Query & Agent Questions from You Answered!
If anyone knows how hard it is to find an agent it's me. There are about 9 zillion writers out there and oh, I don't know, 3 agents! Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. It's tough out there, so I'd like to help if I can!
There must be something in the air, because in the last few months, I've been emailed by a number of writers asking advice on finding an agent. Given my own experience on the matter, I feel I've become a bit of specialist on Do's & Don'ts. Keep in mind these are my thoughts and every question can (and most likely does) have more than one answer. I've already emailed everyone back who's asked me these questions, but I thought it might be helpful to post for others! We are all in this together! So use what might help you and pay no heed to the rest! I've limited this to 5 questions, but if you have one of your own please feel free to ask in the comment section. I will do my best to be helpful! :)
1.If an agent requested material and I have not heard back in months, is it all right to call or email them asking for an update?
Simple answer: Email = Yes, Call = Big Fat NO.
Calling an agency in my estimation is a big no-no. Agents may find it intrusive and presumptuous. Most agents have hundreds, some thousands, of queries to go through and it's just not wise to call and ask for feedback. They simply don't have time and you're putting them on the spot, which makes people very uncomfortable.
Email, on the other hand, is a safe bet if they've already contacted you asking for more. A quick, polite one or two-liner asking if they'd had a chance to read the full or partial they requested will not get you rejected. If you get a rejection shortly thereafter it's not because you emailed them, most likely it's just a coincidence or your email reminded them they needed to reject it. Either way, at least you'll know! Of note: My requested full was out at NG for around 4 or 5 months, I emailed looking for an update. I got no response, but months later I got a call from them and got my agent! So, if you do email, and don't get a response, don't put too much stock into it! It may not be a rejection!
2. An agent wants my full! How should I prepare it?
I just spoke with a friend of mine over email yesterday who was wondering about this. The four people she emailed (including me) all pretty much had the same answer. Keep it simple! It's about the writing, not what it comes in! I sent mine in a yellow or white (whichever was handy) envelope, 9 X 12 should suffice, or whatever size will hold your MS snugly without having to fold it. I put a rubber band around the MS (no staples!) and a simple cover letter reminding them who I was. It's okay to add a personal line or a bit of humor. You don't have to be stuffy. Agents are people too!
3.I'm not getting any positive responses on my query? What should I do?
This is an easy one! I say read it to every poor soul you know until they too know your query by heart! Tell them not to be nice; you want the truth! Join an online group or writer's forum where you can throw your query to other writers and get their take. Absolute Write is a great resource for that. Warning: Some members can be well...ummm...harsh! Take it with a grain of salt. Don't get defensive, most people are very nice, and even the more prickly critics are trying to help in their not so gentle way. Not all critiques will be helpful, but gather all your feedback and use the comments that make sense. You will get some good ones! I was lucky enough to have my husband as a query letter guinea pig (or rat in my case) and I got a great response for fulls and partials.
4. What do I say if an agent calls me???
First off, it's okay to freak out! I did! (In fact, I screamed in my agent's ear!) They know you'll be excited, terrified, nervous and everything in between. Tell them that! Give them even more reason to be excited about you and your amazing writing! Don't get so excited that you forget all the questions you might have though! Since most of us our glued to our laptops these days, it makes sense to compile a short list of important questions you might have for the agent and save them on your laptop. Agents understand most writers don't know the industry like they do, so no question is too simple or crazy! Remember you're the talent! Agents don't expect us to be publishing masterminds, just to write amazing books! After a while the publishing knowledge will come too!
5. Should I get a lawyer to read the agency contract before I sign?
Well, I'd say this question is up for debate. If you've done your research on the agency and they have vetted sales with no complaints most likely their contract will be a good one, but if you feel you need a lawyer to look at the contract for whatever reason, then for goodness sake, go ahead and get one. A good agency will have nothing to hide. Most contracts are standard. %15 goes to the agent/agency; the rest goes to you, 20% goes to the agency in some cases, such as foreign sales, etc. My agency's contract was straightforward, so straightforward in fact, even I understood it! Yes, me! I did not get a lawyer. That's what little brothers in law school are for! If you can't afford to pay a lawyer (who can) there are a lot of lawyers who offer free advice to people in the arts, so check online and in your local area.
So there you have it! I hope this helps a little. This stuff seems so obvious to me now, but when I started my 13 month query road, I was an enormous dummy! In fact, if there was a book entitled, Querying for Dummies, my picture would have been on the cover!
Good luck to those sending off queries and happy writing to all!
xoxo -- Hilary