Just call the agent on the phone is a bad idea.

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
Skyhawk
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Just call the agent on the phone is a bad idea.

Post by Skyhawk » December 18th, 2009, 11:31 am

I just wanted to share with you two things you may not of considered in your efforts to secure an agent. I have, on several occasions just called the agent on the phone to ask them if I could submit. You'd be surprised how many times they actually answer the phone! Why would you do this? For one, many agents are not taking new clients and will tell you right up front. It will save you the time and effort of having to prepare that perfect query. On the other hand, some agents indicate that they aren't taking new clients but when you call them, you'll find that they are and will invite you to submit. When they do, you may get an email address that's different than the one 100's of your co-writers are using. And even if it is the same one, you will start your query with "pursuant to our conversation" which will set your query apart from the rest.

When I first started submitting, I was thinking, "why don't I just pick up the phone and ask her", so I called Christina Hogrebe and asked if she was taking new clients. She responded yes and then asked "what's your book about?". She knew it was a memoir but she caught me by surprise when asked for specifics so I asked if I could just submit the full proposal and she agreed. She said she would take it home and read it over the holidays! We spoke two more times before she rejected but it sure was refreshing to have this dialog, and certainly motivating.

The other way I found promising was to get a referral from a published author of whom I've met many. I would ask them who their agent was and if I could use them as a reference. In this case, I would also call, or, in my query, I would start with "your client, Suzy Brown, recommended that I..." Simple aye?

Now some of you may be thinking, "oh yeah, well your still not published," and your right I'm not. However, it was a far stretch from the usual impersonal not having a clue rejection after rejection and you will at least have the comfort of knowing they read your material or at least gave it more attention than most.

Good luck guys. Anything at all you can do "outside the box" that's respectful certainly can't hurt. And don't forget this. MARKETING, MARKETING, MARKETING. Make sure you have a strong plan because it's just as important, if not more, if you want to get published. No one else is going to sell your book. Not even them. Those days are long gone.

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Last edited by Skyhawk on December 20th, 2009, 10:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Nathan Bransford » December 18th, 2009, 3:07 pm

The agents you have spoken to may well have been polite, but most agents I know really hate unsolicited calls. It's really an imposition on their time to call them up and ask them questions that are usually readily available online. If every author called up before they submitted we'd do nothing but answer the phone and tell people to visit our websites.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by shadow » December 18th, 2009, 3:57 pm

Thanks for your advice skyhawk, it is nice of you to share, but Nathan IS actually a literary agent himself, and he probably can tell us better. Did any agent ever refuse to speak on the phone to you?
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Skyhawk
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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Skyhawk » December 18th, 2009, 4:09 pm

Well Hello Nathan...I had a feeling we would be hearing from you on this one. Okay, fair enough, they were being polite. And yes, if each one of this did that, it would get ridiculous. But you know what? I came damn close with Christina and it sure felt like it was going to work for a minute. Something needs to change though. And in my circles, doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results is known as the "Definition of Insanity", hence, something needs to change. So you tell me? What's the secret?

Clearly, there are many great books that would do well that will never see the typesetter. Conversely, there are many that do, that don't cover the advance. I feel for you guys. I truly do. I can only imagine how difficult, even with your experience, it is to tell them apart. One advisor says, send one at a time with an exclusive. Another says, sends 100 out at once or you'll be collecting dust forever.

I have truly spent way more time on my proposal then I will ever spend writing this book. Perhaps plan b then would be the more suitable approach. It certainly wasn't my attention to have your followers light up the switchboards. I was just hoping to encourage. We need that. I'll delete the post if you wish.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Sara » December 18th, 2009, 4:18 pm

Skyhawk, I see your determination, and you're right, it's a writer's responsiblity to do whatever s/he can to succeed, but I'm not convinced this is the best advice. Huge numbers of writers are submitting to agents. Even if agents wanted to accept unsolicited calls from total strangers, there wouldn't be enough hours in the day to cope with the sheer volume of calls. A phone call tells the agent nothing about your ability to write--aka the most important part in all of this. If you've got an existing client's referral then sure, fine, go with it. But otherwise, the system's already clogged. Please don't make it worse.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Skyhawk » December 18th, 2009, 4:44 pm

Shadow...I know he is. He rejected me! And no. Every agent was polite, businesslike, professional, didn't appear to be annoyed, and advised me to either submit, or they weren't taking new clients. It went quick and easy something like this: Hi Ms Agent? Are you interested in a non fiction right now? That was it except in the case of one who chose to take it further but she was a rookie!

