When Agents Agonize

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 30 2007

We hear all the time about the pressure authors are under. The stress of finding an agent and the agony of waiting when you have requested material out there. But rarely do you have to hear about the agony and stress you can put agents under. So here’s my story. . . .

On Monday I received an e-query from an author. Typically e-queries get dropped immediately into a folder for me to read when I have a few spare moments (I always try to get to them in two weeks). This author, however, did something that few actually do. She included her title in the subject line and it wasn’t just any title. It was a really amazing, eye-catching title. The kind that would make anyone pick up the book just out of curiosity. Naturally I opened the email and read the really great letter. I emailed back immediately to request that the partial be snail-mailed to me.

On Tuesday the author emailed me back to say that she had received an offer from a publisher and asked if I would like to see the full manuscript. Of course I did. I immediately responded and asked her to email it out, promising to read it overnight. Tuesday night, through dinner and during the rest of the evening, I read, frequently shouting out funny lines to my husband. I was reading and loving the book and continuing to read because I wanted to. Always a good sign.

Wednesday morning I finished the book and Wednesday afternoon I emailed the author (I didn’t have a phone number for her) to offer representation. We finally got in touch via phone and had a really great conversation. She knew a few of my clients so had some perspective already on the way I work, and of course she had done her research before submitting so knew I was reputable. I explained my vision for the book, asked her some questions about her career, and overall I think we had a good conversation. Of course she was waiting to hear from a few other agents and promised to get back to me soon because the editor was hoping for an answer quickly.

Thursday I waited. And waited. And stressed. I thought about it all through my lunch with an editor. And obsessed over what the author was thinking or what more I should have said.

Friday I panicked. Why hadn’t I heard? Why hadn’t she called me back yet? What was going on!?!?! Before heading home for the day I sent a quick follow-up email. I don’t want to nag, but I wanted to let her know that she should feel free to get in touch if she had any more questions or concerns. I heard back almost immediately and we talked again on the phone. She explained that on Wednesday she was a little nervous, but had since talked to other agents and wanted to ask a few more questions. We chatted some more and again I felt the conversation went well.

Saturday and Sunday I let it go. I had to. The decision was in the author’s hands and all I could do was hope she made the best decision for her. Whether or not that included me I wouldn’t know until I heard from her. It was, really, a very nice weekend.

Monday the phone rang. Whooo-hoo! She had received five offers of representation and had been, not surprisingly, overwhelmed. It’s a big decision and she wanted to make sure she made the right one for her.

The relief was so great I had to leave work early to celebrate. Okay, I didn’t do that. The minute we agreed to work together I went to work to get the book in front of as many editors as possible and negotiate a deal that I think we’re both very happy with.

So when you’re feeling that anxiety that we agents cause, remember, you cause it too.


36 responses to “When Agents Agonize”

  1. Jessica,

    First congrats on getting the contracts. Second…I hate to say it, but it’s good to know that this special kind of anxiety isn’t limited to just writers.

    Thank you for sharing.


  2. Wow, I never knew. Sometimes we’re so in awe we forget you’re human too.
    However I’d say that was one lucky author and she definately made the right decision. Good luck with that book!

  3. Avatar Mrs. Revis says:

    It is SO my dream to cause an agent (let alone 5) that kind of stress!!!

  4. Note to self: Include grabbber title in subject line of e-query.

    Follow-up note to self: Come up with grabber title for WIP.

    Question for Jessica:

    “I explained my vision for the book….”

    Vision? as in having the author do a re-write? Change characters? Plot? Ending? or do you mean how many editors you’ll submit this to?

  5. Avatar Anne-Marie says:

    Congrats, Jessica, and thank you for sharing your perspective. I am beginning to realise that there is enough anxiety in this business to be shared all around. Good luck with the book.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    So when you’re feeling that anxiety that we agents cause, remember, you cause it too.

    *chortle, chortle*
    *smirks smugly*

  7. Avatar Don Martin says:

    It’s a shame to hear that anyone, author or agent, would agonize over anything related to publishing.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t take our work seriously or that we shouldn’t put a lot of energy into our efforts. But there’s no reason to let your ambition and work ethic interfere with your emotional life.

    In the midst of the ALCS, Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez caught a lot of flack for saying that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if his team, down 3-1 to the Indians, lost the series. There was the usual, “Oh, that’s just Manny being Manny” excuse made on his behalf.

