Agentaversary

You know how you keep meaning to do a thing, and the longer you put it off, the harder it becomes to buckle down and do it? That is me and this blog. But it's never too late to turn things around, so I hope to be blogging a lot more this year. 

I'm going to save query stats for their official posts (I am SO CLOSE to wrapping up 2017) but I wanted to reflect in a more general way about my first year of agenting. 

January 13th was my agentaversary; I've now been actively building a client list for over a year. My number one takeaway, honestly, is that I'm so very glad I had a decade of industry experience under my belt before becoming an agent. 

Income

I absolutely knew what I was getting into when I made this career move-. I left a steady, salaried job as a contracts manager and moved to agenting, where my income is based almost entirely on commissions from sales. I did not make any sales in 2017. 

I taught an online query class, judged one writing contest, attended one conference, and earned a total of $1,068.00 for the entire year. That's it. I won't always be so forthcoming with my income, but I do believe in transparency. I believe that most people who go into agenting and don't have a draw or an assistant's salary to lean on have no real understanding of the financial hardship that comes with the job. And I don't think most people--writers and agent-hopefuls alike--have any idea how much work it takes before agenting becomes financially sustainable. All of the hours I spend reading and responding to queries, reading requested material, writing blog posts, podcasting and writing for Pub Crawl, giving tips on twitter, networking long-distance with editors, putting together submission lists and strategies, writing pitch letters, editing client manuscripts, doing market research, putting together course proposals and lecture topics, curating my #MSWL and developing other ways to drive the right kinds of submissions to my inbox, and all of the unseen administrative work--all of that labor is essentially unpaid. 

I'm not complaining. I knew all of this going in. And I'm so fortunate to have a supportive partner and the financial stability to essentially walk away from a paycheck in pursuit of the work I love. But when writers are impatiently waiting for a response to their query, maybe this helps put things in perspective. And so many young agents DON'T know this before they start. Making a living off commission is hard work, and it might not happen in the first year or even two, so if you're considering becoming an agent make sure you have other sources of income or are otherwise financially secure. There's a high burn out rate for agents, and the endless hustle to chase sales is a big part of why. 

Time Management

Time management is still something I'm figuring out. My clients are my top priority, always. I strive to respond quickly, to provide as many details as I can, to be thoughtful and supportive in all our correspondence. My clients are amazing and I never regret a single second I spend working on their behalf, even when I'm walking in circles around my apartment, reading terrible pitch drafts aloud, with the haunting feeling that I am neeeeeveerrrrrr going to get a solid pitch down. (This feeling always passes, but there's always a while where I'm IN IT. Pitch writing--much like query writing--is hard). Making sure I'm on top of client communication is perhaps the most important thing to me as an agent. 

Editors get my next level of attention. I believe in building up relationships, and relationships take effort. Sometimes even keeping track of which editor moved to which imprint where during reorgs can take hours in and of itself. But I set aside a lot of time for phone calls, emails, and editor research, because networking is important and valuable. Plus, editors are awesome, and I genuinely like many of them and want to be friends!

I spend a fair bit of time of administrative work, keeping my records clean and up to date, making plans for future business trips (New York, I'm coming back this year!) and other odds and ends. 

And then there's queries and requested reading, which is arguably where the ball most often drops. I'm still figuring out ways to improve response times going forward. I hate (HATE) being so far behind. I believe all writers who query me deserve the courtesy of thoughtful consideration and a response. But queries and requested reading are definitely the first thing to come off my daily schedule when something more pressing comes up. I'm thinking of taking a reading day--dedicating a single day each week to read and nothing else. I'm not sure yet what exactly I'll do, but I do know that this is the area that most Needs Improvement, so it's something I'm definitely focusing on in 2018.

Relationships & Support

Vital, vital, vital. Even though I had a ton of industry experience and knew a lot about the ins and outs of agenting, there were still times this year when I had no idea WTF to do in a given situation. And I got by with a little help from my friends. In addition to getting support from my agency, of course, I'm also a part of a private community for agents, where we can ask for help and request feedback, commiserate, celebrate, and help carry one another through the tough parts. And that community has been everything to me this year. I've gotten so much help from so many amazing women, and have been honored to offer help in turn when I could. But mostly I'm just so inspired to cheer these women on, and celebrate their every accomplishment. We're not at the same agencies, but we are colleagues. And it would have been a much darker year without them in my life. 