Look guys...I'm not suggesting you open the yellow pages and go to town. Not by any stretch. I was specifically referred to her by a UCSD Professor. However, if you have an agent that you've done extensive research on. You know she handles your genre. You know the last 5 books she/he represented. You heard her on a podcast or radio show. Then maybe, just maybe you'll want to call that one and ask if you could submit.

But if I had the money here's what I would really do. GO TO THE CONFERENCES AND MEET THEM. If your work is good, you'll find an agent and don't forget to mention your 2nd and 3rd books. I will do this next year and then you can start looking for "BEHIND BLUE EYES" and your friendly bookstore.

And would Nathan know better? Of course. And I have the highest respect for him but remember, we are all business people. This IS a business folks. It's not about your writing. It''s about your product and whether people will buy it. So what's really going on in the offices of agents I really don't know. What I do know is that only 2 or 3 of 100 of you will ever see the light of day so remember that in any decision you make.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by SmurfHead » December 18th, 2009, 5:07 pm

Cold-querying (sans phone call) hasn't worked for the OP, just the way it hasn't worked for a lot of us--yet. That doesn't mean that it can't work. According to one poll, that's how many authors connected with their agents: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/bl ... Works.aspx

Believe me, I've been there. There's nothing like the frustration of revising a query or proposal over and over and over, only to find that there's more to do. It's a truly expletive-inducing joy. Ditto for querying--I'm doing another edit over the holidays, but come January, I know I can look forward to receiving rejections and conflicting advice.

But I'm keeping Neil Gaiman's advice in mind. In an interview, I recall him saying something like, "If you keep writing and sending stuff out, eventually someone's going to want you."

I should really have that stenciled on my wall at this point.
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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Josin » December 18th, 2009, 11:42 pm

Good grief. If you want to know whether or not an agent is open to submissions, just check their website. If it says *closed to submissions*, then you know not to send. It doesn't take a phone call and checking on-line won't get you filed away in the agent's memory as the annoying one who interrupted their day to ask a question they could have easily found out on their own.

FWIW -- you also get feedback that's "far from impersonal" if you write a really good query and really good pages. Then you get remembered for solid work rather than costing them time they don't have to spend.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by CharleeVale » December 19th, 2009, 12:23 am

Skyhawk wrote: I have truly spent way more time on my proposal then I will ever spend writing this book. Perhaps plan b then would be the more suitable approach. It certainly wasn't my attention to have your followers light up the switchboards. I was just hoping to encourage. We need that. I'll delete the post if you wish.
I was just curious how much time you spent writing your book? I've been working on mine for almost a year and a half now and am close to finishing. However, I can't imagine spending a year and a half writing a proposal.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Kaitlyne » December 19th, 2009, 4:14 am

Okay, I wasn't going to comment but I saw like four things in here that just struck me as odd. First, if you haven't written the book yet (implied by "will ever spend writing"), how can you be querying? I know non-fiction rules are different, but isn't it right that memoir isn't queried in the proposal fashion, but in the same way one would query a novel?

Second, isn't it right that agents also tend to be annoyed by authors having their own marketing plans? I know some ask specifically for it, but the general consensus I've heard was that the author knows nothing about marketing and shouldn't be making assumptions, especially as they're generally wrong. Am I missing something here?

I know I've seen most people say "Whatever you do don't call us," but Nathan covered that rather nicely haha. ;)

I'm also kind of offended by the idea that it's not about the writing and that the only way I'll have a chance is to call or go to conferences (particularly considering I've seen people say they'll outright reject you if you call because they hate it). Like someone else said, you can easily find out information about submitting from looking online and doing your research, and I've been under the impression agents prefer someone who does their research and follows their rules because it's a sign that someone is easy to work with. I could obviously be wrong on this, though, as I'm not an agent.

What I have done, however, is spent over a year writing this novel, and six months editing it and trying to make it as good as I can possibly make it. I've done that on the assumption that I can send out a query and hopefully find someone who likes my story and writing. To say that it's not about my writing...well, I get what you're saying but it still bugs me.