    But Manny was absolutely right. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the Sox had lost the ACLS. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if Jessica had not secured her new client.

    And it won’t be the end of the world if you or I never get published. Save the agonizing for something that really matters…

    … like my Steelers getting back to the Super Bowl.

  8. Avatar beverley says:

    Er…hmmm **clears throat**, should I cause an agent (much less 5) that kind of agony. LOL!!

  9. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is really an eye-opener. You knew right off after reading the submission and speaking with the writer first.
    How much of the other agents’ enthusiasm do you think was due to your enthusiasm and offer, as well as the potential sale that was already in the wings? Would there have been that level of competition had the sale not been there?

  10. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    Awww, that’s a great story! Congratulations to you both!

  11. Avatar JDuncan says:

    Given that this blog has a fair number of readers, and like to spread news around, I wonder how many agents will start seeing titles in their equery taglines?

  12. *look of disbelief* Most people don’t put their book title in the e-query subject line? It seems like such an obvious thing to do. I’ve always done it, though I don’t think it has helped sped things along. I guess I need a better title. 😉

  13. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    The fact that she picked you out of the five says a lot.

    I’m thinking this was for a non fiction book. I can’t imagine any fiction title being that catchy.

  14. Avatar Chessie says:

    This sounds like the story of when you signed my crit partner. Ironically, I didn’t like that title. LOL!

    Shows what I know. The book really is a crack-up.

  15. Thanks for sharing this story – it helps to remember agents are people (with feelings!) and stress about the process, too.

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Here’s the difference between an author waiting for a call and an agent. An agent will still have a job representing her other clients (especially if she’s established like you and has a nice client list). An unpublished author will more than likely remain unpublished if an agent won’t take them on.

    While I understand your anxiety, as an unpub author who will be querying agents early next year, I know my disappointments with rejections will outweigh yours. 🙂

  17. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    I’m pretty sure Jessica is talking about my book here, The Accidental Demon Slayer. Even if she’s not, the lessons I learned while selling that book could help other writers – so here goes:

    I think I had so much luck with the agent/submissions process because I’d done my research. The Accidental Demon Slayer had five agent offers in two days. Obviously, that was way more than I expected, but I was very methodical in how I approached the writing and submissions process.

    As you can probably tell, The Accidental Demon Slayer is a paranormal. Before I wrote it, I read a lot of the genre. It was easy, because I’m a huge fan, but sometimes it amazes me the number of writers who decide to write something that they normally don’t read.

    Because I read in the genre, I was familiar with what publishers were buying. When I brainstormed my idea, I knew it was unique. Nobody had released a book about a preschool teacher who runs off with a gang of geriatric biker witches. When I sat down to write it, I threw my inhibitions out the window and had a ball writing something strange and fun that I would have wanted to read myself.

    Then I researched agents. When I thought I was done, I researched some more. I had a “dream” list and knew exactly who I was querying. Each of the agents had top reputations and represented what I wrote. I think that’s why, when I had a product they could sell, five out of six of them offered representation. The sixth said he wanted revisions and would consider it, but obviously, that was impossible with a deal on the table.

    Speaking of deals, I also researched editors who bought the kind of book I wanted to write. RWA has contests that you can enter in order to get in front of these editors. I entered a contest specifically to get my work in front of the person who, after I sent her the manuscript on a Thursday, read it over the weekend and offered for it on Monday.

    So, really, it’s the combination of knowing you have an original idea, executing it, then putting it in front of the right people that will sell a book. At least that’s what did it for me.

    Hope this helps!

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Karen, It could have easily been fiction with a great title. My fic, PRADA & PREJUDICE, has repeatedly gotten praise for a good title– one person saw the title, told her editor about it, and her editor told her to hav me send it immediately. Just based on the title.

    So a good title CAN DEFINITELY make a difference.


  19. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Congrats to the writer. I wish the artist all the success in the world.

    Most writers wait months to receive their form rejection letter, and years honing their skills.

    An agent waits…days…?

    And experiences “anxiety”?

  20. Avatar Chessie says:

    So do I get to tell my side of the story? I actually had fun fielding the “Oh my God! You are not going to believe this,” and the “Now what should I do?”s. LOL

    Let’s just say that that week was not anxiety free for Angie either. My phone bill certainly reflected that. I burned into some of my rollovers that week.

