After The Call: Interview with YA Writer Meagan Spooner

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. For previous posts in this series, please click here, here, and here.

My friend Meagan Spooner is pretty awesome. First, she lives in Australia. Second, she has a kick-ass blog. And third, she recently received FIVE offers of representation for her YA novel! How amazing is that?! Five! *Faint*

Since Meagan is so nice and kind, she agreed to share her experiences in choosing the right agent on my blog. Below, she offers her advice on researching agents, writing queries, and picking the best agent for her career. Welcome, Meagan!

1.) First, yaaaayyy for signing with Adams Literary! Can you tell us a little about the book that landed you with this awesome agency? What's the genre? What's it about?

Thank you!  To say "I’m excited" is a total understatement. I'm just about to head into revisions for THE IRON WOOD, my young adult dystopian fantasy, and having Josh’s advice and guidance is just invaluable. 

THE IRON WOOD takes place centuries after a magical apocalypse wipes out the world as we know it, leaving the only known survivors huddled behind a magical barrier in the remnants of Washington D.C. The story is about a girl with unique powers who discovers she’s being targeted in secret by the city’s scientists, and rather than spend her life as one of their experiments, she flees beyond the barrier. There she meets a wild boy with equal parts charm and crazy, who agrees to help her find the Iron Wood, a legendary place where people like her can be safe.

2.) Oh, so cool! I love that it's set in D.C. as well. (Represent!) Can you tell me about your querying process like for this novel? 

I started doing agent research more or less immediately after getting the idea for the book.  Every week or so I’d add another agent to my radar, whether it was someone I’d heard of from another writer friend, or the agent of an author I loved, or just an agent whose blog I stumbled across and liked. 

By the time I finished the first draft I already had a couple dream agents, and a list twenty agents long who I thought would be great for my book. From there I just kept adding, until I had a list of about forty agents, ranked in order of preference.  I chose them based on a lot of factors, including sales record, whether they represent authors I liked, how editorial/involved with their clients they were, etc. 

I originally sent out 13 queries, to my top agents. One of my dream agents actually rejected me within hours of receiving my query, which completely crushed me! I responded by panicking a bit and sending out another ten queries, and then some more, until I got a full request from another dream agent and calmed down a little.  By that point I had sent out about 30 queries, and decided to call a halt to the crazy until I started getting some real responses.

3.) How long were you querying before your first offer? 

I ended up with 16 full requests out of about 20 or 25 who responded. My first offer of representation came two and a half weeks after I sent the first query, and a little over a week after that I signed with Josh.

4.) Yowza! What a great request rate! Now that you're done with querying, do you have any advice for writers looking for an agent---writing queries, tweaking queries, sending out queries? 

I participated in a great contest and workshop held by Adventures in Children’s Publishing to help polish up our query letters. To enter you had to submit a 175-word pitch--no longer than that! As you can no doubt tell, I'm pretty wordy, and this was the biggest challenge for me. Reducing my novel down to a couple of sentences was torture! But it proved invaluable, because having a short, snappy pitch is the best way to go.

Once you have your pitch, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Follow the agents as much as you can, whether it be on Twitter, their blogs, or their clients’ blogs (sometimes clients will mention their agents or do interviews with them). Check out places like Absolute Write, Preditors and Editors, and Casey McCormick’s Agent Spotlight.  You can find out exactly what kind of letter they like, whether they like you to open with personalization or launch right into the pitch, etc.

5.) What's the biggest lesson you learned from querying?

If you receive an offer, inform the other agents who have your manuscript, but also consider informing those who have your query but haven’t responded yet. This is especially important if you get your first offer quickly.  Most of the agents who ended up offering in my case hadn’t even read my query by the time they got my email saying I’d received an offer.  If I hadn’t sent out a feeler to them, they would never have had time to get interested, and I never would have gotten to hear what they had to say!

6.) So you get your first offer...what was your reaction? Scream in elation? Jump for joy? Faint? :)

I always imagined bursting into tears and running around the house and jumping up and down. Weirdly enough, when it actually happened I had very little reaction. The first call with the offering agent didn’t culminate in an offer--we talked about the book, and then I took a few days to think about their revision suggestions before talking again, at which point I did receive the offer. Everyone else who heard about it was elated for me, but I just sort of sat there like a lump for the next three or four days. 

It sounds a bit corny, but I don’t actually remember too much from those few days. It sounds really hard to believe, given that The Call is the dream! But up until that moment, everything was hypothetical. Once you sign with an agent, though, you're for real.  You're moving forward. Suddenly it's your career, and you're expected to make this decision that could impact your whole life. I wasn't remotely prepared for that, but when I reached out to some of my writerfriends, they confided that they experienced very similar waves of shock, followed by total freak-out. Just knowing I wasn’t alone made a huge difference, and I came out of my crazy feeling pretty good.