I also don't see why calling an agent makes people any more likely to buy your work than sending a query letter and following the agent's guidelines. Yeah, it is about whether or not your work can sell (and I think a lot of that has to do with writing, but maybe that's just me). Your work is still going to have to stand on it's own. I just don't see the logic, I suppose, and I'd rather not do things that could potentially offend the agents I'm hoping might represent me.

Edited to say if I was a published author, I'd be really frustrated by people asking me for agent referrals. I'm not trying to be contrary, but it's completely true. I imagine it happens all the time, and unless I knew you personally and well and had read your work and said, "Wow this is amazing, maybe you should send it to my agent," I wouldn't feel comfortable giving a referral. And if it happens as often as I imagine it would...well I just imagine it would get irritating pretty fast.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by BlancheKing » December 19th, 2009, 7:04 am

I have no experience with this issue, nor am I a published author. This is just what I think about cold-calling.

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I really think we should stick to using queries. Unless you (generic) just wrote an obvious best-seller, cold-calling seems like a really fast way to get an rejection. A phone call just doesn't reflect an author's quality, effort, or writing style the way a query does. Having to send tens and hundred of letters definitely sucks, but it's just one of those things we have to do. I mean, a call's basically an unedited dictation that might convince a "maybe" agent to say "no" because he can't see your hard work. And personally, I'm not willing to take that chance. I've already spent the last 3 years writing/editing my book; I don't care if I have to wait a 3 more for an "yes".

And what if an agent sees the call as ungrounded arrogance instead of enthusiasm? As an attempt by the unpublished/ obscure author to circumvent an already established organized system? That would be a terrible miscommunication, wouldn't it? I've read that agents communicate a lot with each other; (this is just me guessing, but) calling too many might result in a permanent "no" without consideration from someone you haven't even called yet...

I understand that the wait is painful, but if there is no shortcut. Hard work is a given, not extra effort on your part. Why else would there still be people in this forum at 4 am in the morning? Everyone wants their book published, but there's more of us than there are agents. We need them more than they need us. I just don't think it's wise to throw away any of my chances because of a technicality.

Positive thought: Why not start a new project while you wait? Or pick up another hobby? It'll help the time pass faster.

Side note: You mentioned a UCSD professor. Are you by chance one of his students? Because I've noticed some professors tend to be polite critics towards their students.
Last edited by BlancheKing on December 19th, 2009, 9:03 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by djf881 » December 19th, 2009, 8:44 am

Cold-calling agents is a really bad idea. They'll probably be polite when you speak to them, but this will not get your submission a more favorable hearing.

However, when you are marketing yourself, you have to be attentive to the culture of the industry. Agents receive thousands of unsolicited submissions a year, and the query process is organized the way it is to make it possible to consider all the unsolicited manuscripts. You distinguish yourself in the query process by following agents' submission guidelines, by writing a better query letter than everybody else, and by backing it up with a stellar manuscript. Anything else is unhelpful at best and probably counterproductive.

But, unless you are a celebrity, the only way to get an agent is to write a good book. There is no back entrance. There is no secret handshake. There is no way to grease the wheels.
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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Skyhawk » December 19th, 2009, 12:10 pm

Good points. Let me see if I can address them one at a time. keep in mind, I'm only sharing my experience. I'm far from expert.

If an agent's website indicates "no submissions" there are two things you should consider. !. It may not be updated and if they are really interested in your work, they WILL ask you to submit. It's all the more reason you may want to call and often, the ass't' will answer. Or, you could just email (not query) asking if they are still not accepting. I have had some very high profile agents who were listed as not taking new clients but still asked me what I had to offer so obviously if it was of interest to them, they would have asked me to submit. Again, I wasn't calling every agent in town. Just a select few that may have been a fit. And also again, about 4 of them did invite me to submit! I'm not suggesting that this be done in lieu of traditional submissions. The few I called I had good reason to. Keep in mind. This is a non fiction memoir and most of you are writing novels. Almost all agents take fiction but many do not deal with memoir or autobiography so there's a curiousity there as to who I am and what I have to say. And I am nobody with a lot to say but in the circles I've traveled, there are some VERY somebody's!

I'm not sure what you mean about being polite. About what? I didn't take the course. Only inquired about it. The other UCSD professor was an author who after hearing my story, offered the agent referral in a discussion we were having and it wasn't her agent, it was an associate who she knew was accepting new clients.`

Non fiction rules are very different. Often, you can get bought on the proposal alone. But the fact is when I spent 9 months in Mexico preparing it, I wrote much of the book as well. Sample chapters must be included and when I started doing those, I didn't stop there. Sometimes you can query with the proposal attached and sometimes not, depending on their instructions. If you are snail mailing, almost always include the whole proposal.