    For her, she wanted to make the best decision for the long term of her career, and I think she did so wisely. Believe me, it wasn’t an easy decision, it was an agonizing one. And for Angie, who is sweet as sugar, it killed her having to “reject” the other four agents.

    What it came down to, and what I learned from my part in the whole experience, is that the deciding factor in the whole mess was “Who do I think I can work with best over the long haul?”

    So in my agent hunt, sniffing out not just an agents record, but their personality is the goal. No matter how it happens, I hope that the end result is a fruitful and friendly partnership based on mutual admiration and respect.

    Congrats again, Angie.

    And you all seriously have to read this book! I’m telling you, I laughed so hard I cried.

  21. Avatar dramabird says:

    Angie, any chance you’d be willing to share your query letter on Jessica’s blog? I think it would benefit many to see a letter that had such an immediate and positive reaction from an agent.

  22. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    LOL Sorry about those rollover minutes, Chessie. I expect I’ll be doing the same for you soon.

    It’s true, though. I’m trying to think of a way of saying it without that Friend’s quote leaping to mind, “Poor Ross, your wallet is too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes are too tight.” It really was a dream, after working so hard for years to hone my craft, to have so many reputable folks interested in The Accidental Demon Slayer.

    It didn’t help that, as the offers came, five houseguests arrived on my doorstep (including three children). I’d lay there at night, on an old mattress in my living room, crammed next to my rather tall husband (who can sleep anywhere), staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out what to do. I had to make a decision for my career and not just for the one book.

    Someone asked earlier about an agent’s “vision.” I can tell you from experience that each agent really does have a different vision. They’ll tell you their ideas on how your book fits into the market. An agent will also tell you how they plan on pitching your work (and you) to publishers.

    The Accidental Demon Slayer is a serious story, but it also has a lot of humor and it offers a fresh take on paranormals. One agent likened it to the movie Sean of the Dead. It stands on its own as an innovative story, but it also has an added layer in that it almost parodies the genre.

    It was really interesting to hear how each person experienced the story. Each agent had their own ideas on how to manage my career and how we could work together.

    In the end, it was tough because I couldn’t really go wrong. I’d only contacted people who knew my genre and had very strong track records. So my strength also became a weakness.

    Earlier that week, I’d had a great conversation with Jessica, but by Friday, my brain was mush. When she emailed that Friday, I picked up the phone and called her. I probably asked questions I’d already asked. And I knew by that point, I was too tired to be suave. But once again – we clicked. When I hung up the phone, I felt solid for the first time all day. I knew Jessica would be a great person to handle The Accidental Demon Slayer, the sequel (which I’m writing now) and the books I write in the future. And that’s what the research can’t tell you – who you’ll mesh with personally.

    I wish everyone else the luck I’ve had with The Accidental Demon Slayer. I wrote three mysteries that didn’t sell before I wrote this book. It really is a matter of knowing your market, researching like heck, writing a book you love and then finding that agent – and the editor – that you click with. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.


  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    But there’s no reason to let your ambition and work ethic interfere with your emotional life.

    No reason, other than the fact that you care about what you do. I don’t think I’d want an agent who was that dispassionate about me.

  24. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    No problem, dramabird. Here’s the query that launched a book:

    Straight-laced preschool teacher, Lizzie Brown, never lies, never cusses, and doesn’t really care much for surprises. When her long lost Grandma Gertie shows up on her doorstep riding a neon pink Harley Davidson wearing a “kiss my asphalt” t-shirt and hauling a carpet bag full of Smuckers jars filled with road kill magic, Lizzie doesn’t think her life could get any stranger. That is, until her hyper-active terrier starts talking and an ancient demon decides to kill her from his perch on the back of her toilet.

    Lizzie learns she’s a demon slayer, fated to square off with the devil’s top minion in, oh about two weeks. Sadly, she’s untrained, unfit and under attack. Grandma’s gang of fifty-something biker witches promises to whip Lizzie into shape, as long as she joins them out on the road. But Lizzie wants nothing to do with all this craziness. She simply wants her normal life back. When she accidentally botches the spell meant to protect her, she only has one choice – trust the utterly delicious but secretive man who claims to be her protector.

