Thursday, March 24, 2016

The In-Between: What's It Like Working With An Agent?

Queries! Pitch contests! Form rejections!

Wherever you go as a writer, whether you're online or attending a conference, there's a wealth of information about how to get an agent.

But what happens when you get to that next level? What comes after getting The Call and signing your name on that elusive contract?

There isn't a whole lot out there about the In-Between. Agented writers aren't supposed to talk about being on submission, and some aren't even allowed to announce when they sign with an agent. There's a lot of mystery surrounding the people in limbo between "unpublished" and "published."

So, to shed a tiny bit of light for those of you who are on your way, I've polled some of the Lucky 13s, my posse of newly-agented authors. They've shared some excellent insight into working with an agent and climbing the next mountain of publishing, so special thanks to all of them!

Here are some of their testimonials:

  • "The surprising thing to me about being agented is how little has changed. My agent's an amazing person to have in my corner. Our partnership is valuable and validating. But I've reached the top of the mountain and realized there are much bigger mountains ahead. When I sit down to write, it's nice to know an industry professional who trusts me will read it, but it's still the same. It's still me, alone in front of a word processor. The process of working with my agent has been a firsthand lesson in the fact that this is a long journey that can be very much out of your control. If you want to be published, having an agent's eyes on the market is a huge help, but if your first priority is not writing something you love and making it as good as you can make it, you're in for a lot of frustration." - Mara Fitzgerald

  • "For me, it's been what I expected: like working with a critique partner who's also your business partner, just a lot more intimidating. Once the shine of being newly agented wears off, it can actually get mundane... with the ever-present fear of failure to keep things interesting. More than anything else, I'd advise always being open and honest with your agent, and to not be afraid to discuss things with them. But also remember that they have other clients and lots going on, so be patient with them :) Find other people in your situation because you gotta talk to somebody who's going through what you're going through, else you'll lose your mind. And keep writing. That one's hard, with all the self-doubt you'll be building up, but it's also the best cure for it, in my experience." - Heather

  • "Write write write, it's all you can do. But now you have someone to tell you which ideas might sell and which are sinking ships. An agent knows what's selling and what's not, which saves you from falling in love with a story that might not work. Both you and your agent are working toward a book deal at the end of the day, so that's a huge amazing thing. I must say that my personal experience has been amazing, but the doubt and the fear still lingers. It's sort of like querying, but on steroids. Every rejection from an editor is a bruise, but this time you have your agent holding the band-aids, telling you, "It'll be all right. We'll get them next time." Newly agented writers should be aware that each agent experience is different, so don't fall into the pit of doubt that you've made a mistake because your relationship is different from person A or B. You've chosen to be represented by your agent, so trust that." - Kevin van Whye

  • "Realizing that a flesh-and-blood professional was willing to stake their time and professional reputation on me was kind of revelatory. Having spent years with a number of manuscripts with only my perspective, working with an agent everything feel more real. I became more serious about writing in general, ramping up productivity and becoming less sentimental about weaknesses in my prose and other bad writing habits. My confidence also grew immensely. I took narrative risks and experimented with voice, cadence, structure. I finally worked up the nerve to call myself a writer. While becoming agented is not the panacea it appears from the query trenches, it's a truly amazing accomplishment that should be recognized as such and celebrated accordingly... especially when one considers the number of people who imagine writing a book but never even make the leap to put words on a page." - Jordan Villegas

  • "The great thing about having an agent is you don't have to query anymore. Not only do you now have an agent, but they usually do the heavy lifting of creating submission lists and letters to editors. After your revisions are done, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and be gnawed ceaselessly by relentless paranoia, fear, and self-doubt. But it is really wonderful having a professional in your corner, and in the darker moments you can remind yourself, "Hey, someone believes enough in my book and my career that they are willing to put in hours and hours of labor with the hope of an eventual payday." But if I can impart one piece of advice to writers, it's: DON'T RUSH IT. I know the drive of wanting to just be done with your book and get an agent and get a deal. But publishing is a slow industry. You'll wait months to hear back about queries. You'll hear months to hear back about full MS requests. You'll wait months to hear back about submissions. There's a lot of waiting ahead, so make sure your book is as good as you can get it. Don't rush it. Nobody else is." - Austin Gilkeson

  • "Getting an agent was affirming to me. It meant I wasn’t just spinning my wheels or playing at being a writer. I come from a  theater background, so I need that type of validation from people. My relationship with my agent is full of him assuring me constantly that I am good at this. That I write stories that are worth being told. My agent totally understands that he’s going to get random emails from me that mostly mean I just need some reassurance. And he gives me that. But, other than having like the most invested critique partner ever, not much changed. No one magically thought of me as some amazing writer. I didn’t even post about it on my Facebook page until recently because if you’re not in the industry, people just don’t get what it means when you say you have an agent." - Kati Gardner

Aren't they so wise and brilliant? I'm lucky to be in their group!

Here's my testimonial:

Although nothing really changes, the stakes are higher. With an agent, anything you write could now potentially sell. No pressure, right? *breathes into paper bag* This is why you MUST surround yourself with people who know what you're going through. You should not do this alone. Find your writer friends and hang on tight.

The first rule of Submission Club is you do not publicly talk about Submission Club. Don't slyly hint about it on Twitter. Don't complain about it on your blog. And don't rant about it in "private" Facebook groups. You never know who could be reading, and all it takes is a screenshot to blow your cover. Some people are no holds barred, and I admit it helps to know different situations, but keep quiet if you can. If you must vent, do it privately with trusted CPs and writer friends only.

Don't be afraid to talk to your agent. Everyone is different, and some writers have more anxiety about contacting their agents. This is why it's so important to find someone you're comfortable with and to carefully assess your chemistry during The Call. Your agent is your champion and advocate, and you should never feel like you are bothering them. I've been lucky in this regard because my agent is so open and available to me whenever I need her, and I always feel better after talking to her. I bounce ideas off her, get her expert opinion on different paths for my career, and more!

However, you should be professional and independent wherever possible. Remember that your agent is neither your parent nor your therapist, and they are juggling dozens of clients and projects all at once. If what you need is a quick shot of reassurance that no, you in fact do not suck at this, that's where writer friends come in handy. So make use of your posse!

Also, you should always have been professional online, but it's even more important now that you're on a different level. I noticed after I got agented that editors, publicists, published authors, and other pros began following me on Twitter and other social media. Don't whine or complain publicly and don't overshare, because there are more eyes on you now and publishing is a VERY small world.

And that's pretty much it! I hope this post gives you a little bit more of an idea of what the In-Between is like! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading this, and good luck with your writing journey, whatever stage you're at!