Friday, September 21, 2007

What Do You Mean, You Like It?!?

Guest Maven Carrie The Manuscript Mavens are thrilled to welcome today's Guest Maven, CARRIE RYAN.

Before I get on to the meat of the post, I have a confession to make: I just signed with an agent. Like, this week. As in, I just sent the signed contracts out on Thursday and verbally accepted the offer on Tuesday. I'm now represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich (Erica and I are now agency sistahs!). And it's true, for a while after you sign with an agent, you really can't say it enough: "I'm represented by... you'll have to run that past my agent... did you know I was agented?"

But that's not what this post is about. Not really. It's about what you do after you get the call, and what happens if you get more than one call. For me the call came on Monday. It was a message on my answering machine from Jim and my boyfriend told me later that he pressed play while I was out of the room because he wanted to screen the calls in case it was a telemarketer or my mom so I wouldn't get my hopes up when I saw the light blinking. But it was Jim, just asking me to call him. I'd queried him 3 weeks before, sent the first 100 pages the week before and the full the Thursday before. My boyfriend started throwing me in the air in excitement but I told him that I'd heard stories of agents calling to personally reject authors and not to get his hopes up.

And so he fed the dog while I walked around letting out little yips of terror/excitement. Then I thought to check my email and there it was: the offer of representation. I was shocked, my boyfriend over the top excited. He took me to dinner, we popped champagne, and then we got down to business.

First, we talked about what to do about the other agents I'd queried. Some of them had requested partials and some fulls. For everyone who'd requested material I decided to email and let them know that I'd gotten an offer of representation and ask whether they'd be interested in reading the manuscript and getting back to me in a week. Second, we made a list of questions to ask the agent. I got a lot of the questions from websites, by googling, and reading agent blogs. Then I added my own questions. I wanted to know what their expectations for the book was, if they were involved in editing the submission, if they'd be involved in career planning and helping me with ideas for my next book. And I also asked whether they'd be there if and when I struggled with the next book because I felt like this one came out of the blue. Third, we jotted down thoughts about what I would be like as a client (being very honest): would I be needy? Would I want a lot of involvement in my career planning? Would I be the type to email or call incessantly? Would I want a friend, a partner, someone to put me in my place? I figured that if I knew what I would be like as a client, I would be better able to figure out who would work best for me as an agent.

Then came the scary part: actually calling the agent and emailing the other agents to ask if they could rush to get back to me. The first I put off for much of the day. After all, I had just started a new job and all of this came during my first full week, the time when I had to really prove myself! Everything I'd learned about agents was not to rush them, and so I had to really force myself to write these emails asking them to get back to me. And you know what? By the end of the day, each one of them wrote me back thanking me for getting in touch with them and telling me they'd get back to me shortly.

Then came the phone call to the agent who'd offered representation. My heart was pounding so loud I couldn't hear myself think. I called him, I let him tell me about how much he loved my book, and then I tried to ask the questions on my list but I just felt pushy and strange. He asked me how I came up with the idea for my book and I totally babbled, completely forgetting to tell him the most important aspects of how I'd come up with the idea. I remembered half-way through the conversation to take notes, and even those notes were scrambled! But I got off the phone knowing that he got my book, he loved my book, and he wanted to represent me. I was sold!

But I waited. Within two days I had two more offers of representation and one rejection that started with "I couldn't put this down— the story is completely compelling, and [your protagonist] so fully drawn. I love the storyline and the myths you have created here." Yes, that was a rejection! On Thursday I had two more phone calls with agents and I tried to take better notes, to be more forceful with my questions, but in the end I was just overwhelmed. These agents were telling me what I most wanted to hear: they loved it! They wanted to send it out that day! This would be big!

And I wanted to throw up! How awful does that sound?! How many of us spend hours and hours scouring blogs, forums, articles, workshops to learn how to query, to learn what's hot in the market, to learn an agent's preferences so we can personalize our letters? I've spent so much time learning how to get an agent, that I had absolutely no idea what to do once the agent wanted me! Other than drink a lot of champagne :)

So what do you do when an agent likes your manuscript? You celebrate :) You make endless lists and try to convince your family that this is big. And then you get down to business. You google the heck out of the agent. You ask questions about the agent on your forums. You ask your writer friends if they know anything. You look up the agent on Absolute Write, Backspace, Verla Kay. If they let you, you talk to the agent's authors. And you start to realize that half the stuff out there you can't trust and that most of the rest is rumors! You realize that there are amazing mentors out there, people who have been in the business and know how it works and are more than willing to share that expertise.

