Monday, September 30, 2013

The Call They Never Warn You About

The Call: [n] A life-changing 45-minute phone conversation during which a literary agent—a real live publishing professional—calls YOU to talk about representing YOUR BOOK.

If you want to publish a book traditionally, The Call is the light at the end of the tunnel. An agent has read your work. An agent LOVES your work. So much so, that of the 16,000 queries she's received that year,* you're one of eleven (eleven) people she's offering rep to.** It's an extremely exciting achievement preceded by emails from said agent like "I'm really enjoying this - please send me the full!", then "I'm in LOVE. Can we chat?" and possibly a lot of chocolate binging in-between.

The purpose of this post is to prevent you from binging on anything stronger than chocolate if, say, your first call with an agent doesn't exactly go as you dreamed. Because here's the thing: your first call might not be an offer. But it will be OKAY, really. Here's how it went down for me.

A few days after I emailed off a round of partial requests from a contest win, I got an exciting response: one of the agents wanted the full and was so thrilled about it, she was moving me to the top of her list. Two days after that, another note: she hadn't quite finished, but was really loving it and wanted to know if I'd be available the next evening to speak. I was ecstatic. This was finally "it"! After years of doubt and hard work and more doubt and more work ... an agent wanted to call me. An agent. Call me.

I tried to stay realistic. "It might not be what you think it is," I warned myself, without wanting to believe that at all. I had strong evidence she'd offer, didn't I? She'd read the whole thing in a couple of days. She'd emailed to arrange the call before she'd even finished. Surely she'd offer as long as I didn't come off as a crazy person. Still, I paced the whole day, worrying over what I needed to say while practicing the questions I'd ask if she offered rep. When the phone rang, I took a deep breath and tried to keep my voice within hearing range when I answered.

She introduced herself. She commended the novel's voice, humor, characters ... and that she wasn't sure about a section of it. She asked about my writing process. About my day job. She mused again over the section she wasn't sure about. She assured me she didn't normally invest this much time in a writer she wasn't really interested in.


It wasn't an offer. And even though I knew that was a possibility, I wasn't ready for it. After so much planning for the other type of call, I wasn't sure what questions to ask, or what the next steps would be, or if I should even ask questions about what the next steps would be. At the end of the call, I just knew I was at the same place I was before.

The next morning, I shook myself off and thought more about what had happened. Yeah, okay, I had really, really wanted it to be The Call and it hadn't been. But I had an agent—an honest-to-goodness literary agent—who'd fallen in love with my work and thought I was almost there. That was leaps and bounds above form rejections. I just needed to address the concerns she had, and I had a feeling if I made the right changes, the next time we spoke really would be The Call. I pulled up the notes I took from our conversation. I started brainstorming.

I sent the agent an email with a proposed solution for one of her concerns, admitting I needed a bit more direction in regards to the rest. She replied right away to set up another call. Now firmly prepared to speak about revisions, I told her I'd be free over lunch.

And three sentences into that phone call, she offered rep.
Stay tuned for next week: From Zero to Hero: The Awesome Stressfulness of Multiple Offers

*Actual agency numbers from Nelson Literary Agency, divided by two (as there are two agents at Nelson Lit).

**Guesstimation. The Nelson Lit blog post says that, between both agents, they signed 16 new clients in 2012. An author can receive multiple offers of rep, so in trying to account for the possibility an offer was extended that wasn't accepted, I've bumped the number.


  1. Oh my god, just reading about your first call made me nervous and sad for you. That must have been heartbreaking! I'm glad it worked out though!!

    1. It was definitely a shock! But still a very important turning point. I'm glad it worked out too!

  2. Oh boy, we could've so written a joint blog on this topic... o_O

    1. Yes >_< BTW, if you ever have a topic you want to blog on, I'd be thrilled to host you! <3

    2. Thanks hon, may take you up on that one day!

  3. Intense! But at least you didn't have longer than a couple days to dwell on it. I think sometimes the agents just need to know we're willing to edit and be flexible.

    1. I agree. Matching editorially is so important to an agent/author relationship!



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