When you get THE CALL...
You're at the gym, doing your dreaded time on the treadmill. You're cooking dinner while your child screams into your ear. You're walking the dog on a clear, sunny day, and a sudden email notification has your heart drumming.
It's a query reply, and you're prepping yourself for another rejection.
But it's not.
It's not a rejection.
Oh, my god, it's not a rejection--it's an email longer than two sentences--and at the end of it, a question!
"Are you available for a call?"
Time to scream, bitch, you did it!
Your first natural question is "WHAT DO I DO??????" First, scream. Call your bestie, blast your writing group with exclamation points, call your mom, or your dad, or your sibling or cousin. Get it out. YOU DID IT!
Okay, now, after you've given yourself a moment to enjoy it (and you SHOULD), take a few deep breaths. Sometimes, agents offer right in the email. Sometimes, it's a little more questionable than that--and on a rare occasion, an agent will send an email that feels like it might be an offer, but it ends up being an R&R. Adjust your expectations if the language is questionable, but either way, a call is a GOOD thing.
Now, if you're totally unfamiliar with the entire process, do not worry. I'm going to walk you through exactly what you need to do.
Step One: Prep for the Call
Alright, so, say you've got an offer right there in the email. It says "Offer of rep"--you might be tempted to nudge all the agents and let them know.
But wait, not so fast.
The offer of rep email most likely doesn't review the agent's edit plans, their vision, communication style, etc, and there are a lot of questions you really need to ask an agent before you use their offer to nudge. You should never nudge other agents until after you've taken The Call, and here's why.
You could LOVE an agent on paper. They have great, relevant sales, their lists are impressive, they might even be a big shot, but what happens when you get on the phone and they're not exactly what you thought? Maybe your personalities don't mesh. Maybe the phone call is awkward. Maybe their editorial vision is not aligned with yours at all. Maybe your communication styles are opposite, etc. There are WAY too many things you still don't know when you get that email, and the reason I caution you from nudging after just an email is--what if you get on that phone call, and things just don't align? What if you nudge everyone with that offer, get on the call and don't jive with the agent, and they end up being your only offer? Wait until the call, and then we'll get to the nudge.
I'm currently querying (and currently, cough, vague), and thus far, I've had 3 offer calls for this book. After taking multiple calls, being agented for 6 months, and being on sub, I have a fully rounded experience to inform what questions to ask on the call now. These are things no one told me I needed to ask--often, because authors who write these posts are authors who just got signed and are all bright-eyed and bushy tailed about being agented. They didn't know what questions to ask, either. (There's not exactly a guide book for this whole publishing thing)
So, before the call, you need to do two things:
Prep your questions
Send out remaining queries to any agents you have not queried yet
Before you get on that call, you want to make sure every agent you want to work with has your query. That way, when you nudge them, they've had a bit of time with it.
Questions to Ask On THE CALL:
I always recommend starting the call by sharing a bit about yourself. These calls are often conversational, but sometimes the agent will have more of a structured approach. Let them lead at first, and they will likely ask about you, and they may initiate the conversation about their vision / edit plan. If they don't, we'll get to that. But first, I suggest also asking the agent a bit about themselves:
How did you get into agenting / what is your experience?
This is an important question. You want to know about their experience as an agent, especially if they're a newer agent with a short (or no) sales history. Find out about their mentorship, and if you have questions about it, ask them. If you're speaking with a new agent, I can't stress enough how much you should try to dig into their mentorship and get an idea of what their experience was before becoming an agent.
Once you've learned more about them, here are some other questions I recommend asking:
What was your favorite part about the book?
While this is just a fun, ice-breaker type question, it's also a way to gage their understanding of your book's core. See what they were able to pick out. It can tell you a lot about how well they're able to comprehend the core and your intention.
What is your vision for edits on this book? (This may turn into a few questions, but you want to make sure your editorial visions align)
If they don't say much here, ask about their editorial process, and how they typically approach edits. Some agents are not editorial, and this is important to note. If you want a more editorial agent, and the offering agent isn't, that can be a serious dealbreaker.
What is your communication style?
Some agents are super personal with their authors. I'm talking iMessage, sending tiktoks, memes, etc. Some choose not to share their personal phone numbers, except for really important things like offers. It is not a red flag if your agent doesn't share their personal cell phone number.
How quickly can I expect a reply when I send an email or message?
How often do you like to check-in?
About how long is your turn-around for manuscripts?
Now, the below are questions I literally just...didn't know to ask.
What editors or imprints do you see this book going to? Did anyone specific come to mind while you were reading?
It is not a red flag if the agent doesn't have an exact answer for this. Sometimes, they just don't want to share their strategy before you accept an offer, because you could take it to another agent and take their offer instead. However, an agent should be able to give you an idea of where they see this going market-wise. Even if they just say "Yes, I can think of a few people that would love this"- it at least tells you "Yeah, I was thinking about where I'm going to sell this to!"
How do you plan to position this book in the market?
What is your submission strategy? (How many editors do you submit to on each round, how often do you nudge editors, etc)
This is the most important question you could ask, in my opinion. As an author, you don't really know or fully understand submission strategies, so it may be hard to tell if what an agent is saying to you is a good strategy or not, but I will offer my thoughts as someone who has been on sub. I can only speak for submission as a YA author, because I do not write adult and have never been on sub for other genres.
