4.01.2006

When to Waltz the Cat Around the Kitchen

May (insert your extraterrestrial/heavenly host here) Bless you and KY:

Okay, I'll bite. You recently wrote your list of comments you don't want to hear when you call an author and say "wanna go to the dance?"

Obviously, everyone in the universe is euqally qualified to get "the call" (I know, ha ha) so on behalf of us cross-fingered folks dreading or hoping for the phone to ring, what does an agent expect to hear . . .other than profound sobbing or the flat-line-tone from an ECG machine?

Yeah, I wanna go to the dance, but what color corsage do I buy you? I just gotta know.

First, there's hardly ever a "do you wanna go to the dance" call out of the clear blue sky. Here's what happens at Snark Central:

You send me a query letter. I read it and don't retch.
I read it again to make sure I was right the first time.
I ask for a partial.
I ask for a full.
I usually email you with typos, questions, comments, some sort of back and forth.
I might phone you to just see if you're a loon or not but it's not "the call" cause right now all I'm doing is figuring out if the ms is still available, if the ms can fly, and whether you are a nitwit. (Sadly good writers and nitwittery are not mutually exclusive). I'm also letting you know I'm interested so you can do some more research and make sure I'm the agent you want. Here's where you might email my clients and find out I'm not kidding when I say I'm famously distant.

While all this back and forth is going on YOU are getting back to me promptly on emails and phone calls. If by some chance you are out of the country for six months (or planning to be) when an agent asks for a partial or full, TELL THEM. You don't do this at the query stage but if I'm reading more than that I'm interested. In this day and age of cell phones and public access computers, it's not expecting too much that you'll get my messages and respond. I won't work with people who are lackadaisical about the business side of things. It bodes ill for when the stakes are higher. Here's where I'm looking to find out if I can trust you to be a professional.

Now, these emails are not really an invitation to conversation. I am not your new best friend and you don't want to email me with anything other than answers to questions. No asking for advice, no telling me six other people are interested, and REALLY no "do you like it, do you like it" of "have you decided yet". Mind you, this is all happening in a matter of weeks. Once 90 days have gone by, you get to email with your chosen variation of "get off your slacker ass and tell me what you think".

This period of time is agony for writers I'm sure. That's actually one of the things I've learned from y'all here and I've gotten a LOT faster in getting back to people once I've asked for a partial and full. The flip side of that is I'm asking for fewer partials and a LOT fewer fulls.

After I've read the ms, decided it will fly, and think I'm the best pilot, I call you up. I say "this is really a good project, and I'm going to make you an offer of representation for it."

You say something like "that's great" "I've signed elsewhere" or "no thanks". You ask for a sample contract. You ask what the timeline is. You ask what I think I can do with this. We discuss how soon you can have a finished manuscript to me and probably some formatting stuff. (Here's the first time I'm going to care about font, size, page numbers and chapter headings).

We assure each other of our mutual admiration. We toast our coming success.
Then we both get back to work.
This is when you can faint, scream, jump up and down or waltz the cat around the kitchen.

11 comments:

Eileen said...

I wouldn't advise cat waltzing. When my agent and I agreed on representation I used it as an excuse for champagne. When she had an offer from a house more champagne, post negotiations more champagne, contract in the mail-more, cover art meeting etc. etc. We're buying by the case. More expensive that cat waltzing-but fewer scratches.

Anonymous said...

Did i understand you correctly? Did you say that you may call me to make sure i'm not a nit-wit, etc, but that i should NOT tell you--after you have shown enough interest to call--when six other agents have already made me an offer?

Wouldn't this be considered common courtesy to let you know that you better hurry up an make your best offer to me already because 6 other agents have already have realized how great my project isand can't wait to get their mitts on it?

Am i missing something here? You want people who are business savvy and respond promptly to you but you don't want them to give you an update? This makes no sense to me.

But more importantly: In the same way you don't want me calling to pester you as to whether you like the full, etc., I don't want you calling me unless you're ready to make me an offer! Don't jerk me around just for gathering information--get it by e-mail.

Yes, you want to assess how I present myself on the phone, whether I'm a nit-wit, etc., but you had better be ready to make me an offer if you like my responses--otherwise, your call will be experienced as jerking me around--teasing without delivering the goods. A call means you're ready to take me on--or please, don't call!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, anon 1. When an agent calls, if it's not THE CALL then I'll be seriously pissed. The time to find out whether I'm a nitwit is when you call to make me an offer and no contract has yet been signed, so neither party is committed to anything. Give me the nitwittery questionaire then.