MARKETING. Again, I'm no expert and only did research for my own needs but if I don't include a very strong plan in to whom and how I am going to sell my book, I'm out of gas! They want to hear about, singings, talk shows, websites, targeted industries relevant to the content, hiring a P.R. firm, etc. Novels...I have no clue but I thought it may be similar. What I read is that most authors won't even cover their initial advance in terms of book sales so if you can offer some agressive marketing ideas, go for it. I can't see how it could possibly hurt you. This would be in addition to what the publisher may do. I don't think you'll interfere. Again, there are all good questions covered very specifically in Susan Page's book and I'm sure Nathan can shed more light.

When I say I'll spend more time on the proposal I didn't mean actually writing it. I meant submitting, research, blogging, time spent discussing and emailing about it. Writing the chapters and chapter by chapter and remember, there's 50 years of stuff to be considered. Family discussions and research on the mobsters I grew up with and where they are now. (Mostly dead or serving life sebntences!)

I'm saying that you are selling a product. Thre better the writing, the more product you will sell. There's also book cover, title, and other aspects that will sell your product. But clearly, it's about the writing. Just keep in mind you are developing a product in the interim.

I do what I feel comfortable with in terms of satisfying my own expectations. If you are satisfied with what you may be doing in trems of getting published and can sleep at night knowing you did your best, than you're ahead of the game. Sometimes, "I" feel like I need to do more. I'm also talking to screen writers and producers. This has been a lot of work and time. I'm gonna give it every best shot and if it doesn't materialize, I'll be okay with it knowing I really tried hard.

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Skyhawk » December 19th, 2009, 1:03 pm

Also...I never said..."the only way I'll have a chance is to call or go to conferences." You are taking this out of context. The conferences will improve your chances greatly. If you want to sit back and pray you are the one or two out of 100 that get published. then pray hard. You wanna do a little more, that's all I'm suggesting and again, these are only suggestions. Not a debate. If you don't agree, don't take them

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Re: Just call the agent on the phone!

Post by Kaitlyne » December 19th, 2009, 9:24 pm

Sorry if I misinterpreted the writing comment. It followed a post about how we should be making calls, etc., and was around one that mentioned going to conferences, so when you said "it's not about writing" I made an assumption about what you were saying it was about, and I should have assumed anything.

I actually get what you're saying and it is all our choice, but you're presenting it as advice that goes against the advice by professionals that's out there (or at least most of it). What worries me is that a newbie might wander by, see this, and think, "What a great idea!" and call even though agents specifically often state "do not call us," and in doing so might hurt their chances.

I think when people mention being polite, what they're saying is that the agent speaking to you isn't going to be a jerk. They're going to be nice and polite even if they've been put out. They might be thinking, "Man I hate so much that someone called why can't they just read the submission page on the website that's what it's there for," but they're not going to say that to you. They're going to be nice and handle it professionally because that's what they are.

That's the thing...maybe you call and ask if they're open to submissions. Their website says yes, but they tell you no. You said a couple of times that happened. It's entirely possible that they are but just don't want one from you because you called. I've also seen many comments by agents saying if someone calls to ask about a query or inquire about one that hasn't been answered yet, the answer becomes an almost automatic no and that they hate being put on the spot.

Think of it this way...if they received query letters from 100 people a day and only ten percent of those people called to inquire about something like this, then that's an awful lot of calls every day to answer the same very simple question about information that is already available. Now something like a referral might be different, but most of us don't have that advantage.

Also, what concerned me about having unfinished work is that everything I've seen says memoirs are not submitted via proposal, but via query letter in the same manner as fiction. I just wanted to make sure you weren't making a mistake in your submission process. Granted, I haven't ever submitted a memoir so I could be completely wrong on this, it's just something I've seen in my reading. I'll link you a few resources if I can find them because unfortunately I have no recollection whatsoever as to where I saw them.

http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2007/04/memoir.html
http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2007/03/w ... emoir.html
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/sho ... p?t=159711

That last one looks like it probably has a lot of good information, though I haven't read it through. Hopefully that helps out some. :)

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