I had no expectations going into Pitch Wars. I was so afraid of getting no request during the agent round that I refused to check my entry. At all. Someone would say “Hey Beth! I can’t believe you have x requests!” and that’s how I found out my entry was doing well. In fact, I didn’t even go to the page until after the competition, when I had to send requested material.
Things happened quickly after that. A week later I woke to two offers of representation in my inbox. (When you live overseas, offers tend to come before the call). Over the next week I’d have four more, and almost every morning had a 5am phone call with an agent wanting to represent my book.
I didn’t have much time to research agents or figure out what questions I was supposed to be asking, or even send queries after the competition ended. Maybe that will be you. Maybe you want to know what to expect if the impossible happens. Or maybe you just want a burst of inspiration in your day (which is what these posts were to me before I found representation). This post is for you.
As a recap, here is the road so far (cue Carry On My Wayward Son…):
One of the questions I received on Twitter was What did the agent bidding feel like? My only answer is: Absolutely surreal. Only a few months ago, I’d been terrified to send my new story to my critique partners in case they didn’t like it. I keep saying this, but it’s true: my story is strange. Turns out people like strange.
But here’s the thing. I’d had requests before for other manuscripts that didn’t go anywhere. Not this many, not all at once, but I knew not to pin my hopes on a few full requests. It was wonderful to win Pitch Wars, mostly because it meant Stacey’s confidence in me had paid off, but I was digging myself in for a long stay in the trenches.
One point I want to make is, if you’ve made it into Pitch Wars, it means you have something special. You have the spark, that x-factor that pulls someone in and keeps them reading. Some mentees didn’t get any requests during the competition, and I think you have to steel yourself against that possibility. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get an agent with this book. Some of the mentees who didn’t get any requests are now happily agented. It also doesn’t mean you won’t get an agent with your next book. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably will. If you keep working and keep honing that precious little spark of yours, you will make it. Figure out what makes you special and hold tight to it. But that’s a post for another day.
I am not a phone person. Or a 5am person. I’d never in my life used Skype. Plus, these were Big Time Agents from Big Time Agencies and they wanted to speak to ME! I have no idea how that happened.
For a week of phone calls, I barely ate. I couldn’t. I was too nervous. I slept, but only lightly, in case I missed my alarm. I floated around in some sort of dream state as agent after agent told me how much they loved my manuscript. It was an absolute dream come true, and honestly, I had so much trouble accepting it was actually happening. I had to stop myself from asking every agent if they were SURE it was my manuscript they were talking about, and you know, they could still back out now if they wanted.
At the same time, I was having to make all these Big Important Decisions. A couple of agents asked for more time to read. A couple gave R&Rs (revise and resubmits), which would mean turning down all the other agents on the off chance this person would like my revised version. Some agents spoke about movie deals and dollars I couldn’t even comprehend, while others spoke about important themes and reaching readers who needed THIS story, and I had to choose between them.
In all honesty, I was overwhelmed and under-prepared. I never expected this to happen to me. But you don’t have to make the same mistake.
How I Chose My Agent
If you don’t already have a set of agent questions sitting on your desktop or stowed in a drawer, I suggest you get one. Make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for in an agent, so you can interview them appropriately. I made my list after I received the first offer. I scavenged questions from writer friends and message boards and blogs. But if I was doing it all again, there are other questions I would ask. The best list of agent questions I’ve found is here, by Elle Cosimano. Start there, but look wider.
Know what you’re looking for in an agent. Seriously. “Someone who wants to represent me” isn’t enough. One agent even asked me this question and I didn’t have an answer for them. I had no clue.
This was the process I ended up using to choose between these wonderful agents:
– Talk to other writers. Interview the agents’ clients, but also ask around in your own writing circle. What an agent presents to the public and how popular they are with aspiring writers is not necessarily a good gauge of what kind of agent they are. You might hear a few horror stories, or you might hear amazing things about an agent who has otherwise flown under your personal radar.
– Pro/Con lists. I know. Terribly scientific. But the act of forcing yourself to write out cons as well as pros can help you see past your own emotions. Just because an agent is really nice doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best agent for you. Be as honest as possible.
– Figure out what is most important to you. There were two agents I really liked, who I ended up setting aside because they didn’t have much experience with children’s literature. There was another I had to pass on because the agent in question intimidated me, big time. These were excellent agents, but not the best match for me.
– Gut. Most people say they know from the first phone call that agent is for them (I read a statistic that said most writers end up going with their first offer, no matter how many follow. How interesting is that?). My first phone call was amazing. I cried afterward, because I never thought I’d hear those things said about my writing. I could have signed with her on the spot, but I didn’t. She was in my top two all the way along, but in the very end, when it was time to make the big decisions, I chose someone else.
I’m not one of those people who think there is only one perfect agent (or one perfect person, even) for you. Any one of those agents could have sold my book and done it well. When you’re in the moment, it feels like the biggest decision you’ll ever make, and maybe it kind of is, but if you’re having trouble deciding, chances are BOTH choices are good ones.
I ended up choosing Ammi-Joan Paquette and every day I find new reasons to be thankful I did. Some agents were focused on money and some were focused on craft, and Joan was the latter. That was important to me. She’s made my story stronger and she has always encouraged me to take the time I needed to do it well. Maybe another agent would have sent the story out before it was ready, but I have confidence Joan will never let me do that.
So, that’s how I chose my agent.
Someone wanted to know the scope of my revisions with Joan. I’m not sure exactly how helpful this section will be to you, as it totally depends on the manuscript in question. I know other people who signed with agents after Pitch Wars and went on submission pretty much straight away. That wasn’t me.
The scope of my agented revisions were not as large as the scope of my Pitch Wars revisions. They weren’t structural. The bones of the manuscript were sound. It was just the nuances I had to work on, and nuance isn’t easy to get right. I completed my Pitch Wars revisions in 4-5 weeks. I completed my agented revisions in 4-5 months.
Everything went so fast for me. I submitted my MS to Pitch Wars because my CPs said I was ready, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was completely satisfied. It turned out they were right, but after I signed with Joan I was determined to polish the manuscript to a state that I was happy with. It took a long time, and sometimes that was hard. It felt like I was disappointing all those people who were so excited about my story — my critique partners, my writer friends, my agent.
But the thing is, once I admitted to them how I was feeling, every one of them supported me. I love this quote I found on Laini Taylor’s blog:
It will be late once, but it’ll suck forever.
— Patrick Rothfuss
This one by Junot Diaz has inspired me as well:
“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.”
— Junot Diaz
I’ve done the hard part. I’ve written a story I’m proud of. I’ll definitely keep you updated on what happens next.