My HIGMA post chronicled my journey to getting an agent, but one of my most stressful steps was preparing for The Call. If anyone else feels similarly, I hope reading this helps.
That said, if you're here because you've received an offer and want to know how to proceed, please know this is just my experience. Everyone's journey is different, so I strongly suggest talking to others as well. In this post I tell my whole story, but if you're only interested in questions to ask on the call and how the call might unfold, skip down to here.
If you're here because you're one of my friends or you know me from Twitter, thank you for reading. Your willingness to hear me prattle is admirable. I blush under your gaze.
Lastly, if you do have an offer and, after reading, still want to know more, please don't hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter @_callierowland. I would be thrilled to talk further about my experience, direct you to a resource that might be more helpful, or just gush.
All right, I think that covers things. Let’s take the plunge.
CHAPTER ONE: THE REJECTION
My first offer began as a very complimentary rejection.
If you've read my HIGMA post, you'll remember that my first offer came from an agent I never queried. Because of this, when they requested my full manuscript, my instincts told me they would offer. Roughly three weeks after they requested, however, I was at work reading Intro to English essays when I checked my email and saw...their rejection.
Luckily, I was the only person manning the front desk, because tears welled before I even opened the email. The rejection was long, which—given my recent history of lengthy rejections—filled me with dread, but as I read it my eyebrows cinched.
The email piled compliment upon compliment. It said I had written a lovely, complex family saga with compelling themes. They wanted to see more work from me as soon as possible. The only issue with this book was that they had been hoping for something more propulsive.
"I just don't understand," I texted my friends, after dashing to the bathroom to cry. "If they get it and love it so much, why not ask if I'm open to edits?"
"Maybe they're afraid you aren't open to edits," one of my friends replied. "You should ask. Email back saying they understand your book perfectly, and ask if they're open to working with you on revisions."
Instead of replying, I leaned against the cold tile of the bathroom wall, wrapped my arms around myself, and cried harder.
For nine months I had queried, waiting for the day I would receive The Email—the email agents send asking for a call. I had visualized it in innumerable ways. Would I be at home or in a coffee shop? Would I be alone or with friends? Would I scream or stare in silent shock?
If I asked this agent for revisions, and they said yes, I would never know.
But melodramatic self pity isn't the only reason I hesitated to send an email. Even as I cried, on an analytical level I wondered if I was open to the hypothetical revision at all.
Obviously, I knew I would revise my novel before I saw it in print. Any agent I signed with would ask for revisions, and so would my editor. I was excited for that. I wanted my book to be the best it could possibly be before readers consumed it.
The question I asked myself in the bathroom, then, wasn't whether or not I was willing to revise, but whether or not I was willing to revise this specific thing. Was I willing to make my book more propulsive?
That's a big change to consider, even hypothetically, so I wanted other opinions. After regaining control of myself, I returned to the front desk. While I finished providing feedback on the Intro to English essays, both my bosses (who are angels) read the email. Based on its tone, they agreed if I was open to revision this agent likely would be as well. I forwarded the email to one of my Creative Writing professors, and he said the same thing.
Everyone agreed this agent would probably want to work with me. The only opinion I had yet to receive was my own.
After thinking about it on the thirty minute drive home, I decided I was willing to make the revision. This agent truly loved and understood my book. If they thought propulsion could improve it, who knew? Maybe they saw something I couldn't, and after hearing their thoughts I would wholeheartedly agree.
Sitting at the fast food restaurant where I stopped for dinner, I wrote all this out in an email. I felt confident in my decision, but I was still terrified of being bothersome, so I texted the email to my friends for approval. We tweaked a few phrases, then I held my breath and hit send.
It was 7pm, so I knew they wouldn't reply until the next morning, but still I barely slept. At 9am the following day, as I sat in my university's decadent mansion parlor, I checked my email and saw they had asked for a call.
I was thrilled. It wasn't The Email I had spent nine months imagining, but they were delighted to hear I was open to revision, and they wanted to discuss a creative partnership. I texted my friends, and we all screamed. After the spike of excitement dissipated and I could feel my fingers again, I emailed back, and we set up a Zoom call for the following week.
CHAPTER TWO: THE FIRST CALL
During the interim, I got down to business. They hadn't explicitly stated they wanted to offer, so I knew the call might be an R&R, which meant I planned for both scenarios.
First, I listed all the aspects of my novel I thought I could improve, as well as possible ways to do so; then I listed all the creative lines I wasn't willing to cross. If this call was an R&R, I wanted to be prepared to discuss revisions, but I also wanted to have a firm understanding of everything I was not going to change. Writing this list was scary, because I didn't want to be difficult, but I refused to lose the soul of my book, so I did it anyway.