Heartbreaks

I had a few heartbreaks this year. There were two authors I offered to represent, but they chose other agents. I do believe that it's important for agents to get rejected by potential clients. It keeps us humble, it gives us empathy, it makes us hungrier. But it also hurts! And I will not lie, after one of them turned me down I cried and then took the rest of the afternoon off. There's also heartbreak on behalf of my clients. Rejection is par for the course, but sometimes I'm SO SURE a certain project will click for a certain editor and then it just....doesn't. 

Triumphs

My goal for the year was to make one sale, and I didn't meet that goal. But I went on sub with two projects and had a third secret project fall into my lap unexpectedly. But triumphs aren't just about sales. I signed three incredible clients this year. Amazing women, whose work pierces me more with each and every revision, whose writing has cracked me open and put me back together again. I am so proud to be working with each of them, and see big, big things ahead of us this year. 

There is no feeling quite like reading a manuscript and suddenly I just know. I can pinpoint that exact moment for each manuscript I've ever offered to represent. It's a jolt, a prickle, an oddly physical and precise feeling, and when I get that feeling I just know. This is it. I'll never get tired of those moments. I'll never get tired of sending those emails. I'm in love. When can I call? And I'm so lucky that chasing those moments is my job. 

Onward

I had such an incredible year. I am certain that this choice was the correct one. I love my work, even when it's hard. I love my authors, I love their books, I love what I do. I have plans and hopes and dreams for this new year, and above all the fire and determination to go seize them all. 

Here's to all the good things up ahead!

A Day in the Life: Hungry & Hustling

I want to chronicle my typical days at various stages of my agenting career. Right now I've been open to queries a little over a month, so I've had a bit of time to work out a daily schedule that is productive and helps me balance things. But I know that day to day life as a seasoned agent with a full client list is different than the early hustling days of an agent just starting out. So here's what my days look like right now, and further on in my career I'll do a new post detailing how my days have changed. 

As a new agent, I'm hungry. Starving, in fact. 

All agents start at the bottom with zero clients, so the early months and sometimes years of agenting are all about hustling to build a client list and make sales. Remember, agents don't make money until the author makes money, so it's important to hit the ground running when just starting out. 

Good Morning

5:50am I've been hitting snooze for 20 minutes by this point, and now it's time for me to get up. 

6:00am My husband, David,  and I do the intricate dance of getting our 3 year old ready for daycare. He makes her breakfast; I do her hair, she gets dressed herself. Luckily we don't have to pack her a lunch because all meals are provided at the center she attends. 

6:50am David drives our daughter to school. I hop in the shower, and eat breakfast myself. 

7:30am David is back and makes a pot of coffee. He works from home, too, out of an office set up in a corner of the living room. I've set up my desk in our bedroom, so I spend a few minutes making the bed, opening the curtains, and making sure the space is neat and peaceful so I can concentrate on my work.

7:45am Coffee in hand I sit down at my desk and get to work. I start with queries. For this first year I am tracking every single query I receive in an excel spreadsheet. I realize this practice probably isn't sustainable (it's quickly becoming A LOT and I'm only a few weeks in) but I find it valuable for now. Each query gets logged with the following:

  • Date Received
  • Date Responded
  • Author's Email
  • Title
  • Genre (Adult, YA, MG)*
  • Sub-Genre (Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, etc)
  • Status (Reject, Request, Did Not Respond)
  • Notes (this is a catch all. I use it to track #ownvoices, #mswl, make a note if the query doesn't adhere to my guidelines or doesn't fall within a genre or category I rep, or any other notes I need to make for myself). 

Logging queries helps me compile my query stats at the end of each month, and lets me see what kind of books I'm requesting most often, what genres I'm seeing most, and how I might want to tweak my #MSWL to direct more of what I love toward my inbox. 

I sometimes read queries as they come in and tag them in my email, but they don't get logged on the spreadsheet until I actually send the response. If I want to request a manuscript I do it right away as soon as I've read it. When I know, I know. But sometimes I've been too swamped to read queries as they come in and so they sit in my inbox unread while I work through the backlog.  

