Hello Readers & Writers,
Below will be my first post in what I hope to be a series about navigating post-query life, how to communicate with your agent, and knowing what agent works best for you. Taking over today will be Alexandra Overy who has been with her agent for two years. Read below what she has to say about communication and her tips on how to have a successful author-agent relationship.
If you’d like to be a part of this series, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Now, onto Alexandra:
Signing with an agent is a huge milestone for any writer, but once you’re past the initial flurry of offers, contracts, and announcements it can be a bit intimidating. It’s this whole new step in the process, and authors aren’t often guided on what to expect after querying. One of the hardest—and most important—aspects of the author-agent relationship is communication. Without it, your agent won’t know what you’re thinking and vice versa which can lead to all kinds of problems.
But when you’ve just signed with an agent for the first time, this can be quite nerve-wracking. You’ve just spent all this time trying to get an agent and now there’s a whole set of new rules and expectations to figure out. It’s also a massive shift in the power dynamic, going from hoping that an agent will even notice you to having one on your side. This can be hard to navigate, especially shifting from the querying mentality of not wanting to bother your agent, to realising there are actually things you need to talk to your agent about.
Next month I’ll have been with my agent for two years, and we’ve definitely now found a good pattern of communication that works for us both. But it took some work to make sure of that—mostly on my side, as I’m not always good at speaking my mind on things (I’m English and an introverted writer, it’s not a great combination!). A good example of this is when we were working on a manuscript sample and I got some edits back from my agent which didn’t resonate with me. A lot of it was good, and I saw where she was coming from, but one thing in particular didn’t fit with the vision I had for this story.
For some people, that might not be an issue. You just talk it out and move on. But I didn’t feel confident enough in myself to explain the problem and I worried my agent would get mad or not want to work with me any more (it’s an irrational writer fear, but a surprisingly common one!). So instead of talking to my agent and working it out together, I went into my writer cave and did my edits. All except the one that didn’t resonate with me.
When I sent the manuscript back to my agent, her first question was (of course): why didn’t you change this thing? Since I hadn’t commented on it before—or even mentioned it to her—she assumed we were on the same page, which I imagine made it confusing when she got the manuscript back without that change.
So we planned a phone call and I wrote down what I had to say in advance (I find this helps if you’re phone-averse like me!) and we talked it out. Of course, once my agent understood, she was on board and came up with ideas so that we could make it work while staying true to my vision. None of which we could do when I just hid from the problem by not talking about it.
Since then, I’ve been much better about being open when I have a problem, but it’s still something I have to work on and push myself with. It was a bump in our relationship, but an important one as I think we have much stronger communication now because of it.
I thought I’d add some general tips here for people who’ve recently signed with their agent or find communication with them difficult! I’m writing from the author side of things, but these are issues I’ve seen myself (or my friends) have trouble with:
- After you first sign your contract, talk to your agent about their preferred communication method. Are they better over email? Do they prefer a quick phone call? Whatever works best for them (and you) will help you both get the most from your interactions.
- When you have a concern, don’t just sit on it and hope it’ll go away. I know it’s tempting just to ignore a problem and hope it’ll work out on its own, but in almost every situation, talking it through will help. On the flipside, don’t send your agent every small worry that comes up—but if there’s something that’s really bothering you, your agent will almost always have an answer that will set your mind at ease.
- Remember your agent has other clients. I say this in the nicest way possible: your agent has a lot of other things to deal with and you are not their only client. It’s easy to overthink when your agent doesn’t reply to an email immediately or hasn’t sent you their edit letter yet (I’m definitely guilty of this!), but I promise your agent doesn’t hate you and isn’t trying to find the best way to fire you. They’re just human, and they have other things going on as well. Which brings us to…
- Agents are human too. When you’re querying, agents can feel like these far off mystical beings that you can only reach with the right answer to an ancient riddle, but it’s important to remember that they’re human too. Once you sign with an agent, it’s even more important to keep that in mind. Agents will have bad days, they’ll have weeks where everything goes wrong, and you can’t expect them to be infallible. They do amazing, super-human feats, but at the end of the day they’re just the same as you.
- Communication is a good indicator if things are going wrong. If you’re finding that you aren’t able to talk to your agent, or they go long periods without replying or they’re not really hearing what you’re saying, it can be a red flag that things aren’t working out between the two of you. Like any relationship, sometimes it doesn’t work out (not necessarily through fault on either side). If you feel like communication is failing, set up a call to talk about it. If things still aren’t working out, it might be a sign that this agent isn’t for you.
This is in no way an exhaustive list, but just some things to think about that I’ve found help me. The most important thing is to remember that your agent is on your side and they want you to succeed just as much as you do!
Alexandra Overy is a YA fantasy writer from London. She enjoys writing about fantastical food, soft boys, and murderous princesses. Alexandra currently lives in Los Angeles where she’s completing her MFA in screenwriting at UCLA. When she’s not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating doing homework, she can either be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.
Be sure to follow Alexandra on all of her social media platforms and stay tuned for more posts in my new series, Now What?