But ultimately you realize that the decision is in your hands and that you have to make the decision that works best for you. And you have to make this decision without all the relevant information. Because no one can tell you how it's going to work out. You have to realize that every agent has his or her strengths and weaknesses and you have to figure out what's most important to you.

I would have given anything in the world for someone to tell me "You're making the right decision," but in the end, there's no wrong decision. Once you find someone who loves your book, who wants to work with you, and who's a reputable agent -- everything else falls away. Whether you get one offer or more, what's important is that you can see yourself with that potential agent for the long run.

Would I do anything differently looking back on everything? I'd sit down after every agent call and write myself an email -- I'd write about how I felt having talked to that agent, what we talked about, and what were the pros and cons. I have such a terrible memory that even 20 minutes later I had a hard time remembering what I'd talked about with each agent and how it made me feel. I'd call the agents I'd queried but not heard back from (if I was legitimately interested in hearing from them). I did end up calling them, and either they weren't interested in the book or in rushing and I was glad that I'd put those queries to rest.

Most of all, I'd spend more time realizing that I'd hit a major milestone. This was my third completed manuscript, one I wrote because I loved it even though I thought it would bomb in the marketplace (seriously -- at 20k I wasn't even sure I should bother writing more). This was the manuscript I'm most proud of, the one I really really revised. This manuscript has a place in my heart. It's strange to realize that I may never write another query letter, but also hard to realize that there are still rejections in my future once we start submitting to editors.

But I'm not going to worry about that now. Because I think my boyfriend has a bottle of champagne waiting for me. Remember to pat yourself on the back for every query you send out -- every query is something to celebrate because you're proving to yourself that this is real, that you're going for it. And my motto has always been: if you don't quit, you *will* make it.

Happy querying!

YOUR TURN: If you have an agent, let us know what you did/said when you got the call/email. If you are pre-agented, are you making a list and checking it twice? What sorts of questions will you ask someone who offers representation? Anything specific that would/wouldn't be a deal-breaker for you?


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Carrie!!! How exciting. I can't wait to read your book!

I'm recently agented, too, and I also had multiple offers. It's so true that once you have one offer, it's suddenly easy to get other agents to read your stuff quickly and make decisions. I also second the nauseating nature of the entire decision-making process. I was completely miserable, until I got the offer that felt like "The one."

In my case, the agent I eventually signed with started reading my full on a Monday night, when she was leaving for a 3-week vacation that Thursday. She loved the first chapter, though, and promised to give me an answer before she left.

At 1:30 AM (Tuesday morning), she sent me an email, "The first 100 pages are fabulous!" The next day, at 1:00 AM again, another email: "I'm up to chapter 16 and it's amazing!" Now, after all this ... I'm thinking, how can she NOT offer to represent me? Then the next night (Wed.) ... nothing. Ack!!!

Finally, Thursday morning, about 2 hours before she was supposed to go the airport, she emails to say, "This is wonderful, I want to represent it, I'll be calling you shortly." She did, we talked, she emailed the agreement, and I was signed in time for her to catch the plane.

A true whirlwind courtship. Now I am crossing fingers for my HEA....

Tessa, who did not feel like fighting Blogger to sign in.

Darcy Burke said...

Congrats Carrie!! What an exciting story! I'm going to save your tips and questions for whenever I'm lucky enough to get that call.

Erica Ridley said...

Hi Carrie! Muchas felicitaciones! Great post. The heart failure I suffered when I got the call was nothing compared to the subsequent heart failure when I had to go say "no thanks" to other agents... holy crap that was nerve wracking. Sooo smart of you to email yourself right after the phone calls. Wish I'd thought of that! =)

Bill Clark said...

But that's not what this post is about. Not really.


Of COURSE that's what the post is about! Mega-congratulations!!

Excellent summing up of how to tie up the loose ends! And I agree with Erica: emailing your notes to yourself is brilliant! Much clearer than longhand squiggles that take too long to write and can't be deciphered the next day.

