Blogger: Mary Keeley
It’s exciting to get this message from an agent: “Your manuscript is well-written with a fresh approach to the topic. I’d like to take your submission to the next step and schedule a phone conversation.”
What will she want to talk about? Your background, how you are developing your craft, various components of your proposal and the manuscript, of course. But she’ll also be looking for certain qualities, characteristics—the intangibles.
The agent’s positive message indicates you’ve done your homework in putting together a professional proposal. You can feel confident she views your work as marketable and that you have a sufficient platform and social media presence (absolutely essential if you’re writing nonfiction). These are the tangible components necessary to get an agent’s attention. Knowing how to prepare for a phone call or in-person meeting will increase your confidence and calm your nerves.
Do you have a plan? Publishers look at a relationship with an author as a long-term business partnership. They take the risk with an author based on their objective sense the author’s first book will be successful by today’s standards. They want to know the author has book #2 in process and book #3 is being planned. In your phone interview the agent will want to hear a succinct synopsis of your second book and how far you along you are in the writing. If you write nonfiction, she’ll want to hear how your future books relate to the first one.
And then the all-important question: What is your vision for your brand? Part of an agent’s role is to help define a client’s brand, but she wants to see that you have given it considerable thought as you plan the books you will write. This brings us to the next intangible…
Are you teachable? This is a trait every agent wants to discern in the initial interview, especially if she’s talking to an unpublished author. Initially in the interview a good agent will want to put you at ease by praising the best qualities of your work. She’ll then get into questions and suggestions about your marketing plan, your list of competitive titles, and the manuscript itself, paying close attention to your responses: Does this writer appear to accept constructive criticism about the proposal or manuscript? Is he responding with understanding, showing he is listening and flexible? Or are there hints of defensiveness?
It would be helpful to practice an interview situation with one of your critique partners (another great reason to be involved in a critique group). You don’t have to wait until you get “the call” to start practicing with others. I’m not suggesting that you have to agree with everything the agent says. But through mock interviews with a partner you can practice your responses until they sound friendly and informative rather than defensive. Perhaps you’ve left out an important detail somewhere. Practice sessions also tend to bring these things to the surface, which provide you the opportunity to address them in advance.
Are you personable? The agent surely will be evaluating this in your interview because, as we know, many writers are introverts. The ability to be congenial, articulate smoothly, and present yourself well may not come naturally to you. She will be asking herself: Does this writer exhibit a friendly confidence and enthusiasm about his work? Is the writer able to communicate easily and in a pleasant, professional tone of voice? These qualities are especially important if your interview is conducted over the phone. Smile as you practice mock interviews with someone . . . really. A smiling voice does transmit over the phone line. By the end of the interview the agent wants to have a strong sense that you will be pleasant to work with, both for her own benefit and also for editors you’ll be working with in the future. How you present yourself also is an indication of how you’ll do in media interviews once your book is published.
And sooner or later the subject of a polished, professional appearance will come up. This characteristic truly is an important element in projecting yourself as personable. It isn’t too early to give it your attention. Who knows, your agent interview might be in-person. Keep in mind it’s something the agent interviewing you or any other professional in the industry also has addressed, so don’t take suggestions in this area personally. Whether you like thinking about it this way, when you submit your proposal to an agent or editor, you are entering a business environment, and you need to project that you can function well there.
If you’ve had interviews with agents, what questions or comments did you feel unprepared for? Are there other issues that cause anxiety as you anticipate an agent interview?