    Dimitri Kallinikos has had enough. Cursed by a demon centuries ago, his formerly prominent clan has dwindled down to himself and his younger twin sisters, both of whom are now in the coma that precedes certain death. To break the curse, he must kill the demon behind it. Dimitri needs a slayer. At long last, he’s found Lizzie. But how do you talk a girl you’ve never met into going straight to Hell? Lie (and hope she forgives you). Dimitri decides to pass himself off as Lizzie’s fated protector in order to gain her trust and guide her towards this crucial mission. But will his choice to deceive her cost them their lives, or simply their hearts?

    The Accidental Demon Slayer is an 85,000 word humorous paranormal. I’m a member of RWA and the partial manuscript placed first in the Windy City RWA’s Four Seasons contest. As an advertising writer, I’ve won multiple awards for my work in radio dialogue.

    I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration and time.

    Angie Fox

  25. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    A good friend of mine queried four of her top agent picks and they all asked for the full manuscript. Three of them offered representation within a week. She agonized over who to choose, and we had endless conversations about it. Finally, she made her choice to go with the more established agent who is the founder of a rather prestigious agency. My friend is pleased with her choice. Unfortunately, the book everyone was so excited about never sold. She’s now working on something else.

    I guess even an agent’s crystal ball isn’t so crystal clear all the time. 8^) Her agent is sticking with her, though, and just putting the unsold manuscript on the back burner until there’s a change in the market for that genre. My friend is frustrated, but is going with the flow. I’m confident she’ll do well with her next project.

    But she admits to wondering now if her manuscript would have sold should she have accepted the offer from one of the two agents she didn’t choose. She’ll never know.

  26. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don’t supposed you ever agonize over rejectiong someone and wishing you hadn’t? LOL That’s what I wish.

  27. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Angie, that is a fabulous query letter! Your story sounds hilarious and intriguing, and I don’t even read paranormals. 🙂 Thank you for posting it.

  28. Avatar Travis Erwin says:

    Thanks for sharing that. It is always good to see things from the other side of the fence.

    And is it wrong that I am very envious of that author?

    But I will use that envy to motivate me to keep going so one day I can be position to make an agent worry about losing me.

  29. Angie – that story sounds awesome! 😀 Looking forward to seeing it on the shelves.

    Jessica – It does give a sense of small relief (amusement?) to be reminded that agents are just as human as the rest of us. Especially when it comes to something we really want.

    (who is feeling about the same way about getting responses to email and the fact that her gmail account picked this week to malfunction! *argh*)

  30. Thanks for offering this side of the fence. It’s nice to hear that agents can feel so excited about signing an author.

    Good luck to both you and the author.

  31. Angie,

    Your query was fantastic. Congrats again and thanks for posting it here for us to learn from.

    The other day, when Jessica asked us to submit pitches for critique, she asked for very short pitches. 1-3 sentences. I sent mine in and am awaiting her remarks, but I must confess that when pitching in queries and in-person, I might start with a one-sentence pitch, but I always go into a two-paragraph pitch after that.

  32. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    You’re right, Cindy. That quick pitch is vital. I had to use mine when contacting my “dream list” of agents. When I received the offer, a few of them hadn’t responded yet to my initial query (it had gone out less than a week before).

    I made some phone calls and one agent said, “You have an publisher offer? What other agents are reading?” The instant I told her, she declined to even look at the book, saying I had top drawer people looking at it and she didn’t want to compete.

    It was disappointing because a) I really admire this agent’s work and b) I wanted this agent to read my work. So I told her, “That’s a shame you can’t read it. It’s about this preschool teacher who is forced to run off with a gang of geriatric biker witches. It seems right up your alley.” I wouldn’t have felt right hanging up if I hadn’t told her what was different about my book. She did a complete turn around, read it and ended up offering representation.

    I think the key to that quick pitch is to instantly show an agent or an editor exactly how your book is different than the rest of the ones that are already out there. They see so many ideas. Make it easy for them to see why your book will shine.

  33. Avatar April says:

    Contrats on the the contracts! I didn’t know that, and right now, as horrible as this sounds, it doesn’ tmake me feel much better b/c I’m jealous of this great author who caught your eye! I’m with Josephine! lol

  34. Avatar Tasha says:

    Thanks for the tips.. I probably would have done all the of the don’t’s.

  35. Interesting read, thanks for sharing… And congratulations on getting the contract. Now I’m off to come up with some eye grabbing titles for my novels.

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