How to Sign with An Agent

contractToday on her blog, my lovely client Shannon Morgan detailed twelve ways an agent can sign a potential client based on our own experience just about one year ago. I thought I’d return the favor and catalog the twelve steps a writer may experience when signing with an agent.  (Author’s Note: If you look hard enough, you may actually find some decent advice in here. But no promises.)

1. Write an awesome story, revise, share it, sit on it, revise again, research agents, send it out, and commence fingernail biting.

2. At first, check email constantly, even though you’ve researched response times and know, in your heart of hearts, that you’re in for a wait. Finished with fingernails, move on to toes.

3. Begin to hear back on the queries. A few nos (Boo!) but a few yeses (Hurray!). If I’m requesting, it’s always for a full manuscript. I don’t request partials. I’m just cool like that.

4. Send out the manuscript. Begin to get scared. You can handle someone passing on a paragraph about the book and maybe a few pages, but what if they actually pass on the whole book? Nails bitten down to nubs, seek out husband/child/poodle’s nails and begin to chew.

5. Driven crazy by the waiting, begin working on a new book to take your mind off things. Pare down how many times you’re checking your email a day. Look to get the number in the double, rather than triple, digits. Check out your local chapter of Nail-Chewers Anonymous (NCA). Admit you were powerless over chewing – that your nails had become unmanageable.

6. Hear tentative interest from an agent! Ack! Get a bit excited! I usually send a note to say I’m enjoying a story and ask for more details about the author and other projects. At this stage, I’m sometimes looking to do a revision and not officially offer representation quite yet and will be looking to gauge an author’s reaction to this idea. For the sake of this post, let’s say I want to make an offer…

7. Schedule “the call.” Get nervous. It’s just a phone call, right? Right?! It’s no different than talking to Nana! Make sure to attend an NCA meeting and cover your feet and fingers with socks and gloves to avoid temptation. Purchase padlocks if necessary (but make sure you can still answer the phone). If you are Shannon Morgan, “coincidentally” be in the city at the time the agent wants to offer representation.

8. Talk! Be yourself, be excited, ask lots and lots of questions, and receive an offer. Get off the phone and take a deep breath. Realize your nails are actually starting to grow back a little.

9. Inform other agents who are considering the manuscript of the offer. Set a reasonable deadline for them to get back to you. What if an agent only has the query, you ask? It’s common courtesy to let her know of the offer as well, especially with us here at Upstart Crow, since we still have to read the 20 pages attached to it.

10. Really think about your decision. If anything didn’t sit well or you have misgivings, make sure to follow up with additional questions. Give the other interested agents time to get back to you. If you receive multiple offers, really ponder the pros and cons of each (unless one of the offers comes from an Upstart Crow agent…in that case, it’s a no-brainer, right?)

11. Talk it over with your spouse/children/poodle. Show off your almost-back-to-normal nails.

12. Sign already! Jeez!

  1. Urk. Something ate my response. *glares at Internet gremlins*

    You nailed it! I’m at #6 right now with an agent, and really appreciate your explanation-as do my nails. 😀


  2. The trip to getting an agent sounds exciting. Can’t wait to be there.


  3. You forgot to add after hanging up with the agent after The Call:

    Run around your house/ grocery store/ doctors office screaming hysterically. Find there isn’t enough room for your excitement – go outside and run through your neighbor’s yards/ frozen food section/ parking lot. Allow doctor to administrate some kind of relaxation drug/ technique, call all friends and family, try to return to professional appearance.

    Yes, this will be me when I get The Call and/ or make the final decision for representation. I’ll make sure to have a video camera ready to record the antics for everyone lol.

    Can’t wait to get my first rejection! It means I’m one step closer to the right agent at the right time. The nail biting stage will be horrible, but the end result will be worth it.



  4. Vacation! I swear!

    Great advice, especially considering the pros and cons of a representation offer, and asking questions. I had a lot more questions that first meeting, but I pushed several to the back burner so I wouldn’t get the cart ahead of the horse (i.e. marketing plans, other projects, etc). Even so, you answered the questions I did have honestly (publishing’s Black Wednesday had happened the week before and the industry was paved with eggshells), and I appreciated it!


  5. Chris,

    I believe all writers are afflicted with RECS (relentless-email-checking-syndrome). The carpal tunnel doctors love us.


