Publishing Essentials: “The Call”

Previously in this series, we discussed how to find an agent and, more specifically, how to find your perfect agent fit. Now you’ve grabbed your ideal agent’s attention with your query letter, hooked them with your manuscript, and they’ve requested “The Call” to discuss representation. This is it, the moment you’ve been working toward! What can you expect, and how should you prepare?

“The Call” is generally a one-hour phone or digital conference which serves as a two-way interview. Ultimately, you are trying to get a strong sense of how your working relationship with the potential agent would look, and how the experience will be customized for you and your work. The agent will discuss their editorial vision and strategic approach to your work, as well as asking you questions about your process, additional projects, and your publishing goals.

In preparation, review your research on the agent from the querying stage, refamiliarizing yourself with their list and previous publications. Take some time to consider your long-term career objectives, and educate yourself about realistic expectations for the business of publishing. Finally, come up with brief summaries, or elevator pitches, for your other work.

You will have a chance to ask all of your questions! Make a list and be sure to take notes during the conversation, especially if you have additional agent calls to manage. You might consider the following:

  • Where is the agent in their career? How many years have they been in the industry? Are they new to the business, or close to retirement? How many deals have they done in your area? How well established are they in the publishing world? How long have they been with the agency? What other agencies have they worked for? Do they also write books?
  • Are they interested in your work on a project-by-project basis or for the length of your writing career?
  • How many clients do they have, and where do you fit on their list?
  • If you write across genres and age groups, be sure to find out what areas the offering agent represents, and what happens if any of your projects fall outside of their scope. Will you be encouraged to find another agency for those projects? Or will another agent at the firm represent them?
  • What is the agent’s style of communication? In-person, phone, video-chat, email, etc. How often can you expect to hear from them? What is their approximate timeline for getting back to you?
  • How will they manage your rights? Do they handle their own foreign rights? What conferences, trade shows, fairs, etc., do they attend?
  • Be sure to confirm they work on industry standard commission rates (15% domestic, 20% film/TV, and up to 30% foreign and translation rights), and that you understand additional costs such as disbursement fees or billing for expenses.
  • And always ask about their submission policies and the specific strategy for your work.

These calls are, of course, very exciting, but can also be overwhelming. If you forget to ask something, or have a follow-up question, reach out to the offering agent! There is an enormous amount of trust involved in the author-agent relationship, and you need to enter into it with total confidence. And that means trusting yourself—so go with your gut!

Need practice pitching? Or have questions about how publishing works? Schedule a consultation with a literary agent to build your craft and confidence!

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