Monday, May 2, 2011

The Call, and Questions you should ask

I love making The Call. The call that informs a writer that I really, really love their ms and I want to represent them. There are a few reasons for the call and why an agent may not offer representation right away or at all during the call. Firstly, we want to just talk with you and get a feel for who you are. We have to make sure that we are compatible; it's a professional relationship and you don't want to make a commitment lightly. Secondly, we'll probably talk about revisions and make sure you're open to revisions. Also, I like knowing our visions for your ms are the same. Thirdly, I'll probably bring up your career. What else are you writing? What do you want to write? Have that ready and a quick pitch for your WIPs (I mean quick, we're here to discuss your current ms, not everything you've written since second grade).

There are many, many great resources out there with lists of questions for you to ask an agent. I'm not going to reproduce said list here, but I'll highlight a few questions that I think are great for you to ask.

Here's a few questions that will just help inform you about the process.
  • Time Line: how long do you foresee edits taking and when are you expecting to be able to pitch?
  • Sample Contract: Agent contracts are pretty standard, but if it's your first you may not know a lot of things in it, so request to see one and bring up any questions you might have before making a commitment
And here's a few questions to get to know the offering agent a little better (remember, you are allowed to say no if you don't think you'll work well with the agent, we would much prefer to work with someone who actually wants to work with us, rather than finding out the hard way down the road).
  • How many clients do you have currently? Genres? What stages of editing/publishing?
  • What is your favorite book? (I was blown away when asked this question and realized how telling it really is; of course, we'll probably ask the question in turn so be ready)
  • What is your preferred communication style?
  • What about my ms caught your attention? Why do you love it? (I usually lead with this, but it is good for you to know what is strongest about your ms and why the agent loves it)
Like I said, there are many more questions to be asked, but these ones are the ones I've found to be most helpful. Any agent's blog is going to be helpful, so be sure to visit those in your search for more.

Oh, and we know you're going to be super nervous and excited. Go ahead and let that show a little (even the most callous of agents like to be reminded of your excitement and their own importance). And take notes, who knows how much you'll actually remember once the excitement and nervousness wears off?

For represented writers out there, what questions did you find most helpful during this process? If you have a blog post about your own journey, share it in the comments.

For represented and non-represented writers, what are the best resources to find out more information about this process?

21 comments:

Lynn(e) said...

WIP--is that writing in progress?

Melanie said...

@ Lynne(e) WIP stands for Work In Progress. As in, the project you are currently writing/working on. Also, SNI (if you ever see that one) stands for Shiny New Idea (I think that's it? LOL)

Thanks Vickie for another great post. I have a couple of different ask the agent lists, but you have added some things that weren't on my list. A great resource that other writers can check out on the subject is over at Absolute Write. It's a message board for writers of every imaginable genre you can imagine. It is one of the best places to be for both new and experienced writers to share and support each other's passion and careers in writing. That website changed my life and my world and view of writing. They have guest agents that often come to answer any and all questions and the question of what to ask an agent during "the call" has come up. :-)

Barbara Kloss said...

This is great! Thanks...I'll write those down in my notes (ie type them into my everything writing file). It's awesome when agents like yourself give insight into this stage that many (myself included) aspire to.

Rachelle Gardner has also had some good things to say about what to ask a prospective agent/etc.

Heather said...

These are excellent! Some of them I never would have thought about. Thank you! I'll be bookmarking this one and hope to put it to use soon. :)

Gwen Hayes said...

I don't really remember the call so much...how awful is that? I remember getting a bunch of questions together, but I don't remember asking them. I'm sure I did.

Almost positive I did.

I do remember that she asked me to call her when it was convenient for me...so the call was not answered but placed. I know that we discussed a few things, but got more in depth in emails before and after.

I know I liked her a whole bunch. And I still do, so it's all good, right?

Some of the things that I wrote down to discuss were things like...what happens if we want to break up, do you already know who you would send my manuscript to, how hands on are you regarding editing?

