Friday, March 15, 2013

Yay You Signed With An Agent! ...What Now?

A question from my Q&A on Wednesday got me thinking about the time when I very first signed with an agent. It was so exciting! But it was also completely new territory. I didn't know what to expect exactly, and unfortunately my agent didn't give me a pamphlet detailing how he works and what I should do as a newly signed writer. That would have been handy.

Since then, I've actually had two more agents supporting my career. I promise I'm not an agent killer—they left the business of their own free will, and I was lucky enough to have other Curtis Brown agents ready to support me. But I say this because each agent I've worked with has been different from the last, and yet all of them were absolutely wonderful to work with. This has taught me that the idea of an "agent soulmate" isn't really true. A good working relationship can be fostered through flexibility and communication.

So I thought I'd offer up some tips for those who have just recently signed or will soon be signing with an agent.

Sit Tight
Stuff usually slows down after you sign with an agent. Whether you are on sub for a long time, or in revisions pre-sub, or perhaps you sell fast but then are in the waiting-for-editorial-letter phase—it just goes slower. Your agent has taken the reigns on submission, and thus you will have "extra" time on your hands. You know how in school, when you'd finish the year but there was still that sense you maybe forgot to turn something in? It's kind of like that. You might have the jitters—like you need to be  doing something and yet there's nothing for you to do.

This is normal. It also a good time to write for "fun" or do something new. Querying is such a frenzy that the white space after can be jarring. Fill it up with trying a new hobby or giving more time to the things you may have ignored while querying.

Your Agent Doesn't Mind Being "Bothered"
When I first signed with an agent, I often felt like I was pestering them every time I had a question or felt like I needed a little self-esteem boost. I didn't want to be that client, the one they secretly regret signing on. I wanted to appear sane.

Well guess what? Agents know writers are crazy, and they still love them anyway. That's why they are in this business! A good agent is happy to communicate with you—they signed you because they like you and your work. I know it's hard, but have confidence in that! If you are afraid to communicate with your agent, how will they ever know what you need? Which brings me to...

Your Agent Isn't A Mind Reader
It would be awesome if my agent could pre-emptively comprehend all my needs as a writer, but unfortunately superpowers are reserved for fiction. While my three agents all worked very differently, one thing remained consistent: They were all happy to try and meet my needs when I told them what they were.

Agents are people, with lives and interests and other clients. They are busy, busy people, but I assure you a good agent has the best of intentions. If you start to feel "ignored" or if you feel there's an "expectation" you're not meeting or if you just plain feel insecure about your writing, tell them! If you aren't happy about how submission is going, or you don't feel like they are on board about your next novel, or whatever else, tell them!

Open lines of communication go both ways. It's as much your responsibility to be professional about facing the hard parts of a working relationship as it is your agent's. Don't let issues that bother you fester. Festering is never a good thing to do with emotions.

Be Flexible And Open Minded
You can ask a million questions before you sign with an agent, but there are things you just can't know until the process begins. Going on submission is such a book-specific process, and the strangest scenarios crop up. I've been through many now I couldn't have foreseen. By now, I've come to expect that nothing will go as I expect, but earlier on I was constantly freaking out at every new curveball I hadn't seen. In my head I'd be going, Is this NORMAL???

If you are flexible and prepared for publishing to not fit any pre-determined idea you have of it, then you'll be a lot better off as you jump into the thick of it. Your agent will be there to guide you—let him or her do that for you. Trust that they have been through the waters several times before. Go with the flow as much as you can.

It Doesn't Get Easier
I wish it did, but publishing is a challenging industry. When I first started out, I thought everything would be smooth sailing after I got an agent. But really? It's just the beginning. Whether you sell fast or slow, stay with your agent forever or have three before your first book debuts, whether your publisher rejects or accepts your next book...there's always something hard to deal with. And that's okay. Also, totally normal. In a lot of ways, it's fitting that such a difficult profession like writing has an equally trying industry to support it. Publishing—in any form—isn't for the faint of heart.

And those are the things I can think of right now. If you have any more questions about the post-agent existence, I will be happy to answer as best I can in comments.


  1. Great advice, thank you!

    I do have a question. Before getting an agent, a writer only has to revise enough to satisfy herself (and hopefully enough to snag an agent!). Once you have an agent or an editor, and you receive revision requests, how do you know when you've done "enough" toward those requests? For example, a lot of revision requests can be a bit nebulous, such as rounding out a certain character, etc. I hope that makes sense.

    1. Maya, I've always found that my agent/editor like to bring up issues they see, but they are perfectly happy to let me solve them the way I see fit. I've never been "forced" to take a piece of advice, and they are usually happy with the way I tackle the changes they want.

    2. Thanks, Natalie! I'm probably over-thinking it.

  2. I signed with my agent back in October and I wanted a handbook-a thick one. I’ve found all the above to be true-esp. being flexible, they want to answer our questions, and that in publishing everything is normal.

    Even the little things I questioned-do we exchange Christmas cards? Presents? My agent sent me European chocolates and I was all, oh, crap-I need to at least send her a card!

    How much do they want to know about my WIP? Should it go thru multiple revisions before they get it? For me the answer is-she wants to know about my WIP and gives as much direction as I desire. She leaves it totally up to me on when I’m ready to share it. It’s a “when you’re ready to let me look at it” situation.

    Thanks for your post!

  3. Goldmine! Thanks for delving even deeper into this. It is such a fascinating process, and this all reads as really good advice. You're the best. Thank you!

  4. Great post. I'm with my second agent now and feel much more calm and secure this time around, but it is still a big adjustment going from the querying frenzy to the "calm" afterward.

  5. Thank you for this post, Natalie! I'm with my second agent now and she's so much different than my first. I haven't even been with her for a week yet and I feel like I can be totally open with her instead of being afraid to e-mail her about something. I'm a lot more calm and happy about everything, which is awesome. :)

  6. Thanks so much! It's blogs posts like this that have really helped me navigate this process. I really cannot understate that--thank you for sharing your experience!

  7. Thanks for the advice, Natalie. I plan to query for the first time in the next couple of months so this is really helpful.

  8. Oh, this is all so true and so helpful. We spend so much time trying to impress and get an agent, it's hard to admit when we have a problem afterwards, in case they change their minds! The same goes for editors, but there we have an agent to mediate for us. They love your writing, that's the most important thing.

  9. I love this post Natalie! So right, and great advice, especially about communication.:) Yay!

  10. Awesome insight. Thank you so much!

  11. Natalie, thanks for this informative post. I'm in the middle of an agent search so, I appreciate your advice.

  12. Very helpful and helps to settle the nerves!!

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  14. Regarding your point #2 above, I wanted to be a self-starter who didn't need extra coaching. I was so grateful to have my lovely, lovely agent, and was terrified she'd think she'd made a bad call in signing me if I appeared too needy, lol. Turns out all I had to do was tell her I was feeling a bit lost, and she volunteered to check in with me weekly! It's been great--I feel more productive than ever and always get such a boost from our weekly chats.

    So, point #3 is also right on: agents are not mind-readers. Every one of their clients is different--you have to trust your agent enough to tell him or her what you need from the relationship. Sigh. The mind games we play with ourselves . . .

    A friend sent me the link to your post so I'd know I was NOT ALONE. :-D

    Thank you for sharing and for the excellent advice.