Second, I developed the list of questions I would ask if I received an offer of rep. I hadn't let myself create this list while querying, because I knew if I never got an offer looking at it would depress me. Now, I reached out to some of my agented friends asking what their questions had been, then I texted them my list to make sure I had covered everything. I'm very Type-A, so my list was absurdly long, but my top four questions were:
"Where do you see this book?"
"What is your submission plan?"
"What is your vision for this book?"
"What is your communication style?"
Question 1 was the most important to me because I knew the publishers where an agent saw my book would tell me what kind of book they thought it was. If they only saw it at high fantasy imprints, they probably only saw its surface. If they saw it at fantasy and literary imprints, they probably saw its soul.
Question 2 was important to me because I knew an agent's submission plan would tell me if we were compatible from a business standpoint. As far as I know, there are some industry standards when it comes to submission, but agents have varying strategies. Based on what my agented friends told me, I knew which strategy appealed to me, so I wanted to be sure my agent worked that way.
Question 3 was important to me because I knew an agent's vision would tell me if we were compatible from a creative standpoint. It goes without saying that my agent's vision needed to match my own, but I also wanted to make sure they viewed their edits as suggestions rather than commands. I love brainstorming my work with others, but it is very close to my heart, so I knew I needed final say.
Question 4 was important to me because I knew an agent's communication style would tell me if we were compatible from a personal standpoint. I have a pretty severe case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so I knew I needed an agent who was very communicative. At the same time, I hate being coddled, so I knew I needed an agent who would challenge me creatively.
In short, I needed a warmly professional, no-nonsense individual.
By the following week, when I settled into my dark gray armchair for my 3pm call, I knew my ideal answers for these four questions and many more. My lists were printed out, and I had a notebook and pen in case I needed to take notes. I pulled the Zoom link up on my laptop, took several deep breaths, and prayed everything would go as it should.
Then I clicked "Join Meeting" and promptly terrified myself that they wouldn't show up.
I had entered the meeting two minutes early, so for the next 120 seconds I imagined the Zoom room remaining woefully empty. I imagined myself waiting, realizing I had been stood up. I imagined how bereft I would feel as I texted my friends. I imagined telling my family, bosses, and professors I was a fool—
Then the agent joined the call.
I'm lucky enough to have the genre of Anxiety that crescendos right before major events, then vanishes so swiftly it's the mental equivalent of vertigo, so for the next hour I was the definition of confidence. We exchanged introductions, then they thanked me for asking for revisions. They explained what they loved about my book, then they asked what my inspirations were for writing it.
Then they clarified they were offering rep.
I beamed and buzzed with excitement, but I forced my mind to stay on task. I pulled out my list of questions, but luckily they answered most of them without my needing to ask. Our conversation went well, so I decided to bring up the creative lines I wouldn't cross.
Yes, I had initially created this list for an R&R, but now that I had an offer I realized it was still a vital discussion. I walked through my reasoning for each item on the list, and the agent explained why they agreed with me and expounded their revision plan. When I was finished, they thanked me for "sticking to my guns", and I felt much more at ease.
Now they knew my story to the marrow, and they still wanted to sign me.
As we wrapped up the call, they promised to email me a copy of the Agency/Author Agreement the following morning and said I should reach out with any questions. They said I could take however long I needed to decide, and I let them know I would be in touch.
Then we ended the call, and for the rest of the day I got nothing done.
All the Anxiety that had fled my body prior to the call transmuted to anticipation and washed over me in tsunami waves. Based on my feelings and those of my friends, the call had been a sea of green flags, but I refused to make any decisions that night.
In the immediate aftermath of the call, I couldn't tell what percentage of my excitement came from the fact I had had a call, period, and what percentage of my excitement came from finding an agent I wanted to sign with. I wanted to rush headlong into a decision, but I was caught in a maelstrom of relief and elation, so I forced myself to wait until I had a clear head.
I spent the evening contacting the agent's clients and asking about their experience. All of them had great things to say, which only confirmed my initial feelings, but learning their lived experiences made me feel much more secure.
The following morning, sitting in a coffee shop sipping an iced lavender latte, I read the Agency/Author Agreement. I forwarded it to some of my agented friends so they could compare it to their own contracts, and I sent it to my dad, who is very familiar with contractual language thanks to his job.
Thankfully, the contract looked standard. I ended up with four questions born more of curiosity than concern, which I typed into an email. I sent it to the agent, whose reply was swift and in-depth. Their answers made me feel more confident in the contract, and their swiftness made me feel more comfortable with their communication style.
It was the last confirmation I needed. Knowing I would be 100% happy to sign with them, I let them know I was sending my nudges and would get back to them as soon as possible.
Over the next few weeks, requests and rejections trickled in until, four days before my deadline, I was sitting in my car after my 8am class when I checked my email and saw…Jenissa had asked for a call.
