What to Do When You Get THE CALL

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

No, it isn’t Friday yet. Beginning this week, Rachel Kent and I are switching blog days because we think it’s going to work better for our schedules. That means from now on Rachel will be blogging on Fridays, and I’m moving to Wednesdays.

You just got THE CALL. An agent is interested in taking your proposal to the next level, a phone interview to discuss the possibility of representation. After your feet return to terra firma, what do you do next? Lasso your elation so you can think clearly. You have plenty to do before your phone interview, namely


Plenty of preparation will minimize your nervousness. Review the proposal you sent to the agent, update your social media numbers, and have them handy to refer to during the call. Anticipate questions the agent might ask you regarding your qualifications for writing the novel or nonfiction book, and have clear, comprehensive answers ready.

Remember, the author-agent relationship is a business partnership. Approach the conversation as a professional. If you will be conversing via a Skype video session, business casual is the dress code.

Be ready to describe your target audience and how you connect with them through your social media and other means.

I look for evidence of these personal characteristics in the prospective client to whom I’m speaking:

  1. Good people skills. Thank the agent for the call. Be pleasant and respectful. It shows you have the skills you will need to promote your book and interact with publishing professionals. You don’t have to be a super extrovert. I understand that many authors are introverted. Trying to project yourself as someone you are not doesn’t work for long. Be your best professional self.
  2. Sense of compatibility. Friendly, nice, upbeat, and forthright are qualities that give me the impression you would be pleasant to work with.
  3. Confident yet humble. Showing confidence is very important because it shows me you can interact successfully with publishing professionals and in interviews when your book is published. Balanced with a humble attitude, your confidence won’t sound aggressive or pushy.
  4. Teachable. You emphasize you are patient, teachable, and you appear to be a forthright communicator.

Obviously, I think you have potential and like what you’ve written or I wouldn’t be requesting the phone call. Here is what I’m looking for in this next level interview:

  1. You are informed about Books & Such and me. You don’t ask questions that are clearly addressed on the website.
  2. You have done your homework. You’ve learned a little about the publishing industry by attending writers conferences and following industry and author blogs. You belong to a critique group and have been willing to do the advance work to refine and polish your manuscript until it is the best it can be before submitting it.
  3. You are a go-getter about doing all you can to market your book. You understand that while it’s my job to guide and suggest marketing efforts, it’s your job to plan and implement them and follow through with enthusiasm. (If you currently have a polished manuscript to submit but don’t have a clear understanding of ways in which you, the author, will be expected to market and promote your book, wait to submit your proposal until you have educated yourself and are able to present a plan that shows you are savvy about what is involved and have grown a sizable audience for your work.)
  4. You are relaxed and comfortable when communicating about your proposal. Your proposal has shown me that you’ve read books and learned how to present yourself and your book on paper. You knew what to include and what to leave out. In our phone conversation, I want to see that you can verbally interact with professionalism and ease in a business setting.
  5. You have a sense of your personal brand, and your book and future book ideas fit the brand. This demonstrates to me that you are invested in the writing life for the long haul.
  6. You have investigated publishing house websites. You’re savvy about which publishing houses publish your type of books.
  7. You have a good sense of the author-agent relationship. You know the questions to ask about what the agency offers to clients, and you acknowledge your responsibility in the relationship.

Have you been preparing for THE CALL? It isn’t too early to begin. What makes you most nervous when you think about a phone interview with an agent? If you’ve had an author-agent phone interview, were you pleased with how it went? What would you do differently next time?

How to prepare for an author-agent phone interview. Click to Tweet.

What an agent looks for in an interview with a prospective client. Click to Tweet.

After submitting your proposal, it’s time to prepare for an agent call. Click to Tweet.


56 Responses

Leave a Reply

  1. Anne Love says:

    Great blog Mary.
    Most nervous? Discussing marketing and branding.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Anne, that is typical. As you ponder what you are passionate to write, your brand will take shape and you can begin to articulate it. Write it down. Then go back to it and refine it until you feel you’ve nailed it. That will prepare you to communicate it clearly to a prospective agent.

  2. I think that author-agent communication represents a perpetual “to do list”. There is preparation before the contact, but there is also follow up to prepare for the future. That could include manuscript or proposal revisions, attention to social media, and even signing up for that all-important exercise class to boost that professional appearance! All of these things are very helpful for the author who is devoting time to her career, but might be wondering just where to focus immediate efforts. Not that an agent would suggest that exercise class. . . but author-agent communication does get one to think about image!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      All great points, Carol. And I absolutely would suggest that exercise class, not only to enhance a professional image, which is very important. But also, the writing itself and then the feet-to-the-ground promoting of your book is a strenuous undertaking, which requires lots of endurance.

