"After The Call": Interview with YA Writer Erin Bowman

After The Call is a series on my blog that chronicles what happens after you get an offer of representation from a literary agent. I aim to answer questions concerning multiple offers, communication, revisions, and even how to break up with an agent. For previous posts in this series, please check out the "After The Call" sidebar. 

It seems like agents have been offering representation left and right for the past few weeks! In December, two of my friends got offers of rep. And in January, this number increased---I had three writing friends who landed agents! 

Hmm, can I be a lucky charm? Perhaps you should rub my head for good luck. :)

One of these friends is the fabulous Erin Bowman, who recently fielded four offers of representation! Erin is a web designer based in New England, and she runs a great blog that you should definitely check out. (Isn't her blog so pretty? *Pets*) Fortunately for me, Erin was kind enough to agree to an interview for my blog!

1.) First of all, congratulaions! Whoa, four offers! Can you tell us about the book that landed you your agent?

Of course! My novel THE LAICOS PROJECT is a YA dystopia – part sci-fi, part thriller – and it landed me the fabulous Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger.

THE LAICOS PROJECT is about a boy named Gray, who lives in a primitive community where all boys mysteriously vanish upon turning 18. After the disappearance of his older brother, Gray begins to question everything about the place he’s called home and climbs the Wall surrounding his town – a feat which none before him have survived – in search of answers.

There’s a brief, but slightly more detailed synopsis on my website – essentially the bulk of my query letter –for those that are interested: http://www.embowman.com/works-in-progress/

2.) What was your querying process like for this novel? For example, how did you go about researching agents? What was your request rate like?

I did a ton of research before querying. I mean months. I had a giant spreadsheet on agents and I rated and ranked them every which way. I read every interview, agent blog, and/or twitter account I could get my hands on.

I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace and it was worth every penny. I spent countless hours making my query letters perfect and then I queried in mini-rounds, personalizing each and every letter. (There’s a more detailed write-up of my query process on my blog as well: http://www.embowman.com/2011/my-query-process/)

In the end I sent a total of 17 queries and had just shy of a 50% full-request rate. It was pretty darn amazing.

3.) Holy cow, a 50% request rate! Not too shabby. :) Now that you're done with querying, do you have any advice for writers looking for an agent?

I’m going to give some advice that seems simple, but is often tempting to ignore: Take. Your. Time.

  • Seriously. Take a lot of time. Make sure your MS is in tip-top shape before you even think about querying. Then make sure your query is in tip-top shape as well. 
  • Spend the time researching the agents and making sure they are right for you and your work. 
  • Craft that personalized query with love and care for each agent. 
  • Be sure to let the agent know why you chose to query them and why you think your work is something they should care to look at. 
  • Don’t rush, because you really only get one shot with each agent per manuscript. You spent months and years writing the darn novel. 
  • Put the same amount of effort into your queries.

4.) Great advice! I especially like how you emphasize taking your time---I think it's easy to rush this process since we get so excited! Anyway, what was your reaction when you got your first offer?

I beamed. A lot. So widely I thought my face my split in two. Then I almost cried. I was just so happy and relieved at the same time that I barely knew how to react. I was on Cloud Nine until the multiple offers started rolling in. I felt I clicked with every agent that I spoke with, and so that’s when things got really difficult.

It’s an exciting and wonderful position to be in, but juggling all those offers is no easy feat.

5.) How did the agents offer rep? Via email? Or a cold call?

Out of my four offers, three reached out by email, but did not “officially” offer until we got on the phone. One offer was a straight cold call. I also had a phone chat with two other agents, who while bowing out, still took the time to call me and say some very nice things about my work. The entire process was very humbling.

6.) After you set up times to speak with the agents, what sort of questions did you ask them? Which questions did you find to be the most helpful in making a final decision?

I had a big list when I talked to agent #1, but by the end of the process, I had it boiled down to three main questions:

  • What sort of revisions/edits do you feel my story needs? What’s your vision for the book?
  • Do you consider yourself an editorial agent or more hands-off?
  • What would your submission plan be like for this project (number of editors you’d approach, timelines, communication process throughout, etc)?

Answers to these questions can tell you an awful lot about an agent’s style, communication habits, and business smarts. Oh, and one other thing: Ask if you can contact some existing clients for referrals. Hearing what other writers have to say about their agent is simply invaluable.

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

All the agents I spoke with were fabulous, so I’m not going to lie and say it was easy. It was hard. Really hard. There were definitely a few nights when I was pulling out my hair and stressing and wondering how I would ever reach a decision. In the end, there was no magic formula. It was just a gut reaction.

I think I knew, deep down, right after hanging up from my very first call with Sara, that she was the right choice for me. And that was a little tough to swallow because up until that moment I had thought someone else was the right choice. It took a little time for my emotions to settle and my heart to align with where my brain was already headed.

A big part of picking an agent is an emotional factor – I wanted to click with an agent. But I also wanted an agent I could trust from a business side of things, someone who was savvy and knew the industry inside and out because as a first-time novelist, I knew I couldn’t navigate those waters alone.

For me, Sara was both of these things. I knew Sara would be a fantastic advocate for both my book and my career, that she would do everything imaginable to find my novel the best home, both here and abroad, and that she would be accessible, supportive and honest every step of the way. And so I signed with her, and the rest is history. I am so excited, and humbled, to have Sara as my agent.

8.) 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?

Obviously follow up with anyone who has your materials (be it a query, partial, or full). Let them know you have an offer and give them the chance to respond within a time frame that you set (7-10 days, usually). Some may bow out, some may not respond, but I think you’ll be surprised at how many promptly request your full.

But that’s the standard stuff. This is what I wish I had known ahead of time: Getting multiple offers is amazing and wonderful, but it is extremely stressful. You will freak out. You will flip-flop. You may even make your decision and then start wondering if it was the right one. All of this is normal. You are not alone. It’s a huge decision and it is natural to be anxious and hesitant and uncertain.

Just remember to take a deep breath and relish in the fact that you’ve made it this far – you’ve snagged an agent. Go you! If you listen to both your heart and head while making the decision, you will end up with the very best agent for you. And that’s what matters. This is your agent, your career, and the beginning of the next step!

Thanks so much for this interview, Erin! Best of luck with your novel!