Sunday, January 5, 2014

How I Got My Agent, Step 5: The Finish Line

So like a modern avatar, you summoned the waters of publication and sent out wave after wave of query letters until an agent of choice washed up on your sandy shore.

You finally heard a version of the magic words: “I’d like to offer you representation.”

Congrats! Celebrate!  You’re awesome! And then once you’ve burned off some of this…

…focus on the task at hand. First, you may want to read this. I wish I had. It does a pretty good job of answering all the questions you might have about this precarious step before committing to an agent.

And here is what I want to say on the matter from personal experience.

*Ask questions. When the matter of representation comes up, have your questions ready. It is OK (even expected) that you’ll ask questions. The questions should include anything that you are unsure about regarding the agent-client relationship. This might include:

*What percentage will (s)he take for commission? (15% for domestic rights and 20% for foreign rights is standard).
*Is (s)he only interested in this book or in representing all of your future work as well?
*If you write other work (i.e. poetry, screenwriting, etc.), does (s)he have an interest/the capacity to represent this work too?
*What are the rules regarding the “reimbursement of expenses”?
*If you write in multiple genres, do they have connections (and with who) in your other genres as well?

Not all of these questions may apply to you. That’s okay. The point is, you should be thinking about your writing in this way, and how your agent may serve you in the promotion of your work.

*Be professional. While it is true that this is the moment where most agents are wooing you instead of the other way around (finally!), that first call is still an “interview” of sorts. The agent is trying to get a feel for you as much as you are for him/her. And this is true long after you sign a contract. All of your communication should be professional regardless of how you might actually feel in the moment.

*Go with your gut. You should feel good about signing with your agent.  If you do not like your agent or do not feel it is good match, then the relationship will be a difficult one. And believe me, the publishing world can be brutal. No need to wrestle with your own agent—someone who is supposed to be on your side when few others are. So be sure that you have the same vision for your work as they do. And that they have the resources and stamina to support you in your journey.


*Review the contract carefully. If your gut says, yes, the only thing standing between you and a celebratory booze-fest is a contract. If your agent sends you a contract to sign, this is normal (mine did). Just be sure to read it carefully. Make sure everything that you agreed to in the “ask questions” section holds true in writing. If you read something that doesn’t sit well, ask your agent about it. Usually the agent is capable of clarifying any confusion. However, I know a few writers who went ahead and paid a lawyer to review the contract on their behalf before signing. It’s your call how you’d like to handle it. The point is to double-check. Better safe than sorry.

So with all of the above out of the way, only one thing left to do—celebrate with the loved ones who helped to get you here:

Bonus Tip:

*Be prepared for revisions. It is not uncommon for you to submit something that you consider “done” to your agent (before or after signing) only to have it returned with pages and pages of corrections. And that is okay. It is their job to point out any weaknesses in the writing before they show it around to potential editors. So don’t be turned off by this request. It will likely happen often.

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