Elektra said...

Man, I wish Miss Snark reprsented my genre. The only agent with a full right now hasn't contacted me once--I have no idea if she even got it--and it's been three months (her website, however, says four months for fulls, so I have to wait for the slacker E-mail).

Miss Snark said...

Sorry Anon, but email alone doesn't cut it.There's a lot to be said for a personal dynamic and I always call people to chat before I decide to take them on.

However, if you think that qualifies as "jerking around", well, right there, we've found out it's not a good match.

And what the hell is "best offer" anyway? It's really like a yes/no thing. There's no price involved. I'm not going to give you a better deal than I am anon 2 (whose post makes no sense to me whatsoever, but maybe I'm just missing my clue dust powder puff).

Anonymous said...

I was offered rep by a junior agent at a house that gets the recommended mark on agentquery. We had a nice phone conversation; I asked for a sample contract, then I e-mailed with some more detailed follow up questions that I didn't ask in our phone conversation, which I had been invited to do. She declined to answer my questions so I passed on having her rep me. I've always heard it's like a marriage, and I didn't want to walk down the aisle with someone who was shutting me out. Anyone have any thoughts on who was the nitwit in this scenario? My questions were all standard questions you might read on AAR, etc. By the way, this junior agent was not the original agent I queried, but my work had been passed on to her. Consequently, I was unfamiliar with her background compared to the agent I originally contacted.

CM Harris said...

Miss Snark, I vote for defining this entire process as "Waltzing a Cat Around the Kitchen". Writers are frustrated, agents are frustrated, claws come out etc.

Whatayagonnado?

Miss Snark said...

Well, I've had people ask me questions that were weird, and heaved a huge sigh of relief when they "went elsewhere". I had one guy ask for my bank account number so he could verify it was legitimate....

Anonymous said...

I'm anon #1 By "best offer" what I mean is that by the time you call, I expect you to make some effort to sell yourself to me. If other agents are already interested, part of what I'm trying to assess is now enthusiastic you are about my project. I'm listening to the tone of your voice, whether you are open to chatting with me for a while, allowing me to ask you some questions...or are you in a hurry to be done with the call, believing you are doing me a favor to even want to take me on. I want to know how quickly you will respond to my e-mails, calls, and what your plan is to sell my book.

I want to know if I can reach you directly or need to go through some assistant. I want to know how much editing you think my project will need before you're ready to submit it. And I want to know whether you will keep me informed as to the results of your submissions rather than make me wait anxiously for weeks with no word as to what's happening. All this I want to assess, just as you want to assess whether I'm business savvy etc. I've said no to agents who didn't show enough enthusiasm or wouldn't take the time to answer my questions. And I could do it because I knew I had 5 others waiting patiently for weeks who were itching to get my project.

What anon #2 is agreeing with me on is this: We don't mind if you want to do your assessment when you call, just as we want to do ours--but we don't want you to then hang up and "think about it" and then call back again We want you to tell us directly in the first call that you want us.

We want you to woo us a bit, making it clear you want us.
And, yes, if you call me, we chat, and you like what you hear but don't right then and there make an offer, I will indeed take it as jerking me around.

Anonymous said...

Anon #3 here(the one offered rep by junior agent). Thanks for spelling it out Anon #1. We authors have every right to interview agents to see if they're a good fit for us just as agents want to make sure authors they're considereing are not nitwits. I never asked said agent for bank account number...sales history, yes. This is a career we're talking about here and if there are other agents nibbling, we should be thorough in making sure we partner up with the right one.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2 here. Thank you for clarifying why I agreed with you, anon #1. I did in fact respond to Miss Snark's comment before, but she did not post my message. Probably found it a bit too irreverent and snarky for her taste.

I do appreciate the work she puts into the blog, and have learned valuable stuff here, but if she is as distant and snarky as she purports to be, then she is not everyone's cup of tea - as she herself has said repeatedly. Different strokes. Her method would not suit me at all, since the snark on her side would tend to bring out the snark in me. And that's not good for business.

I recently acquired a wonderful agent, but as much as I was hoping that she would be the one, if she had called that first time just to weigh me on the nitwit scale, instead of telling me outright that she loved the work and would like to try to sell it for me, I would have gone with another agent.