  3. rachel says:

    i was elated when i got an email from my agent agent asking for a phone time to talk. i hoped that it was “the call” ( and it turned out to be) and what i tried to keep reminding myself was to BE myself. just to take a few deep breathes and let him get to know me. of course, be professional and intelligent and show you have done your background research and have something to offer; but let the person you are going to have a long working relationship get to know you, too πŸ™‚ it was hard to work through the nerves to calm myself down but once we got chatting i knew that the easy dialogue was one determinant that we would work well together πŸ™‚

  4. Communication is a lost art. Heck, it’s hieroglyphics, but when the β€œcall” comes, Old MacDonald can bet the ole’ homestead I’ll be prepared. Fortunately, I’m blessed with a career that encompasses much of the skill sets mentioned above, but I worry the reporter reflex will kick in and I’ll unconsciously slip from interviewee to interviewer during that first pivotal conversation. I’m a chronic questioner, and I’d hate for that hard-wired trait to come across as uninformed or naΓ―ve when the truth is, well, it’s just who I am. My plan – be genuine, be professional, be hopeful.

    • Larry says:

      It’d actually be a good idea to think like a reporter, I’d say:

      Ask what is the recent sales history of the agency and agent.

      Ask if there are any clients who’d be willing to discuss their experiences with the agents’ representation of them and their career.

      Ask how the agent and agency are adapting to the changing market, both in regards to how they approach authors, new publishing models (e-readers, Amazon-as-publisher, etc.), and traditional publishers: are they stuck in the past of doing things the old way, are they adapting to what others are doing, or are they innovators themselves in these areas?

      After all, for an equal relationship / business partnership, shouldn’t both parties, the agent and the author, have full confidence in the other?

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Kathryn, I agree that communication is a lost art. That’s why for me questions are good. Both the agent and the author learn so much about each other that way. Good plan.

  5. Jeanne T says:

    I so appreciate your perspective, Mary. Thanks for sharing things you look for when interviewing potential clients. I think being able to define my brand is my biggest nail-biter factor. That, and that I’ll freeze and forget what I want to ask or how I want to answer questions. πŸ™‚ Call it the phone version of stage fright. πŸ™‚

  6. Thank you, Mary, for such a comprehensive list. I appreciate all the help for when that glorious day arrives. I’m curious, though, about your mention of belonging to a critique group. I didn’t realize that was something an agent would ask about right out of the starting gate. Is that your personal preference or is that a standard agent question?

  7. Great post…I love the detail, Mary. It’s good to know what agents expect from the call. I think for me, as with any interview, I just get nervous that I’ll become tongue-tied and not know how to answer a question.

  8. Thanks so much for this info, Wendy! πŸ™‚

    I hope one day to receive THE CALL and be ready for it. I’m taking your advice to heart and I hope to get the chance to use it.

    Have a great day!

  9. I wrote about this just last week. Doing the proper prep work — with easily accessible notes! — is essential. When I got The Call my brain shut down and I had to work to regain my composure.

    The questions I recommend asking involve having the agent tell you about your book: what they liked, what they think needs work, and how much work they think it needs before they begin submitting it to Editors. Then ASK TO SEE THE CONTRACT.

    Ask if the agent has any questions for you. (They’ll likely want to know what else you’re working on and/or what other ideas you have for books)

    Personally, I think that should be about the extent of the first call. As a writer trying to find an agent, getting The Call is such an adrenaline rush that it is difficult to think straight. Take a few days to read through the contract (and consult a contracts specialist to have them review it with you so you can get a Plain English explanation for what the agency is really offering you!) and then schedule a second call.

    That second call will be exciting, but far more relaxed. You’ll have a better chance of seeing how well you and the agent connect and be in a better position to ask important questions.


    — Tom

  10. lisa says:

    The call! Terrifying and exciting. Being prepared is great advice. I imagine sticky notes pressed down all around my computer. I also like to practice conversations which is a version of talking to yourself πŸ™‚ Also, an army of prayer warriors praying!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Sticky notes are good, Lisa. Whatever works to be organized and ready with your information and questions.

      Thanks for mentioning prayer warriors. Prayer is essential at both ends of the phone line.

  11. Thank you for this post, Mary! It’s very timely. I agree, the best way to combat nerves is to be prepared in advance. We might not know all the questions that will come up during The Call, but having this list helps us to be thoughtful as we prepare for it. One of my favorite duties, at the historic site I worked at, was conducting employee interviews. The hallmark of a great interview was an effortless conversation, where the interviewee came prepared and was competent. As I’ve gone into situations where the tables are turned and I’m the interviewee (like pitching at ACFW), it’s good to have all those years of interviewing experience under my belt, knowing what I liked, and what I didn’t like, about prospective employees. I hope to utilize those same skills for The Call. πŸ™‚

  12. Larry says:

    “What makes you most nervous when you think about a phone interview with an agent?”

    If they still don’t quite get the book.

    I don’t mind hearing that an agent likes the book, but can’t figure out how to either market it to an editor or fit it into their portfolio of represented works. Heck, I don’t even take offense at the occassionaly “what IS this book?” stuff.

