OMG YOU GOT THE CALL!! AN AGENT WANTS TO REP YOU. Your heart won’t stop galloping. After all your hard work you’re a REAL WRITER!!
Woah there, Nelly. Pull back on those reigns a minute.
You researched this agent before you sent your query, right? You stalked them on the internet and know everything everyone has ever said about them in a blog post or discussion board topic, right? You know what genres they rep and which houses they’ve sold to in the last year? You know who their clients are, right?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you’re putting your teeny, tiny party cart before you’re extremely premature celebration horse.
Here’s the truth: The instant you start sending your work out for representation by an agent or purchase by an editor, you go from being a dreamer to an entrepreneur. Dreamers dance and sing and pray and hope that the publishing gods will bless them with their favor. Entrepreneurs educate themselves, they ask questions and seek out resources that arm them with the knowledge and skills necessary to make good decisions. They surround themselves with experts to fill in their knowledge gaps, but they’re also smart enough to know where these gaps exist. In short, they know when to push the dreamer aside and switch into You Inc. mode.
You Inc. is the time when you remember that business isn’t personal. Sometimes you have to make decisions that people aren’t going to like. You’re going to have to tell people you respect and like that you can’t work with them anymore. You’re going to have to put your foot down and demand that promises are kept. You’re going to have to stand up for yourself, and it’s so much easier if you can separate your dreamer from your business side. That’s why when I have a tough business phone call to make or I need to do something out of my comfort zone to benefit my career, I put a huge yellow Post-it in front of me that says “Jaye Inc.” It’s goofy, but it helps me remember that this isn’t time for the dreamer. It’s business time.
Not to be confused with this kind of business time.
For those of you ready to query, that means before you send out one letter, you need to come up with a list of potential agents that you believe will be a good fit for your business goals. You know their genres, their reputations, their sales record, their methodology for working with clients, and the materials they require for query. All of this information is available online for almost every reputable agent on the planet.
But before you even come up with this list, you need to read every blog post (Google Miss Snark and Nathan Brandsford), article and books you can find about how to work with agents. You need to know what the standard commission rate is (15% usually, unless it’s a foreign or subsidiary deal in which case it’s 20%). You need to understand the list of functions agents provide. You need to understand why agents are necessary in the first place (hint: it’s not for bail money until you’ve sold a LOT of books).
My point is you need to ask yourself whether you write because it’s a fun hobby (totally legitimate reason to write BTW) or whether you’re not going to rest until you’ve made writing your career. If your answer is the latter, you need to treat it like you would any profession. Get educated, network, pay your dues, work your ass off, and maybe you’ll carve out a nice little career for yourself.
But one thing is for certain: If you stumble into being published without a clue how this business works, you are handicapping yourself. Notice I didn’t say you are ruining your career before you start. Many career mistakes can be fixed or recovered from, but things will be a lot easier if you at least have a working knowledge before you even send out that first query. Your agent will become your career advisor, writing coach, contracts ninja and maybe even your friend, but you have to go into that relationship armed with enough knowledge to know what questions to ask, where to put your foot down and what behavior is or is not acceptable.
So by all means, be excited that your career is progressing. This industry is stingy with praise and acknowledgements so revel in the excitement for a moment. But then put on your entrepreneur hat and let You Inc. do the work to make sure that the dreamer’s dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare.