Yeah! Someone Wants to Represent Your Book! Now What?

photo by Grevel

After weeks (months? years?) of querying agents and getting nothing in return but radio silence, someone has requested your manuscript and followed up with an excited call or email offering representation. So now what? I think the best way to answer this question is to use the knowledge I have from being on this side of the fence and put myself in an author’s shoes. What would I do?

First things first. After taking my husband out for dinner to celebrate the fact that, no, I am not crazy for doing this thing called writing, I would ask myself, Is this agent the best representative for my book?

The easiest way to gauge that would be to get on the phone with the agent and talk.

After thanking them for loving the book, I’d ask them if they thought it needing editing before going out to editors and if so, what that would involve. (Warning bells would go off if they told me it was perfect and we didn’t need to change a thing. I am a big believer in revision.)

I’d also ask them if they had an idea of what editors to submit to. (Again, warning bells would go off if they didn’t.  Knowing who to submit to is at the very core of what we agents do, day in and day out, and having a sense of editors’ tastes and interests is crucial.  If I am not writing a submission list in the margins of a ms I am considering, then I am probably not the agent for the book.)

Questions to ask:

  • Is this agent the best representative for my book?
  • Does this agent have suggested edits?
  • Does this agent have ideas about where they would submit my story?
  • Do I have a natural rapport with this agent?
  • Is she easy to talk to? Does she listen?
  • Are we on the same page?
  • Do her clients paint a healthy agent-author picture?

After our call I would reflect on how the conversation went.  Do I have a natural rapport with this agent?  Is she easy to talk to? Are we on the same page? Does she listen? This is a more organic gut feeling than any specific question can answer, but I do think it’s crucial. (This kind of thinking goes both ways, too. Switching to the other side of the fence for a moment, I’ve been in a beauty contest with an author and felt less enthusiastic about representation after the conversation, and thus happy that we had the chance to see if we clicked before deciding to move forward.)

And while it only takes one, if I were in the position of having several offers of representation, I would really take my time and talk to everyone and also ask the agent if they were comfortable having me talk to a few of their clients. This last piece of advice is a tricky, as I know other agents who would be taken aback by this. But if I was really on the fence, trying to decide between two people, I would want to know from the authors who worked with the agents in question what it was really like on an everyday basis; and if those agents said that they were, for example, hands on editors, or involved in publicity efforts, that they weren’t just telling me what I wanted to hear.

And, just to wrap up, in a comment from my last post, a reader asked, How do you know if an agent is reputable or not?

An agent that has a list of published books and good relationships with editors is certainly reputable.  And I think doing your due diligence and asking questions like the ones above, especially if you are concerned about reputation, will make the answer obvious.

Is that helpful?  I know on my end, finding that book that I just have to work on is one of the best feelings ever, so I will leave you with a happy little anecdote of mine.  I recently signed an author, who sent me his book days before I was leaving for our first EVER family vacation in Jamaica.  I told him I would read it when I got back in town, but I happened to dip into in the day before we left, and much to my husband’s chagrin, rather than sipping rum punches with him on a beach, I spent the first half of our trip so totally absorbed in this book that I could do little else.  I called the author upon landing and did anything but play it cool, and begged him to let me work with him. I also took him to lunch and gave him all my editorial notes and my thoughts on the submission list. I would have been devastated if he hadn’t signed with me, but in the end he did and I really believe it was my enthusiasm that won him over.  That’s the kind of stuff you can’t fake.  I am not saying that every agent offering representation will respond this way. I happen to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I do believe you should feel the love.

Anybody out there reading this have other advice on the topic? I’d love to know what has worked for you. Also, please feel free to ask any other agent-related questions in the comments below and I’ll be glad to consider for future posts.

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About Elisabeth Weed

Elisabeth Weed formed Weed Literary LLC in 2007. Prior to that, she worked as a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Kneerim and Williams and Trident Media Group. Weed Literary is hands-on in every stage of the publishing process, from developing proposals, to submitting books to the all of the major houses and negotiating contracts with those houses, to involvement in marketing and publicity of books, as well as in the selling of foreign and film rights.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve always wondered how an agent feels about finding an author to represent. I’ve just barely started the query process, so I’m hoping to use your advice soon! I’ve been so focused on polishing the query letter, I’ve really never thought about what I would do if someone says, “yes.”

    This post is a keeper.