The YA submission process is EXTREMELY slow. It's much slower than adult. So I will tell you this. A sub round of much less than 10 editors should probably alarm you. I think 8 is a fair minimum. 5 or less is a red flag.
If an agent claims they do small sub rounds (in YA) "in case they get feedback", this is not a good reason to do a small round. If your book content is niche, this is more understandable, and of course, everything depends on the book, so take that into account. However, submitting to tiny rounds at a time will only slow the process, and it is highly unlikely you will get much--if any--editorial feedback from editors while on submission.
On the opposite end, unless your agent is bigger, a huge sub round (over 25) could potentially be shotgunning, and could ruin your chances if you do start getting repetitive feedback from editors. Once you've send the book, there's no going back, so if you're halfway through your 30 editor round and you're seeing tons of feedback that you have a huge plot hole, you've just burnt through 15 editors that you could've submitted to after fixing any problems.
Again, the sub strategy will heavily depend on the project, and if your agent has solid sales, you should be more inclined to trust them. But take it onto yourself to do some research and see what you can dig up. Don't go into something blind!
Do you have plans for film shopping, and if so, how does that work at this agency?
If you're interested in film, this is definitely something you should ask. Will we need to seek a film agent? Does the agency handle film rights in-house? Etc.
What direction could you see my career going in?
This should be more conversational, but make sure you and the agent are on the same page about where you see your career going and what your goals are.
If you leave agenting or the agency, what happens to me?
What resources are available through the agency?
Can I have contact information for some of your current or former clients?
And for the love of god, please ask them
What do you think of my future projects?
Please please make sure you prep pitches for your WIPs or other completed manuscripts. I'd even recommend sending these prior to the call so they can review them, and then you can discuss on the phone. This is really important, because some authors have a great experience with their agent on their first book, but when they start working on something new, and agent isn't jiving with the new projects. Make sure you at least have an idea of what direction you want to go in next, and make sure the agent is interested.
Remember, this is ideally a person you're entering into a long-term business partnership with. Vet them properly, and make sure that before you get on The Call, you've come back down to earth. The "I'm so lucky" starry eyed, bushy-tailed stuff should wear off by now. Enjoy your call, be proud of yourself, but remember that you're here for business, and don't just take an offer from anyone because you think it's the best you can do. If you're not happy with your offer, it is so much better to leave it on the table.
Step Two: Set the Deadline
Okay, you just got off your call, and you couldn't be happier. You and the offering agent aligned in every way, and now you're ready to nudge. On the call, you and the offering agent should have come up with a good deadline. This is the day that you will come back to the offering agent with your decision.
Even if you are over the moon with your offer, you should still nudge every single person on your list, and give everyone a chance to counter offer. The more agents you can speak with, the better.
A standard deadline is 2 weeks, but depending on the season, it's definitely fair to ask for longer. Here are a few situations where you may ask for a 3, or even 4-week deadline:
Holiday Season - if you receive an offer around the holidays, it's completely fair to ask for more time for other agents to read. Otherwise, you will receive a lot of passes because people are traveling and will be out of the office. Don't do yourself the disservice.
Summer - Publishing notoriously "shuts down" from July to August, and sometimes all the way until September. A lot of agents will start closing down, and some agencies even close for all of July. It's completely fair to ask for an extended deadline if you receive an offer in the summer.
If you were not querying for very long. For example, I started querying my revised manuscript for a second time, and I received a request for a call 6 days in -- at the end of June! The agents with my query mostly hadn't even gotten to me yet, so I did what I could to push the call out a little to give a buffer, and I did request an extended deadline. This is completely fair, and the offering agent was extremely kind and understanding about this, and any agent should allow you the time you need to consider, as long as it's not an obscene amount of time. I think 4 weeks is a respectful maximum, and you likely will not lose anyone to a 4-week deadline, even during the holidays or summer.
Step Three: Nudgement Day
Once you've worked out the deadline with the offering agent, the call is over, and you're sitting in the silence with your computer, it's time.
It's Nudgement Day. It's the best day ever. Its invigorating, and it's the day that the tables finally turn in your favor. But...how do you do it? Who do you nudge? How do you nudge?
Nudge EVERYONE with your query or your full manuscript.
Here are some form options for nudges:
For those with just the query:
I am writing to you because I have received an offer of rep, with a deadline of XX. If you're interested in working together, I would be happy to send along the full manuscript.
Boom! It's that easy. You don't have to say anything crazy. Just give them the info they need, and the full requests will roll in.
For those with the full:
I am writing to let you know that I have received an offer of rep. The offering agent has given me a deadline of XX, so if you are interested in working together, will you please let me know by then? If you would like to request any additional materials, or if you have questions in the meantime, please reach out.
And there you go! Easy peasy. You don't need to do anything fancy at all. It's a simple form to nudge with that should work for just about any situation.
And that's basically all I have for "The Call". It's an exciting, but important time, and the best advice I can give you is to make sure you're not wearing rose-colored glasses. Remember that you are entering into a partnership that could span decades. Choose the right partner, or you could end up back in the trenches.
Good luck, Queriers!