Pub Rants

A Call But Not THE Call

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STATUS: It’s Monday. Today I went to an editor lunch with Kelly Notaras from Sounds True Audio. Since I mainly do my editor lunches in New York, this was a fun treat. We chatted about Chelsea Green publishing opening an office in Golden, Colorado. Dare I say it? An NYC exodus? Okay, probably not but I’m constantly amazed at how many publishing professionals are moving west. I consider myself on the forefront of the trend…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by Stevie Nicks

Last week I found myself in the interesting position of calling two authors but not because I was offering representation. Sometimes an agent calls but it’s not THE call. You’re probably asking yourself why I would bother if I were passing on a manuscript.

Here’s why. Sometimes the writing is just that good (and in these two instances, I was torn and seriously contemplated whether we could work on revisions with the authors), but ultimately, if I think a manuscript is fatally flawed and it would entail the author revising more than half the work, I have to pass. It’s not fair to them to say, “well, representation is contingent on XYZ first” (despite being sorely tempted).

My goal in calling is to offer encouragement because I believe it’s simply going to be a matter of time before they are in print.

And I’m hoping they’ll think of me for the next project (or maybe they have something else in the cooker I can review so it behooves me to call and ask).

I do consider this to be part of my job. So it’s an important call even if it’s not THE call.

25 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    ‘It’s not fair to them to say, “well, representation is contingent on XYZ first” (despite being sorely tempted).’

    I’m not sure I agree. That’s exactly what my current agent told me; I rewrote about third of the book, got representation, and eventually the book got sold.

    P.S. You passed on a partial of mine, but were ever so encouraging. Thanks.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Really, I would almost prefer not to get that kind of call, although I appreciate your effort. Just send an email; it can be just as encouraging and validating (unless you’re trying to rule out that the author is a wacko!).

  3. Anonymous said:

    To each his own, but for me, I’d love to get a call like that. I just got a lovely letter from an agent to whom I had sent a chapter requesting some changes before she read more. She was very clear about what kind of thing she was talking about and, since she was working with only the first chapter, she had no idea whether the problems continued throughout. She left it to my discretion as to whether or not such a thing would affect too much of the manuscript to make it worthwhile.

    As much as I enjoyed getting that letter, a phone call would be even better because phone calls allow a personal interaction that letters do not. As I do have something else (and something I think would be easier to sell, but not yet finished or I’d be pitching the heck out of it) “in the cooker”, it would be nice to be able to ask an agent when they say (in a letter) that they like your voice and your writing but not the particular manuscript you sent, whether something like the other thing you have going would interest them.

    Agent Kristin —
    I think you are right about not saying “representation is contingent upon XYZ,” but I really, really appreciated the fact that the agent I had sent my chapter to took the time to give me specific advice about fixing what was wrong. She didn’t say “I’ll take this if you do it” but she said she’d look at it again if I *chose* to do those things.

    I made a copy of my manuscript and tried out the recommendation she made and, lo and behold, *I* liked the work better, too. Of course, the issue wasn’t that big, and wouldn’t require me changing more than half the manuscript, but even if it had been I would have wanted to know. So I hope that even if you don’t make the contingency offer, you do tell the author what you think is the “fatal flaw” (preferably NOT in those terms) so they can correct it if they want to.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I’ve gotten phone calls that aren’t THE call and I found it very stressful. Talk about a roller coaster. I appreciated the encouragement but in the end, I’d have rather gotten an email or letter. That “This is Big Agent” at the start of a phone call . . . EEP!

  5. Anonymous said:

    Wow! talk about a let down to get a call from an agent that has your manuscript only to find out you were being rejected. I’m driving the same road as anonymous #2 and 3. A nice email or letter can be just as effective without the big shock of not being offered representation.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I received a not THE call from Kristin. She was into my writing, but didn’t think she could sell the manuscript. She invited me to send the next project. The following year, I received THE call from Kristin. She sold the second book I pitched her.

    An agent making the almost call is a step forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.

  7. Elvira Pepperdine said:

    I received exactly this kind of call from an agent, and while I was mortified through most of the call, I really appreciate it in retrospect. It’s a big vote of confidence.

    Now I just have to… uh… do better next time.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I’d rather have an email too. It would give me time to process the emotions in private. It’s not The Call, but it is a Great Call. That’s a lot to deal with when you’re reserved by nature. I’d feel emotionally pinned to the wall.

    Kimber An

  9. owlhaven said:

    In the past month I have gotten this call twice. Both agents said the exact same thing–that the idea is sound and my writing is good but I need more platform, baby! (I write nonfiction). It was actually extremely encouraging to hear from two respected agents that I am so close…now to work on that platform!


  10. Anonymous said:

    I agree with laura k, I’d love to get a call like that, especially if the agent gave me specifics about a “fatal flaw” I might be able to fix to increase chances of publication. Even if no offer was extended, it would still be nice to hear that an agent liked my writing at least in part.

    Writing is a business. Authors shouldn’t tell literary agents we’d rather not get phones calls from them just because they might not say exactly what we want them to.

  11. Anonymous said:

    I’m an existentialist, and I would prefer to receive a “call that is not a call,” wherein both Kristin and I sit listening to the hushed static on the telephone, and understand everything without saying a word.

  12. Anonymous said:

    It’s nice to hear that you allow authors to submit other things. One agent I know says, “If I rejected one thing of yours, I don’t want to see anything else of yours.” She can’t understand why a person would continue to send ms. to her, she’s already rejected them.

    After that conversation, I hesitated to send second submissions to any agent. Nice to know that not all agents feel that way.