  6. I agree Danette… OCB (obsessive compulsive blogging disorder) seems to be a symptom of ‘submission-itis’ as well.


  7. Wow, I haven’t even completed step number one yet as I’m still revising. I’ll have to come back to this in a few months after I start sending it out – although I will discuss possible representation with my pets (step #11) before accepting an offer. My beagles are quite insightful 🙂


  8. WHOA HOSS! Ain’t rainin’ on anybodies parade here, but, landin’ an agent doesn’t mean… *GOT IT MADE!*

    Yer still just as good as your last book. (Well, these day, good as its’ sales)!

    Haste yee back 😉


  9. Best post yet. While I won’t be querying until after the holidays, just the thought of it is enough to make me start dry heaving. But this put a smile on my face 🙂


  10. This is interesting. My career started in a related but slightly different business (adult horror/SF) and long enough ago that all this simultaneous stuff was quite against accepted rules. Oh, people were quietly sending things to more than one editor, back in the 80s. But it was something we all pretended wasn’t happening.

    But more than one agent? My word! It would have freaked them out. It must be things are different, now — has to be, if you’re posting that — but in experience — well.

    A lot of writers don’t appreciate bad reviews. Understandable. But live with it. Or open a vein, as you see fit.

    Editors could get more than a little snarky about nasty gossip re their abilities. — But that kind of gossip happens, and they need to live with it, too.

    But agents? A successful agent, when I was in NYC, might never hear an unkind word. And woebetide (in my day) the writer who got caught passing gossip on his agent. . . !

    The custom against multiple-submitting to agents was very firm, last I looked. But I’d been with the same agent since the early 90s.

    Obviously, the world has changed. Very weird!


  11. I loved this post, but it makes me wish I was done with revisions. Good thing I’ve got two poodles – more nails to bite 🙂


  12. This couldn’t be more timely for me. I just received the contract from my new agent in the mail TODAY! And, thank goodness I’ve got acrylic nails, or in the last few weeks I’d have probably chewed up to my elbows by now. (Hmm, why are thoughts of Alfred Packer dancing through my brain?)


  13. I don’t think number eleven would have much to do in my decision as my wonderful and smart husband knows zip about publishing and writing for kids and such. My kids even less if that is possible. The decision would be mine and mine alone, altho I certainly would try to explain it to them… yet they would have no reason to say yes or no. They just want me to be happy and trust me to make my own mind up. Which is as it should be.

    Great post!


  14. This is the perfect post for me! Kizmit!

    I am painfully waiting in limbo between step 6 and 7 with revision already completed and resubmitted. Can anyone comment about how long I should expect to bite my nails while compulsively checking email?

    I’m tempted to email to let the agent know that any polite refusal works for me, no need to stress about the least painful way to reject someone who has done a lot of work for you. I’d rather know the ending than have a stroke from anticipation. I’m not sure my heart can handle more, especially since the agent found me and I wasn’t looking! This agent-ride is one that I was unprepared to take right now… albeit exhilerating, but I’m waiting to fall out of my seat at any moment.

    It’s been 3 weeks since the last contact with the agent. Should I be optimistic, prepared, or simply patient? Advice?


  15. Great post! I couldn’t stop laughing. Maybe I should ask for steel-plated fingernails for Christmas since I’m going to start querying in the New Year. Nah, then they’d just drive me nuts with all the tap-tapping while I work on my next novel. 😀


  16. I’m at number five right now, and loving the wait. My nails have taken a sabbatical of their own…from growing; they knew what they were in for when I hit send a few weeks ago. Every now and then they take a peek out at me to see if the coast is clear, at which point I give them a warning eye to let them know it’s not safe to come out and play just yet.

    Here’s hoping I can welcome them back with an offer from Upstart…

    I’ll buy them little little hats and teeny tiny kazoos, and together we’ll paint the town red.

    Great post!


  17. […] we will all be finishing our book proposals or novels this year, some apparently nice agents (Upstart Crow Literary) want to help us understand the next step in the process. They have provided a pleasant how-to on […]


  18. I just found your site today. What a treasure trove of info for aspiring authors! I laughed reading your tips–I’m an avid nail biter 😉 Thanks!


  19. That’s it, exactly. Only I grind my teeth instead of my nails. My hands look better but oh, the headaches.
    Now, if I could only get to lucky number 7! Then I’ll probably just jump to 12.


  20. […] This post was Twitted by asuen1 […]


  21. I’m at #5 right now. I’m going to take that advice and start working on another book. Great post!


  22. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mo ali, Calista Taylor. Calista Taylor said: How to Sign with an Agent (via @UpstartCrowLit ) #writetip #pubtip #amwriting […]


  23. The part about nail biting just made me laugh like Santa!! that is SO funny.


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