Thinking Like an Agent, Part 2

Back when I was working as a literary agent, Writer’s Digest published an article I wrote on thinking like an agent. Though I’m an acquisitions editor now, not an agent, these pointers are all still true. I wanted to update them and share them with you.

What I wrote then:
2. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I know I will have fellow agents burning me in effigy for saying this, but go ahead and ask. Go ahead and re-pitch. Go ahead and re-submit. I turned down a full recently and the writer came back with several questions about how she should approach revision – which everyone will tell you is a no-no. I thought the book was close to being incredible, so I took a few minutes to answer her questions. Will I always do this? Probably not. Did I do it this time? Yes.

I recently offered a contract to a writer who didn’t like the contract terms and turned me down. Of course she has every right to do that, but why didn’t she ask if the clause could have been changed? (For the record, it could have been.) About half of my clients have signed the agreement as is; the other half have asked for changes. Here’s the kicker: no two writers have asked for the same changes. What’s important varies from person to person. All of them have been accommodated and eventually signed with me.

In this business, it is absolutely crucial to ask for what you want instead of thinking people should know ahead of time (or should be able to guess), or assuming they will say no.

What I say now:
One of the most time-consuming parts of any editor’s job is author management, so while I would discourage asking about things you can find the answer to by Googling, I still say you have to ask if you want to get. I still have people who ask for contract amendments and get them. I still have people who say “no, thanks” to the contract without bothering to negotiate. Which is the better business person?

While I don’t encourage anyone to be shrill and nagging, asking is one way to show that you’re engaged in the process. I have authors who seem to fall off the face of the earth after they sign the contract. Sure, they get their edits in on time but that’s about it. I get no sense that they’re out there trying to do the best for their book and for themselves. And that’s too bad.