I think most writers emerge into the world angsty. We just do. Can’t help it. Maybe there is just so much rejection in this biz that the angst and uncertainty is embedded in our DNA somewhere. I don’t know, but someday the Authors Guild should pay a scientist to figure it out, so that we can get rid of it.
Here’s the deal. I frequent a couple message boards and talk to a bunch of writers and one thing is pervasive. Writers everywhere are asking what’s ok to put in a query, how long to wait before following up (“four weeks and a day or is just four weeks alright?”), and exactly how many lines in a query should be personalized. We are hardwired to never ever not in a bazillion years call an agent prior to signing. And the idea of asking a clarification question during the querying process is simply blocked from our minds.
For the most part, that’s all good stuff. Writers should certainly want to come across professionally and adhere to the etiquette expected by their chosen industry.
Great. But, after that is said and done, and the writer is signed, sealed, and delivered to his or her newfound agent, guess what? I still hear the same sorts of questions.
“I want to know who we’ll be subbing to, is it ok to ask?”
“I emailed last week to ask a question, do you think it’s alright to ask another question?”
“Is it ok to nudge?”
“I don’t want to take up the agent’s time, but ….”
You get the picture. And how many writers are guilty of that? *raises hand sheepishly* Yeah, and I know that I’m not the only one.
The reason I mention this is because last night I was being EXTRA angsty over what I should do about a particular issue my agent and I had been emailing back and forth on. I wasn’t sure what he meant and it was hard to read his tone regarding my concerns. I was chatting with a fellow writer about this and then it dawned on me. I could call him.
For a second, I was like: Whoah, hold the phone. I can DO that?
Then, I thought: Why, yes, yes I can. In fact, Why not?
So I did. And you wanna know what? I felt about a zillion times better. I came up with the specific questions I wanted answered. We talked for about 10 minutes and, in that short time, I got way more information than I had in the several emails we’d passed between us.
I’m embarrassed to say, though, that I was almost nervous to call. I had to gulp down the urge to apologize for taking up some of his time. And believe me, he wasn’t making me feel like I was wasting his time or bugging him. It all came from the inside.
So, this leads me to my next point. There is a tricky time between being agented and the first sale. A time where almost all the scarring of the querying process are still visible. You aren’t entirely sure where you belong.
But look, as people, it’s not attractive to say “I don’t want to waste your time” or act undeserving. If you are the sort of person that worries about being considerate of other’s time and energy, you are probably not the sort of person putting unnecessary drains on others.
Many, many writers are naturally introverted and being assertive feels against their nature. But, once your agented, it’s time to start thinking toward the next step. Time to start thinking about a sale and, hopefully, life as an author. That means learning to be an advocate for yourself and starting to really believe that the dream is attainable.
Probably the best place to start putting this into practice is with your agent. So, here are ways that you can get what you need and deserve without worrying about being obnoxious:
1. If you are actively working on a project with your agent, try to put all of your thoughts and questions into one or two emails a week and send that. Put it in an easy to read format (i.e. not long paragraphs) so your agent can respond accurately, completely, and efficiently.
2. If you need to have a back and forth with your agent, consider setting up a phone call. Although the default these days seems to be email, often issues can be sorted through much more quickly in a live conversation.
3. If you do decide on a phone call, email with several times that would work for you and allow your agent to choose. Then, think about what you need to accomplish in that conversation. It can be easy to forget certain issues or questions you wanted raised, so consider jotting down your questions in a notebook. A lot can get done in a 5-10 minute conversation, so don’t be afraid to squeeze a few of your burning questions in as well. Obviously, you don’t want to call too often, so make it count when you do have your agent on the phone.
4. Be considerate, but don’t forget to consider your sanity. If asking a question will help you stop obsessing, then ask. In other words, if you want to know why you aren’t subbing to such-and-such imprint ask.
5. Be receptive, not defensive. But don’t be afraid to have your own brain. When you sign on the dotted line, you aren’t signing away any individual thought. It’s so easy to want to be the perfect client. But saying, “Would you mind going to this house with this?” shouldn’t ruin that. Of course, if the agent says “No, that editor isn’t a good fit” then listen to that. Your agent is paid to know the industry. But, if you are following the rules of communication above, I don’t think you need to be concerned.