  13. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I’ve received those calls from an editor. It was very appreciated. Sure, it was disappointing after hearing her voice on the phone that it wasn’t THE call, but I’d rather receive a “this is why it didn’t work for me, but please send me something else” phone call than a rejection letter! If a publishing professional takes time to phone an author, it feels more personal, it IS more personal, than a letter or email. It gives you the opportunity to ask questions, discuss future projects, get more detail. It’s very uplifting.


  14. Anonymous said:

    I would love to get a call like this, even though it is not THE call. I would be grabbing for a pen and taking lots of notes! Please, oh please, do not call when I am in the car! The ideal time for me to get such a call is when I am at the computer, able to transcribe at 60 words per minute. However, that would probably be far too distracting!


  15. Kim Stagliano said:

    Good morning. A phone is a class move. I got a call like that from an agent after he read my partial. We chatted, he offered ideas, I offered to work with his ideas and now he has my full. I took it as a huge compliment and show of professionalism that he took the time to call. “212 on my caller id = OH MY GOD!” 🙂 Another agent sent me a detailed reader report after reading my full – it too was jammed with info and valuable to me. I like that I can re-read it at leisure.

    Any feedback from a successful agent is like manna from heaven, even if tinged with a bit of disappointment.

    Class reveals itself clearly, but not always in the same manner.

  16. katiesandwich said:

    I’m just glad to know that agents do call sometimes even when they’re not offering representation. Because I always thought that was the only time they called, and it would be a real let-down for me to expect that and instead get a call like this, no matter how valuable and nice it would be. I certainly wouldn’t mind getting a call like this NOW, but wow, if I sent queries out not knowing this could happen, I’m not sure what I would do if the “not-the-call” call came. So thanks, Kristin, for discussing this! Now let’s hope all my rejections will be phone calls…

  17. Termagant 2 said:

    I’m with Laura. I’d rather get a non-CALL call that helps me work through the bugs in a project, than an e-mail or snail mail.

    To me, the non-CALL says that the agent thinks enough of your writing to pick up the phone. They are busy, peeps! They don’t take the time unless there’s a good reason.

    In contrast to my last agent submission. Agent X asked for a chapter, sent back a “no” via e-mail with a grammar primer attached and two (2) pages marked up with her thoughts on where I should use a semicolon instead of a comma. No comment on story, marketability, etc. Just nits, well picked.

    I’d take the non-CALL any day over junkola like that.


  18. Therese Fowler said:

    I received the non-CALL call back in mid-’03, for my first-try novel.

    It made ALL the difference for me. Hearing words of praise straight from the mouth of an NYC agent made me believe I really could be a working novelist. (And now I am!)

    When I had a new novel ready to go, that agent was one of four who wanted a full ms right out of the gate.

    Those of you who think you’d be crushed by the call not being THE call: let me gently suggest you shift to a glass-is-half-FULL perspective if you can. Even successful authors have set-backs and disappointments, so if you’re going to play on that playground, you have to be able to hang tough.

  19. Allison Brennan said:

    I was rejected by several agents who said they’d like to see what else I had. I had one agent who sent me long, detailed rejection letters. I’ve always thought she in particular had class, and I didn’t blame them for passing, even on the book that ultimately sold.

    I don’t want an agent who doesn’t love my voice. Just like not every reader is going to love my books, not every agent is going to love them, either. I never wanted an agent who looked at a book and thought, “Hmm, I don’t like this but I can sell it.” I always wanted one who thought, “Wow, I love this and I can’t wait to sell it.”

  20. Anonymous said:

    I don’t like to talk on the phone and can’t think on the spot, plus I have a horrible tendency to say dumb stuff when I’m nervous, so I’d rather get “the email” or “the letter” (and have). I can see how if the agent were calling to say, “Tell me what else you have” without agreeing to take a writer on, someone without my phone-phobia might enjoy that 🙂

  21. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for posting this! I had no idea an agent ever called if it wasn’t “THE CALL.” If and when I get a call, I won’t just authomatically assume it’s that call. 😉 heh.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I, too, would prefer an email or letter instead of a call. A call just seems like you’re giving such false hope. So many authors out there have been querying madly, sending out partials and fulls to those who request it, but it’s a tough business to break into and all the agents are looking for something specific. So many manuscripts just “aren’t right” for them. Why? Dunno. But it’s the agents call.

    These authors slave away at their craft, hoping that some agent, somewhere, will want to represent them. Then, finally, after all this effort, all this finger crossing that the agent who’s reading their full manuscript will be “the one,” hoping to get their call… the call comes. Only it’s not THE call. Talk about a letdown.

    I’d be furious.

    But I guess agents don’t understand our frustration. They’re the ones who get to pick and choose. Us authors just have to hope an agent wants to represent us.

    All these agent blogs say that authors should pick who they want as an agent, but in reality it doesn’t work like that. In reality, an author is happy when just ONE agent gives THE call.

    So don’t give us false hope.

  23. Mel said:

    I think it is awesome that you would take the time to offer encouragement. As an author who is finally trying to publish, I am ever so grateful when I receive that encouragement in an email – a phone call would probably make me scream! Keep it up!

    One quick question – if you turn down a manuscript via form rejection – do you look poorly upon the author if they rewrite/re-edit and resubmit?

    Thanks! Great blog – I can only hope to write well enough to one day be considered by you for representation!


  24. Anonymous said:

    Agent Kristin,

    Nice to see that we made your blog! Feel free to drop a line anytime…

    Cheers – Mike Dyer, Director of Marketing and Business Development – Chelsea Green.