How to Query, Part 4: Signing with an agent
Everything you need to know about accepting an offer of representation
This is the final installment in my How to Query series. Catch up on the earlier reads:
Reminder: I’m approaching this from the context of traditional publishing. Standards and norms shared in this series are for authors pursuing the trad route.
Today we’re discussing signing with an agent—their offer of rep, what to ask/look for, and how to accept an offer.
Let’s get started…
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Fielding “The Call”
We’ve talked a lot about how to communicate with agents, but what about if/when they offer? Eventually (hopefully!) all this querying business leads to representation!
This fated moment is often referred to by authors as “the call.” The agent will likely shoot you an email filled with praise about your story, then ask if you can connect via phone. (Agents rarely put formal offers in an email; they usually like to chat first and then offer literary representation while on the phone.)
Getting an email in which the agent wants to set up a call is a huge milestone—a goal all querying writers hope to achieve. But this phone call isn’t only about the agent having a chance to offer you rep. It’s also your chance to “interview” the agent. Presumably you’ve researched this agent before querying them; this is when you confirm that everything you read while researching rings true. (Also? There are plenty of agents who don’t have a ton of information available online, so this process will be especially important if the offering agent is a digital recluse.)
Some questions/topics you may want to discuss during the call:
Ask about their agenting style
Are you editorial (heavily involved with edits/revisions) or more hands-off?
How often do you check in with your clients?
Do you (or does someone within the agency) handle foreign and subrights?
What percentage do you take from author earnings? Are there any other fees to expect?
Ask about your book
How polished do you think my book is?
Do you envision more edits before it’s ready to be shared with editors? If so, how extensive would those be?
What would the timeline for submission be?
Do you already have editors in mind for this project?
Ask about your author career
Do you work with clients over the course of a career?
If I decide to write for a new audience or genre, are you willing to represent that? Similarly, is there anything you definitely won’t represent?
Can I see the agency agreement?
This is the contract that you and the agent will sign to show that you’ve entered into an arrangement together. Any legitimate agent will be happy to send you a copy via email. If they don’t, it’s a red flag.
If you have questions after reading through the agreement, email the agent and ask for clarification. Publishing is not the most transparent industry and agent’s expect aspiring authors to have questions. Their job as your agent is to not only sell your work, but to support you and help answer questions. An agent who makes you feel silly or like an annoyance for asking questions may not be an agent you want to work with.
May I speak with any of your clients about their experiences working with you?
The agent may not be able to say yes right on the phone call, because they will likely need to confirm with a few clients that it’s okay to share their email addresses with you.
If the agent is able to put you in touch with a few existing clients, this is a great opportunity for you to directly ask the authors what they like (or don’t like) about working with the agent.
When you’re done chatting, be sure to thank the agent for their time. Let them know that you have a lot to think about and will get back to them regarding your decision in a few days. Then hang up, celebrate, and seriously consider if this is the right agent for you and your career. While you’re mulling this over, make sure to update any other agent who currently has your query and/or pages.
Updating other agents
Once you have a formal offer of representation, it is standard industry practice to update any other agent who has your query and/or pages. This isn’t a mandatory step—you can absolutely accept the first offer of rep you receive and tell the other agents you’ve signed with someone—but it’s in your best interest to give the other agents a chance to read your work. After all, maybe you’ll end up with another offer of rep—or several. And maybe one of those agents will feel like an even better fit than the first.
Before you begin emailing other agents, send a follow-up email to the agent you just had the call with. Thank them for their time and give them a date that you intend to make your decision by. Standard practice used to be 7-10 days from the initial offer of rep, but I’m seeing people say that two weeks should be the new minimum, if only because everyone in publishing is so overworked and asking the other agents to read/consider your novel in less than 14 days is unreasonable.
Next, grab your spreadsheet or head to Query Tracker, and figure out which agents have an unanswered query from you or are currently in the process of reviewing requested manuscript pages. It’s time to email each of these agents individually.
For the subject line, be as clear and straightforward as possible. Offer of Representation for [TITLE] will work well.
For the body of your email, let the agent know that you have an offer of representation, remind them what materials they have, and let them know the date you intend to make your decision by.
I’m writing to inform you that I have received an offer of representation on my [genre/audience] novel, [TITLE]. I plan to make a decision regarding this offer in the next two weeks, but I’d love to give you the opportunity to review the [query/partial/full/whatever materials they have] that I sent in case it is something you’re still interested in representing.
If you could please respond no later than [date] with your position in regards to [TITLE], I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you again your time and consideration.
Copy/paste your original query below your email signature and send it off.
If this leads to more offers of rep, repeat the call/question process for each new agent.
Even if you don’t end up with any new offers, your next step remains the same: you need to make a decision: Which offer—if any—are you going to accept?
Picking an agent
If you only have one offer and you feel comfortable and confident about it, your decision is easy. Send the agent an email and accept the offer! (example email below)
Keep in mind, however, that most authors agree that no agent is better than a bad agent. If you only have one offer and do not feel good about the agent, you do not have to accept it. Turning down an offer may feel like madness in the moment, but it is an option. Never feel pressured into signing an agency agreement for an agent you are feeling uncomfortable about.
If you end up juggling multiple offers, congrats! What a wonderful problem to have. That said, deciding between several agents can be difficult—and stressful.
Things to consider as you make your decision:
Enthusiasm (both for this book and your career)
Agenting style (editorial/hands-on vs. more reserved/hands-off)
Number of clients
Experience (in years and book sales)
Editorial vision for your book (Do you agree with the agent’s feedback? Do your creative visions jive?)
Submission plan for your book (Are you happy with the timeline?)
Desirability and compatibility ratings (from your original spreadsheet while researching agents)
General feeling / gut instinct (Was your phone call easy-going or awkward? Does your gut say this agent is a good match for you?)
Once you’ve decided to accept an offer of representation (and the deadline you set up in your emails to agents has arrived), you need to send some emails.
For the agent you’ve chosen to work with… You don’t need a subject line for this email. Simply reply via the most recent email thread you have going with the agent.
Example email for accepting an offer:
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and for answering my questions these past few days. I greatly appreciate it and feel I’ll be in great hands with you as my agent. I’d love to formally accept your offer of representation!
Please let me know what happens from here. I’m so excited to work with you!
If you had multiple offers, you’ll need to formally decline the offers from the agents you won’t be working with. This happens once the deadline you set up arrives. Don’t reject an offer before the deadline; it’s rude!
This email is never a fun one to write, especially if you liked all the agents you had offers from and had a difficult time making a decision. Again, you don’t need a subject line; you can reply to the most recent email thread you have with the agent.
Example email for declining an offer:
Thank you so much for your time and consideration these past days. I’m very grateful for your offer of representation, but after much thought, I have decided to decline your offer.
Best of luck with your future projects and thank you, again, for considering my work.
And… that’s it!
Your new agent will send you an official version of the agency agreement to sign, and… voila! You are now, officially, an agented writer! Congrats!!
In the coming weeks and months, you’ll likely need to revise your manuscript to address your agent’s concerns. (The agent likely gave you some of this feedback during the call and/or you asked about it.) Your agent will read it again and, if necessary, provide additional feedback for another revision round.
Eventually, the manuscript will be polished enough that the agent feels it is ready to show to editors. Yay! But also: buckle up. This part of the journey is known as “sub” (being “on submission”) and it can be bumpy.
This concludes the How to Query series!
Would you be interested in a post/series about the submission process? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have any outstanding questions on querying, drop those as well.
Until next time,