    It’s the moving the process along to seeming representation, only to be asked to do everything from “dumb it down,” to “keep it quiet” i.e. find a way to not mention “grace” and other such concepts secular publishers might be wary of.

  13. Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you, Mary, for the tips on getting The Call.

    “What makes you most nervous when you think about a phone interview with an agent?”

    That I’ll get “call fright” and completely lose my train of thought and can’t remember any of the conversation afterwards. I suppose I can sort of fall back to the excuse that I’m a better writer than I am a speaker LOL.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jan, preparation will go a long way in easing your nerves and helping you to think with a clear head.

      Unfortunately, that excuse won’t take you far. Practicing your answers to expected questions and doing the advance research to learn about the agency, publishing houses, and the industry in general will equip you to communicate professionally and to relax.

      • Jan Thompson says:

        Thank you! Good points I need to remember.

        That’s one thing I like about the Books & Such blog. I learn something new about publishing and the writing life every time I come here to read your blogs, and I go away with a new challenge and another checklist I can use in practical ways.

        I think being among other writers, and meeting agents and editors also help poor nerves. I finally joined ACFW, so IMO that’s my baby step toward attending a writer’s conference of some sort some day.

        Thanks again!

  14. Sarah Thomas says:

    This is probably TMI, but when I got the call I had literally just stepped out of the shower. I knew the call was likely to come that afternoon, so I asked God to hold it off until I was clean (we were about to leave on a trip–I HAD to shower). Guess I should have asked for a bit of a buffer!

    While the timing could easily have added to my nervousness, I was prepared with information I wanted to share and questions I wanted to ask printed out on a sheet of paper. (Rachelle Gardner offers a fantastic list of questions to ask an agent on her website.) Having that printout handy made an exciting and potentially nerve-wracking call much smoother even with wet hair dripping on the phone.

  15. I remember you asking me those questions Mary….so glad we said ‘yes’ to our collaboration! God is good!

  16. Thanks for all this information, Mary. I feel like I am dreadful on the phone. I sound so much better in writing. πŸ™‚ This information will help me focus my thoughts when the time comes.

  17. Bonnie Doran says:

    I didn’t get “The Call.” My offers from an agent and a publisher were by emails. That said, I met them at a writers conference so we’d already explored a possible relationship. I sent them the full manuscript and they responded. A conference appointment is nerve-wracking but I think would be easier than a call for me because of eye contact and other body language.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      I agree, Bonnie. The in-person meeting is less stressful on an author because you can see the agent’s non-verbal responses and then can edit or add to what you just said.

  18. When I got “the call,” it was from an editor rather than an agent. It was helpful that I had worked with editors in the past and had a few editor friends. They’re just people, like anyone else. When you’re excited, it can be hard to remember that, but courtesy is appropriate in every situation.

  19. This was very informative, Mary. Thanks for this great post. I’m almost to the point of querying agents, and I’ve interviewed with some at ACFW int he past. I feel more prepared to answer the questions now after reading your comments. Very good job.

  20. Thanks for the great advice, Mary. I probably won’t need a list as I will have passed out and fallen on my face from the shock of receiving ‘the call!’

  21. Sharla Fritz says:

    Mary, thank you for the information on how to be prepared. Being put in a new situation can always make me nervous, but the information on things I can do before The Call will help when it comes–I hope!

  22. I know a few may be stunned to hear this, but I could talk the paint of a wall. I do not fear an audience. Unless that audience is someone I’ve never met, then it’s brown paper bag time.
    Since I am a planner, I’m pretty sure I’d be ready for a call, once my work was out in Queryland. I’d also have already talked to a few pubbed friend about what to say and what to ask. Time to bookmark this post.

  23. Good material. I will pass this on to my editing clients. However, I’ve had six or seven agents over the last 27 years and never once was called. All correspondence, for the most part, was done through snail mail and then e-mail. Only after a while being represented did we have some phone calls. So not all agents are going to “make that call.” I think it’s a nice thing to do, though.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Susanne, that’s interesting. I would find it hard to consider entering into a long-term representation partnership without first having a live conversation with a prospective client.

  24. This is a really helpful post! Thank you. I’m sure we all dream of actually needing it. πŸ™‚ I am hugely more confident in person than on the phone. I have no trouble speaking to hundreds of people but I get nervous about a phone call!

  25. Mary Keeley says:

    Natasha, maybe that is because you can monitor the other person’s responses more easily when you can see them face to face.

  26. “Yippy Skippy”. what a timely posting Mary. II got “The Call” just last week. I was as happy as a a dog when you scratch behind their ears.

    The agent said my offer had been accepted. Tomorrow – once I sign the contract and pay the down payment, – that “fixer-upper” of a doghouse will belong to donnie and me.

    donnie had one question though . . .what kind of gift do you think we should get for our real estate agent?