*Bill is speaking for himself about his own atrocious handwriting; he skipped first grade and has been paying the price in sloppy penmanship ever since...*

Erica Ridley said...

Bill skipped first grade and has been paying the price in sloppy penmanship ever since...

LOL. I skipped kindergarten, so I never got to color in all the Miss A and Mr B worksheets like all the other kids. Maybe that's why I've never been fond of coloring inside the lines...

Erica <-- whose handwriting is better than Bill's. Neener, neener. *g

Anonymous said...

I have to laugh -- I never did email notes to myself: that's what I'd do differently if I had the chance :) I did email my boyfriend if I wasn't able to reach him on the phone, and those emails were helpful, but after a few hours you really do lose that sense of urgency and euphoria that you feel when talking to the agents. That's what I think is important to capture :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the congrats Tessa! Nice to see I'm not the only one who suffered stomach-churning through the process :) That does sound like a whirlwind courship -- but isn't it great that she couldn't put your book down?!

I can't wait to hear what happens next!

lacey kaye said...

This post is so exciting, I can't even sit still enough to type out a response. Will be back after I read through the comments!

Celeste said...

Carrie, congratulations!! Hard to believe just weeks ago, you were stressing hard about query letters! Woot!

I don't have an exciting signing story at this point, but I'm finally having some excitement in my submissions process that is keeping me on the edge of my seat, and that I'm keeping my lips zipped about because I don't want to get my hopes up. Every day, it's like "any messages?" "any emails?" Nope. Okay, back to work.

Thanks for the advice on how to handle an offer (or three). It's just like a job interview looking at it like that. Make a list of what you need to know, so you have something to cue you in when they ask if you've got any questions, you don't get that doe-eyed stare.

Anonymous said...

Hey Celeste - glad things are going well! I know, it's hard to believe what can change in a month! I also wanted to keep my lips sealed while everything was going down because I didn't want to jinx myself. The one thing I wish I'd done more of was blogging or journaling but just not posting. The weekend before the first offer I almost sat down to write about how it felt to be in limbo, to be so unsure, etc. I didn't -- and now it's hard to go back and remember those feelings. It would have been really cool to read about those doubts now, knowing how well it all turned out! It's like going back an re-reading my blog on query stress and laughing!

Jackie Barbosa said...

What a great story, Carrie, and congratulations!

I'm nowhere close to gaining representation (I don't have any projects I deem ready for prime time just yet), but every happy story like yours I hear gives me hope that when I do have the right project ready, it will happen!

Thanks for sharing.

Hellie Sinclair said...

I haven't got nearly this far. Hunting for an agent--actually the THOUGHT of hunting for an agent gives me hives...which is not a good omen. But you have given me much to think about, and made it sound a lot less scary. Though I wish I had a boyfriend who'd break open the champagne and such. *LOL*

Mainly I thought I'd just be so grateful that anyone would agent me that I wouldn't screw up the whole thing by asking questions. (Note to self: sign up for self-esteem classes.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, MsHellion, trust me -- it was hard for me to start asking that first agent questions! I felt intrusive and pushy (and I'm a lawyer! This is my job!). Then I just jumped in and started asking and I'm pretty sure he was used to it. Besides, once they start telling you how much the love your book, it's easier to get up the courage!

Bill Clark said...

Erica <-- whose handwriting is better than Bill's. Neener, neener.

*Bill decides to marry fellow genius Erica so he can:

1) have someone nearby with legible handwriting;

2) get a free web site; and

3) be assured of the dedication in TATTF (or LLAPD, or whatever its name finally becomes).

In return he will offer her half his kingdom.*

How say you, Miss E?

[ideogram of swain kneeling before shepherdess while wooly flocks graze serenely among pastures green]

lacey kaye said...


Erica, pick me! We can go to Massachusetts and make our website-for-sex union legal! Just think -- Bayonets! Ales! Paul Revere!


Erica Ridley said...

My girl-crush on Lacey is reciprocated???


lacey kaye said...

*catches*... and *dips*

Bill Clark said...


*Sound of Bill's heart breaking as Erica and Lacey run off together, leaving him in their dust*

[Ideogram of a tear slowly rolling down Bill's cheek]

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