I also wanted someone that would have time for me and that would be fun. Fun isn't important to everyone, but it is to me. I enjoy talking to my agent, she's very professional but is also humorous and interesting.

Krista V. said...

Another helpful post, Vickie. Thanks!

Kathryn said...

This is fantastic! Like many writers, I have a word doc with questions like these. My fave is the one about method of communication. I think this is sooo important, even though it seems a bit frivolous. I totally get that. :) Thanks, Vickie!

Christa said...

Nathan Bransford also just did a great blog about different types of agents and what you should look for. He mentioned asking what types of publishers will an agent try to sell to (only big or small presses too) and how long they will keep your work on submission.
Thanks for the post!

Kristi Helvig said...

I eagerly await the day I get to ask these questions. Thanks for the tips! :)

Shallee said...

Great post! I've been collecting different posts on what to ask agents...just in case I get a call. :) Thanks for helping me add to my list!

Julia said...

This is great advice, Vickie! I wished I'd read this before I got THE CALL. By the time the phone rang, I was way too excited to think of coherent questions and pitches on the spot.

Carolina Valdez-Miller has a great post about The Call: http://www.carolinavaldezmiller.com/

Shelley Watters said...

Great Post Vickie!

I actually didn't need to ask the questions, Mark answered them all before I could ask them, or I knew the answers from doing my research.

But some important ones were: 1) Are you an editorial agent? I really wanted an agent that was hands-on and editorial (And Mark was a perfect match for me). I didn't want an agent who expected a polished, submission ready ms on their desk first try. I mean I submit the absolute best of my work to him after I've polished it to a mirror-like shine, but I wanted an agent that was willing to dig in and help us bring my writing to a whole new level. One that wasn't afraid to get their hands dirty if they needed to :)

2) What sort of revisions do you think it needs/how close is it to submission?

3) Timelines - how long do they usually take for various things (line edits/revision notes)

4) Communication style/frequency.

Beth C. said...

Great post! I experienced The Call back in March, which was followed by a second offer a few days later. It was... crazy.

Probably the best advice I can give is to be prepared. When you start querying, put together a list of questions and keep it handy. Not only does it make you think positively, but if you do get surprised by a call, you'll have a crutch to lean on so you don't sound like a total idiot. (I say that, but I think I babbled my head off anyway.)

I have a story about getting The Call on my blog:
http://celestialgldfsh.livejournal.com/151856.html

Marie Rearden said...

Super helpful post. I'm miles and miles away from the Call, but when I get there (yes, I've made the choice to be 'when' confident!), I hope I can remember these questions.

Thanks!

Marie

Tiffany said...

Fantasic! Thank you, Vickie! I added a few of these tips/questions to my list!

~Tiffany

Julie said...

Great advice... here's to hoping we'll all get to use it soon!

Also, I was wondering if you had any advice for those of us meeting with agents in person. I'm scheuled to meet with some agents this weekend at a writing conference, and I haven't the slightest idea how to go about the process! A post on in-person meets with agents would be greatly appreciated!

Kristine Asselin said...

The resource list I used was from Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles. Of course, then I proceeded to forget to ask most of them...

http://caseylmccormick.blogspot.com/2010/02/call-or-what-to-ask-literary-agent-when.html

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I wish I'd had your questions when we talked. Ha!Probably could've save some time, cutting out some of my endless rambling.

I posted my call story here:

Burp Now

:P

Michael Offutt said...

It's so unfair to ask what your favorite book is. I want to say ten titles from the "Lord of the Rings" to "Three Stations" to Hawking's "Grand Design" to Maya Angelou's "Letter To My Daughter" to Olivia Munn's "Suck It Wonder Woman" and J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting For The Barbarians" ... ay carajo!

Martha Ramirez said...

Great post!"What is your favorite book?"
That is a great question. Glad you brought that up.

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