7.) You eventually received a whopping five offers of rep! Aieee! How did the agents offer rep? Via email? Or a cold call? 

Though I usually live in Washington, D.C., I'm currently in the middle of a year living in Melbourne, Australia.  I expected the time difference to be a big hindrance while querying, and it is true that my sleep really suffered.  I kept waking up at 3 AM to check my email, because that’s when business hours in New York City were underway. 

In the end, though, I found it to be really helpful.  Agents would email me something like "I've just finished reading your manuscript, and would like to schedule a time to speak with you on the phone about it." Pretty chill, right? It meant I could get my utter panic out of the way, get a glass of water, go to the bathroom, blow my nose, etc., and seem totally professional and together by the time I spoke on the phone. 

I was still a nervous wreck for the first couple of calls, but after that I actually started to get used to it, against all odds. (I am NOT a telephone person!) The important thing is not to let your nervousness or excitement get in the way of asking the questions you need to ask to make your decision.

8.) What sort of questions did you ask the offering agents? 

I spoke with all of the offering agents on the phone, and many of them more than once.  Communication was the big thing for me--I knew I needed an agent who was accessible, and could help me through the process of being a first-time novelist.  I also asked about extent of editorial input, whether the offer was for one book or for my career, and if they had a submission plan in mind.

9.) What questions did you find to be the most helpful in making a final decision?

One of the most helpful questions of all was, "Would you mind if I spoke to a couple of your clients?"  I had actually contacted a couple of writers to ask about their agents before I received offers.  I really don’t recommend doing this unless you are certain you’re not writing to ask them for a referral.  Writers get those kinds of emails all the time, and they can tell the difference.  I only reached out to people I somewhat knew already through the blogosphere, and only when I was reasonably sure they wouldn’t think I was crazy--and I never asked for them to refer me to their agent or look at my manuscript. 

After receiving an offer, though, as long as both agent and client are willing, talking to the client can be invaluable! I didn’t get anyone who had anything negative to say about their agents, but you can tell a lot from what they emphasize.  Some emphasized their agent’s keen business sense, while others said how much fun the agent was to work with, while others praised their agent’s editorial instincts.  It's a matter of picking which factors matter the most to you.

10.) How did you end up choosing only one agent? Sales record? Client referrals? Phone conversation? 

I'd love to say I made a chart and ranked all the factors numerically and added them up and had a completely logical and repeatable way of deciding.  In fact, I longed for someone to hand me a nice, final, impersonal way of determining which was the perfect agent for me.  In the end, though, I went with my gut.

I knew Josh was the agent for me after I spoke to him on the phone--but I didn’t know I knew. I had two other agents who I had really great conversations with, including someone who was one of my original dream agents. How can you turn down your dream agent?  My instincts were certain that Josh was the one I wanted to sign with, but it was a matter of convincing myself that I could trust those instincts.  So I spoke with all of them again on the phone, I spoke with their clients via phone and email, I researched them all on Publisher’s Marketplace, I asked every single person I knew with connections to the publishing industry for their opinions. 

In the end I realized I'd made my decision days ago, that first time I talked with Josh. I was drafting up rejection letters for the agents to prepare myself and I realized I just couldn’t write one for him. When I wandered out of my room in a daze and told my housemate and CP that I thought I was going to go with Josh, she said, "Yeah, I know. What, are you just getting this now?"  Apparently, I was one of the last people to realize I’d made my decision already.

11.) Looking back now, what sort of advice do you have for writers who find themselves with multiple offers? What should they do? What shouldn't they do? 

Don’t panic. Remember that you queried all of these agents for a reason, and that you’ll be in great hands with whoever you choose.

Keep an open mind. It's great to go into the process with "dream agents" in mind, but what you think you want may not actually be what you want when it comes down to it.  If you find yourself changing your mind, don’t resist it, and don’t feel guilty. Go with your heart and your gut. 

Don’t feel guilty about rejecting agents. This is part of the job for them, and of course they're going to be disappointed, but you have to do what’s best for you and your book and your career.  And don't burn any bridges, because you’re going to be in the book business with them moving forward. This is your chance to show them how much you appreciate and respect what they do, even if you’re not going to sign with them.

Take your time. Set a deadline for a week or ten days and don’t make a decision before then.  Let things percolate and simmer. If an agent pressures you to make a fast decision, he or she is NOT the agent for you. 

Enjoy it! Even if most of you is panicking, try to keep that one shred of sanity that’s dancing a dance and going "Woohoo! I did it!" Because hey… you did do it.

Thanks so much Meg for the wonderful interview! Best of luck with THE IRON WOOD!