My heart literally skipped a beat. I opened my mouth to gasp, but no sound came out. Without comprehending my actions, I took a screenshot and sent it to my friends, then I emailed her back with numb and shaking hands.
The lead up had been unorthodox, but I got The Email after all.
CHAPTER THREE: THE SECOND CALL
We set up a call for 3pm the following day, which meant I spent the next twenty-four hours texting my friends and reviewing my lists. Since I knew how secure talking to the first agent's clients had made me feel, I reached out to some of Jenissa's clients as well. They all gave detailed, glowing reviews, which made me feel extremely grounded going into the call.
Since I had already experienced a call, my Anxiety should have been chivalrous enough to bid me adieu, but as soon as I sat in my dark gray armchair and clicked "Join Meeting", I once again imagined my defeat in vivid detail until, at exactly 3pm, she joined the call.
She said hello, and my eyebrows creased. "I can't hear you," I said.
She frowned, and I promptly recalled that my laptop was on mute.
"Sorry! Sorry, it's me, I muted my laptop," I said.
So much for being the definition of confidence.
Miraculously, I managed not to pass out from embarrassment, and after sharing a laugh we introduced ourselves and got down to business. Like the first agent, she told me why she loved my book, asked me what had inspired me to write it, and answered most of my questions without me needing to ask.
Before long, I had worked through my lists, but more questions kept popping into my head. I wanted to know about audiobooks. I wanted to know about cover designs. I wanted to know about title finalization. My questions just kept coming, and she had answers for all of them.
By the time we got off the call, there was not a doubt in my mind that I was going to sell a book. Much like Ariel, I didn't know when, I didn't know how, but I knew something was starting right now. Rather than feeling like I was caught in a maelstrom of relief and elation, I discovered what people mean when they say they are walking on air.
I didn't immediately text my friends. I sat in my dark gray armchair and, for a few moments, kept the knowledge to myself. There's something about holding a secret I can't wait to share that gives me a greater satisfaction in sharing it.
When my moments of appreciation had passed, I texted my friends. I texted them a lot. For the next three hours, I sat in my dark gray armchair and gushed to anyone who would listen—but I still didn't make an immediate decision.
Around 8pm, another agent with my full manuscript emailed me asking for a deadline extension; they were enjoying my book, but they had had lots of offers come in recently, so they were behind schedule. I thought giving a short extension couldn't hurt, so I emailed back asking how much longer they needed.
The next morning, I once again sat in my university's decadent mansion parlor reading the Agency/Author Agreement Jenissa had sent over after our call. As with the first contract, I sent it to my agented friends and to my dad, and I ended up with a few questions. I sent them to Jenissa, and we set up a call to discuss them later that day.
While we were setting up the call, the agent who had asked for an extension emailed me back asking for four extra days. After texting my friends, I decided that was reasonable. I let both offering agents know my new deadline.
There were still three days until my initial deadline, so the extension meant I had one week before I would sign. Objectively, that’s not a long time, but it felt like an eternity. My second call with Jenissa went just as well—if not better—than the first, so I forced myself to use the next week to track my thoughts and emotions.
While the maelstrom of excitement after my call with the first agent had dissipated after a day or so, this time I never stopped feeling buoyed by joy. Every hour, I thought of new ways to revise my book. When I thought about implementing my ideas, I automatically imagined sending the revised manuscript to Jenissa for feedback.
By the time my new deadline arrived, I knew my initial certainty had been right. The agent who had asked for an extension gave me a kind rejection, but it didn't matter. I had never felt more confident in a decision in my life.
Still, declining the first agent's offer was difficult. As I sat in a coffee shop on the morning of my deadline, typing, deleting, and retyping the email, I felt guilty, because it wasn't like they had done anything wrong. The only reason I had sent nudges was because they had done everything right. They would have been great to work with, but I had found someone who absolutely matched my description of my ideal agent.
Eventually, I found the right words, so I squeezed my eyes shut and hit send. That same day, I signed with Jenissa, and since then my confidence has only grown. I feel safe, supported, and excited to write, and I am more grateful for that than I can articulate.
While querying, I often stopped believing I would ever feel this way. Before I got my first offer, I was tempted to forget what I deserved. I started to feel that any agent was better than no agent at all.
Luckily, I had friends, family, bosses, and professors who helped me not to rush. Their support enabled me to bask in the victory while also examining the situation from every angle. Every day, I reminded myself to never force myself to choose between fine and good enough. I only wanted to choose between great and ideal.
Prior to my first offer, I thought time and again that I would never have that choice. But I did, and if you're querying now or will in the future, I believe you will too. But I know firsthand that getting there can be brutal, and I've heard finding an editor can be as well, so wish me luck—the good kind, as always—and I wish the same for you.