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  2. says

    Thanks, Elisabeth! This is helpful. I keep thinking that after the initial conversation you have lined out, I would have a lot of questions about where an agent saw my book going and how they might help me navigate the question of whether I want to be a full-on traditionally published author or a hybrid, both because I don’t want to get stuck with low royalties at a publisher that isn’t promoting my work and because I work very quickly and I’m not sure if one publisher could keep up with me. Would these questions make an agent unsure if I was committed to working with them, or are they increasingly common? I would love your feedback on this. Thanks so much! Great article.

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Good question, Laura. I think showing that you have a lot of ideas and a real vision for your future is always a plus. I guess the trick is making sure that that vision comes across, rather than just throwing out a million ideas. As an agent, I like to establish my author first and then allow them to start trying other things, so I guess my advice would be to show your enthusiasm and outline your ideas but also make clear that this first book is where your passion lies at this moment. Does that make sense?

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  3. says

    This is great for me to read, because I admit, even after several years of thinking about finding an agent, I’ve given little thought to what comes next.

    And thank you so much for that last anecdote! Just the thought that this could happen does my heart so much good. I’ve had a couple of readers connect with my story in this way. And a few years ago I realized this was what it was all about–human connection, and a deep one, at that. It’s what has kept me striving to make my work the very best it can be. And I hadn’t really considered the thought that an agent could be one of those who feels this connection. That would be so wonderful. So thank you, Elisabeth! You’ve given me yet another reason to keep striving.

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Thanks, Vaughn. I really wanted to get the agent side of things across as we do really care and feel passionately about what we rep.

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  4. says

    It’s wonderful to hear your advice on how to know which agent is best for our work. It’s a big decision, one that affects every aspect of our writing careers, and it’s helpful to hear it from your side of the table. Thank you.

    I’ve watched as writing friends get whisked away by literary agents, and have observed as their careers move forward. Some lit agents have that magical combination of enthusiasm and experience and connections that help a book soar. Others don’t.

    My question is: how important do you feel it is in this current publishing landscape for an agent to be physically present where the publishing industry works (NYC)? Do you think physical location of an agent should be a factor in deciding?

    Thank you, Elisabeth!

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Hi Jennifer, For me, it’s important to be in NYC or at least close enough to be able to have the lunches and various meetings that being an agent entails. However, I know many a super star agent (I’ll start with Kirsten Nelson who I just met a few weeks ago) who work out of the area and do so seamlessly. People like Kirsten come to NYC once a quarter and have meetings with editors and other folks at the various houses. I think I am just a bit lazy about traveling (I have two small children) and don’t like being away from them. I would ask an agent who isn’t in NYC how they keep in touch and as long as they are visiting a fair amount, I think you are in great shape.

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  5. Dana McNeely says

    Great questions, certainly things I would want to know and would give one a good idea of how the agent works. But I wonder – do you think an agent would tell an author who she thought to send the book to, before a contract was signed?

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Hi Dana, I always do, but I don’t play hard to get when I really want to work with someone. I figure they should know where I want to go and why as it also shows I know the business. That said, I do know agents who will hold that card for that very reason. I personally think it’s a weird thing to do. It’s not like I don’t know the list after reading the book, but yes, some agents won’t share until you’ve signed on the dotted line.

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  6. says

    Wow, I got excited reading your last paragraph. It was like reading a passage in a good novel. Your words evoked feelings. Interesting…. I was not expecting that.

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Good! My hope was to impart how much we want to fall in love with your work.

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  7. says

    Thanks so much, Elizabeth, for sharing your experience & wisdom (thanks, Therese, for sharing your agent, Elizabeth, with us here!) I clicked on the link provided to read your previous blog first because April was my month to put WU in the “writer email” file while I put my nose into my novel. I am almost ready to query (I know, “almost” could mean a year) but I have already researched agents & very much need to hear everything you have to say about the process of acquiring representation. I also agree with several commenters–I got a dreamy feeling just thinking about an agent reading my manuscript on a Jamaican beach. I could hear the steel drums beating & the ocean crash the shore (or a pool boy asking for your cocktail order). I imagined it was MY BOOK. How wonderful of you to represent with such enthusiasm and to share an antidote that will keep us moving ahead.

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  8. says

    This is excellent advice because I expect most of us feel the way I often do — like I’m a wallflower at the party and should feel *GRATEFUL* that anybody would want to dance with me. Ah, to be able to choose between different agents, all of them wanting to escort me onto the floor!

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  9. Brent Hartinger says

    Due diligence is great, but truthfully, I’m not sure you can ever really “know” beforehand. I mean, the JOB of an agent is represent him or herself well, to be able to do small talk and sell him or herself. Definitely go with your gut, but your gut will probably say, “I like this person.”

    The more important advice is: stay in touch with your agent, and if you feel it’s not working, have the guts to leave (and make sure your contract has an “out” clause with a no-more-than-3-month waiting time).