Queries I plan to reject or those I'm on the fence about get sorted, and then I try to respond to them in chronological order. My goal is to respond to all queries within 4 weeks. Right now I'm answering queries received February 8th, and today is February 28th. So looks like I'm on target so far. I reject queries with a form template that I hope is professional and kind. I do make sure to address each rejection with the author's name, and on very rare occasions I'll add a personal note. When I respond to queries with requests I tell the author what excited me about the query and the sample chapter that I read, and how eager I am to read more. Those responses aren't from a form template--each request is unique. 

10:00am After reading and responding to queries for a few hours I switch gears. If I have a phone call scheduled I'll take some time to do prep. If this is a call with an author whose query I loved and I'm hoping to offer representation, I'll spend this time putting together a pitch: why I loved your manuscript, why I think I'm the right agent to represent you, the editorial vision I have for your manuscript, and where I think it fits in the market. If I have a call scheduled with a client at this stage it's probably to talk about edits, and those calls need prep, too. 

11:00am Phone call! If I'm very lucky, I often get to follow this up by drafting an agency agreement to send to a new client!

12:00pm Lunch break! I am committed to taking a lunch break every day, and without a formal commitment I'm bound to forget to eat and go full-on hangry monster mid-afternoon. David and I break for lunch together when schedules allow, and just whip something up in our kitchen and chat for a bit. It's a nice way to break up the day. I'm sure in the future I'll be reading through my lunch, but for now I'm trying to treat it like a true break and enjoy it while it lasts!

12:30pm Back at my desk and moving on to edits. I've signed two clients and am editing their manuscripts for a round of revisions before we go on sub. I am definitely an editorial agent and believe really strongly that it's a competitive market and we need to make sure the manuscript is a polished as possible before sending it to editors. I do a light line edit and insert comments in the margins of the Word document. As I go through the manuscript I make notes for myself about the big picture issues: structure, character development, etc and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript as a whole. Once I've gone through the whole thing these notes are the bones of the editorial letter I write to my client. I believe authors need a few days to absorb critical feedback so when I finally send along the marked up manuscript and the editorial letter I'll schedule a call for a few days later so we can discuss everything. Although I do believe that my suggestions will make a book stronger, ultimate it's the author's book and they have creative control, so if there's a suggestion the author disagrees with we'll use that phone call to work out a solution. 

If I'm in the editing groove I might just keep going for the rest of the afternoon, otherwise...

2:30pm I work on putting together editor profiles and submission lists. This requires a lot of time and research, because I'm just starting out. I need to introduce myself to editors, become familiar with their recent acquisitions and their tastes, and start match-making to pair manuscripts with the people I think will connect to it most.

4:00pm David does dropoff, but I'm in charge of picking our daughter up from daycare, so this is when I brave rush hour traffic to go get her. The next three hours are sacred family time. We cook dinner together, we play, we tantrum. Quality time!

7:00pm After we put our daughter to bed, the evening can go any number of ways. I deliberately don't work every night. Just...most nights. On Wednesdays I record the Pub Crawl Podcast with my dear friend and co-host, JJ. And a few nights a week are reserved for time with David. We do life administration stuff like budget, bills, and cleaning, but we also have Stay At Home Date Nights and watch an astonishing amount of Netflix. But on most nights, I do continue working. Hungry, hungry agent, after all. Sometimes I dive back into queries, sometimes I devote myself to my reading pile, sometimes I update this blog, or do some industry research. It's a toss up. I do usually move out to the couch for this evening work, so I can hang out with David. It's nice to get a change of scene.

9:00pm I get ready for bed. I'm trying really hard to make sure I save time for pleasure reading that isn't work-related, so this is where I fit that in. I try to only read for a little bit before turning out the lights, but sometimes I am so utterly captivated by a book that I stay up all night and read it straight through. This happened most recently with AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoboi. I cannot recommend that book enough. Even if you're going to have to hit the snooze button a few extra times in the morning because you stayed up too late finishing it, like I did. 

But eventually: sleep. And get up the next day to do it all again.


*I know that Adult, YA, and MG aren't genres so much as they are age-groups, some call them categories, but I just used Genre and Sub-genre because it's my spreadsheet and I can do what I want.