My First Novel: The Agent Waltz

I had no idea how long it would be before I heard back from the editor; because Warner Aspect doesn’t take unsolicited/unagented subs, that means the usual online resources that track response times had no data for it. I decided I would forget about it for the next six months, and only then send the editor a query, if I hadn’t heard back from her yet.

Four weeks to the day later, I came home to find she’d left a message on my answering machine.

Truth be told, I spent a few minutes gibbering and twitching before I called her back. (I figured it was a good idea to at least try and get that out of the way before our conversation.) She hadn’t said much in the message, other than that she wanted to talk to me, but this had to be a good sign. If editors don’t like your work, they just send you a letter (usually a form) and move on. Even Marion Zimmer Bradley never went to the trouble of calling an author to tell them how much they sucked, at least that I ever heard.

She did not tell me I sucked. In fact, she said very, very nice things about Doppelganger. (I was pacing endless circuits around my house during the entire conversation. I’m not so good at that whole “staying still” thing when I’m on edge.) But aside from the compliments that had me zooming in circles to work off my twitchiness, the gist of her reason for calling me was that she liked the book, but Warner didn’t buy unagented novels, therefore I should get an agent. Right away.

I thanked her, hung up, shrieked a bit, called everyone I knew, fell down and had a minor epileptic fit (okay, not really), and set about finding an agent.

At this point, I was on somewhat unfamiliar ground. I’d submitted to agents before, but never with the possibility of a contract hovering in the wings. If you should find yourself in a similar situation, here’s roughly how it goes.

To begin with, you can write to more than one agent at a time. You’re trying to find the best possible person to represent you, ideally not just for this book, but for the long haul. This means there are a lot of considerations, and you’re allowed to shop around a bit, so long as they know you’re doing so. Me, I only wrote to two agents, which was probably not the best decision on my part, although I’m happy with how it worked out. One of the two was someone the editor had recommended to me, and had recommended me to; I’d never corresponded with this woman before, but this way, I wasn’t coming completely out of left field. The other was an agent I had sent to before, and had been hoping to snare. In general, you’ve probably sent to agents on your road to publication, so contact them again and explain your situation — ESPECIALLY any agents who have shown an interest in you. Even the ones who say their client lists are full may suddenly find space for you, if they smell a contract.

This does not mean, however, that every agent you approach is going to be panting to represent you. As it happens, the two I sent Doppelganger to both read it and liked it, but only one offered to represent me. Why? Because they’re going to be working with it, and you, for a while, and if they’re not truly enthusiastic about it, they’re not going to do the best job with it. And while yes, they’ll be earning money off you, they earn a commission, which means that the better job they do, the more money both you and they get. So a reputable agent should be honest and turn you down if she thinks she’s not the right one for the job, even if you’ve got a contract offer. It’s disappointing for you as a writer, maybe, but it’s better than ending up with an agent who doesn’t suit you.

So I spoke on the phone with the one who was interested, and discussed a number of things I won’t go into here because they’re really an essay of their own, and ultimately decided that she sounded like a very good match for me.

And now I had an agent, and we were ready to start talking to Warner again.


Next: And Then There Was Haggling