    I’ve heard many times, “A bad agent is worse than having no agent at all.” And it’s really true.

    Good article! :-)

    P.S. I’ve had seven agents and nine editors. I never knew how the relationship would turn out until I was into it. It’s a lot like dating!

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Hi Brent. I think I need to interview you for one of my later posts, on parting ways with your agent! And you are right, you never really know. But I do think there are steps you can take to insure that you are on the same page. And absolutely, keeping in touch is key. I tell my authors to be a squeaky wheel. (I’ll be covering some of this on my next post, Maintaining a Healthy Working Relationship with your Agent in my next post as well.)

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  10. says

    jeez, that’s nice story to end on but I bet the majority of writers out there feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven if they get any agent interested in representing them, much less multiple agents.

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Hi Tony, I know, that’s why I included it. I understand it’s got to be so frustrating as you embark on this process so I wanted to share something hopeful. I hope it helped.

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  11. says

    Well…I think we have very different ideas of due diligence.

    I’d want to see what sort of agreement the agent wanted me to sign. I’d run that by a lawyer and give it some thought. A lot of thought actually. Red flag issues involve handling of -my- royalty checks by the -agent’s- office, any commitment on my side to stick with the agent on future books, any insistence that the agent gets a commission on any future sale of rights regardless of whether the agent closes the deal…there are lots of other issues.

    I’d check Writers Beware and other sites, and spend at least a few -hours- on Google checking out the agent as thoroughly as I could. I wouldn’t assume an agent is reputable because of listed authors, unless I knew the authors and could ask them questions. In fact I’d need some contact info so I could do exactly that. Authors have historically gotten some pretty awful deals. Not all of them. But enough that a list of names by itself means very little to me.

    Good relationships with editors? Hard to pin down unless I knew the editors myself. I’d probably skip that for the moment, and go back to the agreement the agent wanted me to sign–how hard would it be to get out of it if things weren’t going well? What would be my plan to determine whether things were going well? I’d need to come up with one.

    I’d want to know what sort of deal the agent would be looking for. Just an estimate of the advance size he or she would shoot for. And I’d compare that to my other options, which would include self-publishing. Come to think of it, how does the agent react to that possibility? Does the agent understand I don’t need permission to write or be read, and going with a publisher is entirely contingent on the value the publisher promises (in writing!) to deliver?

    I’d ask if the agent understood clearly that they would not be handling my money, but that their commission and my royalties would be sent separately by the publisher(s) we dealt with. Kind of a key point there.

    I’d wonder, if the agent requested changes to the manuscript, just what motivated them. In fact I’d ask that question. If I agreed the changes would be likely to improve the book, I’d be grateful for the new ideas (though in my sole experience with this so far, I was more “meh” and didn’t care one way or the other, so I just went with ’em). If I strongly disagreed with the changes…well, I’d ask what the agent would like to do assuming the book stood as it was, and note to myself that this agent might or might not be inclined to put real effort into representing me (not my book; it wouldn’t care either way).

    Then I’d figure I’d left some steps out, and go googling to see what they were. And do a lot more thinking.

    Oh, and if I ask about ebooks and electronic rights, do I hear anything good? If not, I go back to the size of the advance the agent is after. And I do a lot more thinking.

    But that’s me.

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    • Elisabeth Weed says

      Absolutely, David. All good advice. I guess I am forgetting about all the agents out there who aren’t reputable or do have crazy clauses in their agency agreements. But absolutely, ask for one. (Mine is one page and very straight forward.) And I do think the self publishing question is a good one. For better or worse, I am not jumping on that bandwagon in terms of setting up my own self publishing arm, so if that’s a direction you do want to explore off the bat, do ask an agent about it.

      I disagree with you about asking about an advance. Only in that it’s a really hard question to answer truthfully and holding an agent to a number can be tricky. But I hear where you are coming from. I think I would suggest instead, going on publishers marketplace (where I post my deals) and seeing what sort of deals and for how much, the agent typically gets. Or, ask the agent what he or she usually sells an X book for, or what they hope to get for the book.

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      • says

        Hmm. Good point about asking for a typical advance size. But I’d probably still do it, and check the published deals (if I can find them!) as you suggest, and think about any obvious discrepancies.

        As far as self-publishing goes, it’d be a weird choice (though I understand many have made it) to include an agent. Kudos to you for not getting involved! It’s definitely in authors’ best interest to make sure they will always have control of their own self-published works. Otherwise, why bother with the hassle of it? After all, agreements with agents don’t necessarily last forever, and it’d be a shame if personal or business conflicts unnecessarily messed up a backlist.

