Karen Brichoux

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"Draws the reader into the story and never lets go." --RT Bookclub
"Brichoux reminds the reader how powerfully the landscape of 'home' can define a person." -- High Country News
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"An exceptional novel." --Melissa Senate, author of The Solomon Sisters Wise Up
"A coup. Warm, smart, and original." --Kirkus Reviews

Newsletter

The Agent Hunt: Part V

March 29, 2003

***********APRIL NEWSLETTER***********
Sticks, Stones, and Broken Bones (Or The Agent Hunt): Part V, I Just Got the Call. Now what?

One day, when you least expect it, the phone will ring and the person on the other end won't just be someone who wants to sell you a new long-distance plan. I was on my hands and knees, cleaning cat pee off a bookshelf when my agent called and offered representation. Since I'd had four calls from telemarketing machines earlier in the day, I told my spouse to tell the caller to shove ... Well, something impolite, anyway. Imagine my annoyance when he handed me the phone. The annoyance didn't last long.

When the agent says the magic words, do not descend into euphoria. That happens as soon as you hang up. Now is the time to say, "I have a number of questions I'd like to ask you. It shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes. When would be a good time for me to call you this week?" Now is also the time to say (if it's true), "The manuscript is out with other agents, so I will need some time to contact them and give them a chance to respond."

If the agent becomes angry about either of these requests, my advice is to end the phone call as politely as you can, then go to your computer and compose an e-mail declining his or her offer of representation. Because no agent should be huffy about you wanting thirty minutes to ask a few questions. If the agent doesn't have time for you now, what makes you think she will have time for you three months down the road? And no agent should be disgruntled about the time it will take for other agents to get back to you. If he doesn't want to wait and pressures you to make a decision without contacting the other agents who have your manuscript, he's either insecure or unethical. Either way, you don't want him representing you.

A good agent will be happy to set up an interview and happy to give you the time you need to contact anyone else who has requested your manuscript. Arrange a time for the interview, hang up the phone, get giddy.

Once you're back on planet earth, call or e-mail all the agents who have requested fulls or partials of your manuscript. Most of the agents who have only a partial will pass right away. If the agents with partials don't respond to your messages within a few days, feel free to send them a short letter withdrawing the manuscript from consideration. Those agents with the full manuscript will usually respond right away with a request for a few days to read the manuscript and respond.

In my own experience, I had the full manuscript with five agents when I got the call. Two of those agents passed within a few days. Three of them offered representation.

Now comes the agent interviews.

A writing friend and I were discussing these interviews the other day. They are probably the most crucial part of the agent hunt, but there really is no completely fail-proof method to get the information you so desperately want. Some books, the _Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit_ by Elizabeth Lyon, for example, offer a list of questions to ask a potential agent. So does the Association of Authors' Representatives. But most of these questions have yes or no answers. How do you find out--in thirty minutes or less--whether this person on the other end of the phone line is the person you want to go into business with? Even worse, how do you get enough information to make a decision on *which* agent you should choose if more than one agent has made an offer?

First, go back to the list you made after reading the first part of this series--the who, what, when, where, why list. Remind yourself what qualities you are looking for in an agent. A few of the top qualities for me were: I wanted an agent who was enthusiastic about my work (sounds obvious, but there are agents who offer simply because someone else has made an offer and not because they are truly excited about *your* book), I wanted an agent who wasn't a heavy editor (I've heard too many horror stories about writers who change a manuscript for their agent only to change it back again for the editor), and I wanted an agent who was actively selling (and had sold) a wide range of general fiction.

Second, try and figure out how to ask questions which will tell you what you want to know. A good question will provide you with concrete answers *and* insight into the agent's personality. For example, one of the best questions you can ask is: "What do you think of my book?" The answer to this question should tell you several things. First, the level of enthusiasm the agent has for the manuscript; second, whether or not she's a heavy-handed editor or if she will only offer a few suggestions; third, if she's already started coming up with a marketing plan; and fourth, if she shares your vision of the book. This last one is important for your future. You want an agent who understands your writing and isn't confusing your solemn critique of the modern western world for a light-hearted romp through the tulips.

Carefully choose your questions--you only have thirty minutes. When you collect your questions, leave space for jotting down your impressions during the interview. Sometimes the way an agent says something will be important later when you are comparing notes and trying to decide if this is the agent for you. Does the agent talk mainly about one or two best-selling clients? Does the agent make only vague references to a few big-name publishers everybody knows? Is the agent obsessed with publicity or foreign rights or talking about her latest boyfriend/dog/diamond purchase? Is she happy to give you the names of clients and recent sales? Sometimes you might even gain a little information about her from how she deals with interruptions during the phone interview. Write down every impression you have--no matter how small--along with the concrete answers to your questions. As soon as the interview is over, go to your computer and type in the answers, your notes, and your impressions and thoughts about the agent.

After you've finished all the interviews, sit down and compare your notes. Sometimes it will take long days of introspection to make a decision. Sometimes the answer will be immediately obvious. For me, I had one agent offer where I knew it wouldn't work out right away. But I struggled for days over the final decision between the remaining two ... nearly boring friends and family to death in the process! :)

Whatever you do, don't let fear get in the way. Even if only one agent has offered on your manuscript, if you don't feel right about him after the interview, don't sign with him. Politely tell him--in writing--that you do not feel that you and he will make a good match. Be kind. Be gentle. You know how it feels to receive a rejection by now, so write a letter you would like to receive. But don't shackle yourself to an agent simply because you are afraid no other agent will make an offer.

I hope my experiences during the agent hunt have given you some new ideas for your own. Remember, stay true to yourself and your vision. The agent is not doing you any favors by taking on your manuscript. She is betting on the chance that she will profit from your creative work. Hold your head up, and take yourself and your work seriously at all times.

See you next month when the newsletter will be--hopefully--considerably shorter!

Until then,
Karen
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Karen Brichoux
COFFEE AND KUNG FU (NAL, June 2003)
http://www.karenbrichoux.com