.

I'll never forget, by the way, how you took the time to answer me when Alyssa requested one of my MS. Thanks for your hand in helping me along this journey.

WendyCinNYC said...

Great post, Shelli.

Keri Mikulski said...

Great advice! ;) And so true. :)

Patti said...

That's a lot to remember. Very good advice I'll bookmark this post for when I get an agent.

Valerie Geary said...

Great article! Thanks for some insider-info! Very good things to remember.

Paul Greci said...

Shelli, this is excellent advice. Very thorough!! I love working w/my agent. She's awesome!

I do think it is important to find the right match. You want someone who you feel good about working with, and who you trust. You have to let your agent do their job. You have to able to talk about your concerns but like Shelli said, not every little thing.

Rebecca Knight said...

I hadn't thought about what a real revision request would be like, so this was great info! :) I also liked #17. This is the stuff you fret about when you're unagented.

Thanks, Shelli!

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post. I've read and written about the aftermath of getting an agent, but this was a fresh view.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

ElanaJ said...

This is very wise advice. I admit, I'm still struggling with #15, but I love my agent and I'm sure she loves my book (she keeps saying she does...). But the whole self-confidence thing is hard.

Katie Ganshert said...

What a great post! I've had an agent for about two months now. I have a book out on submission. It's really validating and such a relief to be at this stage, but like you said, it's a beginning of sorts. Definitely not the finish line. :)

Thanks for the insights, Shelli. I'm curious - who represents you?

Katie Ganshert said...

I'm a dork. I just saw in your profile that you list your agent. So never mind my question!

V. S said...

Awesome tips as always. I especially like #6.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Excellent points. I'd add this one - that the first time you have a conversation with an industry professional who has read and loved your novel, it is very very WEIRD! I remember that felt about as significant a rite of passage as actually getting the agent.

Hardygirl said...

Whew! Good stuff.

The only thing that I have to say is make sure your agent is in love with your work--that he or she shares your passion.

sf

Sarah Campbell said...

I can't believe it looking back, but I was so frazzled when I got my first call from an editor who wanted to publish my book, I asked him: "Are we really having this conversation? Now?"

Good thoughts, Shelli.

Karen said...

You have such a way of sharing posts that are simultaneously sobering and encouraging. Thanks for sharing your journey!

Lisa and Laura said...

Great post Shelli! Lots of good advice here!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for your great post. I'm just going to start querying agents and your advice is so helpful. I think for any part of the process--querying, revising for your agent, & then waiting while they submit, your advice about being patient is so important. And realizing like you say that agents have other clients, so be respectful of this. I'm an attorney and the clients who don't recognize this I like representing the least.

Jennie Englund said...

Super informative! Especially the patience part.

Thanks!

Daisy Whitney said...

So much great advice here! I especially agree that we need to trust our agents. I totally believe that -- if we hire them, we need to let them do their jobs!

Christina Farley said...

Such great advice. Very clear and easy to read and thorough!

Susan R. Mills said...

Great information here. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.

Katie said...

Wow shelli! This is oh so wise and insightful! I love Karen's comment.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

WONDERFUL post Shelli! :) e

Solvang Sherrie said...

That post is a keeper, Shelli. Thanks for all the great advice!

Amy Tate said...

What a fantastic post! Thank you! This is one that I want to print and save. Chuck Sambuchino said the same thing regarding agent trust. He said that most agents are straight forward and look out for your best interests. It's the publishers that can be sneaky. I'm glad to hear you echo that, because that is a concern of mine. Merry Christmas!!!

Melissa said...

Thank you, thank you for such a fantastic post!

Rhiannon Hart said...

I'm newly agented so this all helps so much. The hardest part is being patient and not sending the "how's it going? Sold my book yet??" emails (I haven't sent ANY yet, which I'm rather proud of.) I just keep reminding myself that my agent is busy and she'll contact me when there's news. It isn't as bad as the waiting was when I was querying. Now I don't feel so alone with the waiting.

~Ellie Kings~ said...

Shelli, thanks for the wealth of information. I will keep it in my file.

Lauren said...

Awesome post and great advice. I am going to keep this on hand for when/if I get an agent :)

I totally agree about the waiting to email. I actually do that quite often at work if there is touchy issue. Besides, if it is someone you have lots of comments for (like a boss at day-job or agent at writing-job), it's nice to save them up :)

Southpaw said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks.

Meghan Ward said...

Thanks so much for this post, Shelli. Very informative!

Crystal said...

WONDERFUL POST, Shelli! Thank you SO MUCH for laying it all out like this . . . I'm printing this out & keeping next to my list of agent interview questions (if I ever do get that call!)

Happy Holidays to you & your family! :)

KM said...

Good post! I'm still in the process of finding an agent. I look forward to having to deal with these issues. ;)