        It’d also be odd not to consider self-publishing as an option for a given work. It is, or ought to be, a straightforward business decision. Publishers (sometimes via agents) can get a book in front of readers who wouldn’t otherwise see it. The author, in return, gives up control of various issues (promotions, cover, blurb, interior design, price, availability) and also the majority of his or her royalties. Plus there are delays.

        I think people who write quickly can probably at least try to put a foot in both worlds and see what benefits they gain from each, as long as they don’t sign a contract prohibiting that kind of flexibility.

        I do like the idea of a one-page agreement in principle, though of course it depends on the page! I wish I could remember who it was that said something like “contracts are wonderful documents–they allow us, very politely, to spell out all the ways we don’t trust each other.”

        OTOH my daughter said once that contracts are ways for people to help each other (she’s not quite four, and I wish I knew where she gets the things she tells me).

        Anyway. Thanks for the reply, and you’ve given me more to think about.

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        • says

          I love this thread. I have a question about self-pub for both of you… What if an author self-pub-d a book to get it out there, start to sell it, market it & make some MOOLAH while they agent shopped to find an agent to rep it to publishers? I can’t see wading & waiting for the long arduous process of traditional publishing when you could get rejected, and have to goo the self-pub way anyway. You can sell loads of books while you look for an agent, who then has to get a publisher. Instead of doing it after a long waiting & rejections. What think thee of my “idea” to agent shop while the book goes to print-on-demand & e-book? IF an agent wants to see a manuscript, they get a printed book, one that can be edited easily and reprinted by the e-book & print-on-demand service & one with sales stats?

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          • says

            I think Dean Wesley Smith said quite a bit on this topic. He seemed generally in favor. I don’t have a link but his site is deanwesleysmith.com. My recollection is that he essentially suggested trying everything, and producing lots of material to do it with. He’s also in favor of sending manuscripts directly to publishers, which also worked for me until it didn’t. In another age, both Dean Koontz and Lawrence Block made the same suggestion–in spite of posted guidelines.

            I have no information or experience with regard to pursuing an agent or publisher after self-pubbing. I guess if the book sells fairly well you’re in a better bargaining position. But what if it doesn’t? What if you write a book that would have excited an editor, but weak sales kill the deal? Most self-pubbed books sell poorly.

            I’m no expert here. I imagine it works sometimes, like everything else? FWIW I quit writing for years after an editorial shuffle killed my first novel’s chance of publication. I’d move along pretty quickly to something else today. And I wish I had kept writing in the interim.

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            • says

              Thank you! Ah yes, & there’s the rub: “I guess if the book sells fairly well you’re in a better bargaining position. But what if it doesn’t? What if you write a book that would have excited an editor, but weak sales kill the deal? Most self-pubbed books sell poorly,” he says and then I say “give me a shot of Captain Morgan’s rum NOW please.” This is the thing. THE thing. But ya gotta believe, right? That is why I was thinking send queries simultaneous with the e-book? Hhm, maybe not? Still mullin it. I will look at that link you gave me & mull some more. On a final note, you probably know (but its always worth the repeat) that Stephen King sent “Carrie” directly to Doubleday. Not only did it become a Doubleday book but they sold the paperback rights for $400,000, tying the record that had just been hit by The Godfather. Praise be the writer who breaks all of the rules because he doesn’t know them yet.

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              • says

                I think that was something like the fifth book he sent, to an editor who was working with him. I don’t know if his early stuff ever did get published. But hey, writing a lot & getting stuff in front of people who can buy it can’t be bad ideas. Unless compared to other lines of work, I mean. {8′>

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              • says

                Tis true, get it in front of people. We have those opportunities today & we have a music industry model for how to do it did it. FYI Carrie was the third book he submitted–the other two were published of course once anything he wrote caught fire like a barn at Carrie’s prom. He SAYS that he sent it someone he knew at Doubleday, no mentioned of an editor he was working with on it. He & his wife were poor as dirt & couldn’t afford a phone, so the guy at Doubleday sent him a telegram to tell him they wanted the book. In his book, On Writing, I think he said he met the Doubleday guy somewhere earlier (sorry my only one copy is at home, I should have TEN COPIES of that book). And he didn’t know he needed an agent until AFTER he made millions, mostly for Doubleday.

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  12. says

    I’m so pleased to have come across your recent post. Thank you for sharing all of this helpful information! My question is if an agent has requested a manuscript from a writer, do they want to know if other fulls are out there? Does it matter to them? I’m in that boat right now.

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