Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Being in the Driver Seat: Getting An Agent (an interview in 14 questions, Part Two)

On Monday, Rena Traxel (an online crit partner of mine) and I shared Part One of our interview on my agent search process. 
Thank you for all of your messages of congrats and your questions, as well.  Please feel free to write any questions you have in the comments and I will make sure to answer.  And please know, everyone's journey is different. 
Today we bring you my journey, Part Two.
My awesome critique partner Marcie Colleen recently signed with her dream agent Susan Hawk from the Bent Agency. I was pretty impressed by her level of cool headedness. I also peppered her with questions throughout the whole process (pitch, considering multiple offers, contracts etc). We thought we would share those questions and answers here with you so that you too can find your dream agent.

Did you talk to any of Susan’s clients? Is this important?

I did.  Susan had offered to put me in touch with one of her picture book clients and I took her up on it.  It’s good to get other clients’ opinions on the agent and to know how their career has been going. 

The contract!
The questions I asked were:

1) Have you gone out on submission with her yet?  If not, why?

2)  How is she to edit with?  Do you feel she understands the genre of PB?

3)  How would you rate her communication?  How often are you in touch?

4)  What made you choose rep from Susan?  And how long has she been your agent?

5)  How would you describe your own stories?  (I consider myself quirky/funny)

The last question was important to me because Susan said that I was unlike the other picture book clients on his list and I wanted to make sure.

Did you talk to about your career and about marketing with Susan?

Yes, Susan has a marketing background and so she was very clear that she looks to represent a career, not a book.  And she also stated that she works with her clients for the life of the book, not just until publication date.

For our in-person meeting, Susan walked in and after a brief chat she said, “so, do you want to talk about your stories?” She pulled out my 4 manuscripts and proceeded to walk through each one, line by line, telling me what she loved about them, what might need to be revised, where she could see them fitting into the marketplace and how to be strategic in our subbing.  She was so excited and so knowledgeable.  It was amazing.

Is Susan a writer outside of being agent? Does it matter?

Honestly, I don’t know.  She could be writing the Great American Novel in her spare time, and I wouldn’t know.  Although most agents don’t have spare time, especially agents with small children at home.  What I do know is that Susan is an avid reader and book lover and she finds great enjoyment in her work as an agent.  That is all I need to know.

Does Susan go to book fairs in the US and in Bologna? Why is this important?

She does.  Lots of agenting is about building relationships.  So I think it’s important that agents are visible and out there and making connections with editors in the business.  And although there is always the phone or email, what a difference face to face contact can make.

How many years has she been in the business? Does it matter?

Susan has been in the publishing industry for 15 years, mainly in Children's Book Marketing.  She was the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and previous to that as the Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. While at Penguin, she also worked for a time in Dutton Editorial, acquiring projects for that list.  She has also worked as a children's librarian and a bookseller.

To me, this does matter.  Not only does she have experience in editing, marketing and selling books…but I know she has lots of “friends” in the business, too.

When you signed with Susan what sort of details did you have to go over before signing?

At our in-person meeting (which ran almost 3 hours) Susan offered representation.  And although I wanted to dance and shout and accept right away, I didn’t.  Instead, we parted ways and I took a few days to wrap things up with some of the other agents I had been in conversation with.  Two days later, I phoned Susan and accepted.  Immediately she sent the contract. 

Now, one of the reasons why I even want an agent is because I don’t like reading legalese.  And yes, this contract, although short, had a lot of legalese in it.  So, I had my lawyer read through it.  We questioned some wording.  We asked questions regarding certain details.  Susan was very open to any questions and making changes. Bottom line, we needed to both agree on the contract. 

My advice is to not be shy when it comes any contract.  If something doesn’t make sense, ask.  If something doesn’t sit right with you, offer an alternative wording.  It’s better to be clear and on the same page right from the beginning than to deal with confusion or frustration later.

The best mailbox delivery ever!
Finally are there any red flags that a writer should look out for when considering an agent?

Hmmm…that’s a tough one.  I’m no expert.  But I would say, any time someone pressures or hurries you. Or if someone is not interested in getting to know you or doesn’t want to talk specifics with your stories.  Also, if someone raves about one book, but ignores the other work you have done or is quick to reject another piece without giving ideas on how to make it work.  These would be red flags for me. 

Otherwise, just be in the community.  People talk.  Ask questions about agents from others.  And if anything seems weird or suspect to you, trust your gut.  

Thanks Marcie for sharing your experience with us. Congrats on getting one step closer to living your author dream.

And thank YOU, Rena, for allowing me an easier way to share my story. 

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  1. This is an excellent interview, Rena and Marcie! I have read many, many how did you find your agent interviews which talk about the process leading up to the 1-1 phone call. But here you discuss the process you went through for evaluating the agent, which is equally if not more important. Best of Luck and hope to hear more good news from you soon. :-)

  2. This was a super, instructive interview (one I hope to put to use one of these days), so thanks Marcie. I was especially interested to hear that you were able to speak with one of Susan's clients before you signed.

    Can't wait to see you on the shelves (oh, but I guess in publishing there is always a wait).

  3. Yep. Darshana hit the nail on the head! Excellent!

  4. Like Darshana, I appreciated knowing how you evaluated whether Susan was right for you. I hadn't thought of talking to other clients, and I appreciate the suggestion for questions to ask, if that opportunity ever arises for me. I also appreciate your suggested red flags, and your emphasis on making sure the contract is right for you, not just signing blindly in the euphoria of having an agent offer representation.

    As Rena said, your clear headedness is impressive, and so very helpful. Thank you both for this great interview! All the best for your future success!

  5. Very informative. I can only hope that someday I get to use all of this advice and all these tips.... :)

  6. I liked reading all the questions you asked the other client and the point you've made about not settling with just any agent, but THE agent!