I’ve been sitting here wondering how to introduce Kristan Higgins. I’ve only met her via email (she seems like a heck of a nice person), but the thing I know for sure is that I love her books. Love ’em!
For me, reading one of Kristan’s books is like a mini vacation where I’m able to forget about all the work piled on my desk. Her stories, in my humble opinion, capture the nuttiness of love and family life and the entertaining characters (Oh, that Trevor!) within them.
Kristan is here today to talk about a different kind of relationship we all can appreciate. Take it away, Kristan!
In my case, I got an agent first, and she sold my book to HQN, upon which I got an editor. But some authors get an editor first, then later acquire an agent. For the point of our discussion, I don’t think it really matters.
First rule of thumb—Choose you agent carefully.
We all feel so honored when an agent requests something…feels like hitting Powerball Lotto or getting kissed by Derek Jeter (still waiting on both fronts, alas). But keep in mind that your agent will work for YOU, no matter how much it might feel like she’s the boss. (I, in fact, call my agent ‘Boss.’)
But there’s no more important career decision you can make than which agent you choose. You’re giving this person tremendous control over something that you’ve labored over for years, so you need to choose wisely. Remember…if she wants you, chances are high that someone else will, too.
First, she’s going to tell you how wonderful you are, and this is because she truly believes it. You’ll be blushing and possibly stammering and perhaps fainting…it’s normal. But there are a few things you should talk about. The big issue is —
It’s critical that you and your agent understand each other in terms of where you see yourself in 5 years. I say this though I myself had no clue. I said to my agent, I just want to hold my book in my hand…her response. “You all say that in the beginning.” So before you get too involved, ask yourself a few questions —
Do you want to write full time? Can you afford to leave your day job? Do you have 2 books a year in you? Are you happy with the genre you’ve started in? Is this what you see yourself writing for at least the next few years?
Then there are some basic questions you’ll want to ask about the basics of working together…
How often will I hear from you? Once a year or once a week? What’s your response time in getting back to clients? (That is, will you hold my hand when I’m a quivering wreck?)
How much editorial input do you have with your clients? (Do you weigh in on my manuscripts?) How hands-on are you in terms of fleshing out ideas? (Will you help me when I’m stuck?) Where do you anticipate sending my manuscript? (Small press or big press?) Which imprints? Why these imprints and editors? Have you worked with them before? How’s that gone? When do you anticipate sending out my manuscript?
Hardcover, trade or mass market? What are some of the recent deals you’ve made?
Have you ever let an author go? Why? Can I contact some of your authors?
This last one is a really good question to ask. You want to hear from the horse’s mouth just how the agent works with her clients. Of course, she’ll refer you to the clients who love her madly. You can also check http://www.writerbeware.com/ for reported problems.
So let’s say everything’s copasetic and you’re beyond thrilled and you have a signed contract. What happens next?
Agent revisions. Most agents I know work with their clients, suggest revisions or tweaks and really help the author get the book up to market value. This is where you trust her professionalism, experience and superior knowledge of the market. Sometimes, of course, your gut instinct is to say “But I wanted it that way!” And yes, it’s your name on the book… the best agents will acknowledge that immediately and not push you to make a change you’re not comfortable with. But remember — she’s probably much more knowledgeable than you about what’s selling and what’s successful. She’s in your corner, will make her pay based on how successful you are. She wants nothing more for you than a blockbuster.
Once your book is ready to go in your opinion and hers, she sends it out. Mine sends out the whole thing along with a little paragraph about the story. And then the rejections or offers start coming in. She fields the offers, tells you everything you’ve received (she’s obliged to do this, by the way), and discusses different aspects with you. If you get several offers, your agent may well be able to get you more money
When I signed with my agent (Maria Carvainis), I’d only written one book. I had nothing else finished, but she managed to get me a two-book deal anyway. A good agent will do this. Maria often says, “I don’t sell books; I build careers.” That’s the attitude you want, too. No agent or publisher wants one book — they want an author who’ll be a hot commodity for years to come.
Your agent will go over your offer and contract with you, discuss the ins and outs. You’re welcome to ask for changes on things like foreign rights and what not…because contracts can vary so much, I can’t really address what to look for here. But your agent will explain everything. If you need changes, she’ll be the liaison with the publisher.
Then you say yes to the contract and voila! You’re off! The care and feeding of your manuscript is passed to the editor, who becomes the next person you work with in getting the book published.
Now you’re under contract. You have a deadline — chances are, you’ve been put in the schedule, so your editor will need a finished product by a certain date. And now that you’ve cashed your lovely advance check, you’re under obligation to work with your editor to get the job done.
Once again, there will probably be revisions. The way things have gone with me is as follows:
The revisions letter. This is a 2-5 page letter telling me what my editor feels should change. Sometimes it’s something like, “This character is a little over-the-top…tone down?” or “Can we have another scene with Callie and Ian?” These are general recommendations…the fix is up to me.
I have to say, I’ve been blessed with two extremely wonderful editors, and almost every time they suggest something, I think, “D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that? Of course!” But once in a while, I’ll get a suggestion I’m not completely comfortable with. At this point, I think about why she wants this change, keeping in mind that she works for a huge publishing company who puts out some of the most successful authors in the world. If it really doesn’t sit well with my idea for the story, I’ll e-mail my editor and tell her I’m not sure about her suggestion. We talk, maybe find a solution we both like, and I write the new bits. Keyren really understands the heart of my writing and characters, and her input inevitably makes my books better.
The come the line edits — these are more specific suggestions on language, rather than scenes. My editor might point out my propensity for using the phrase “piece de resistance,” for example, or point out that I used the word “cute” four times in two paragraphs.
Right now, my editor is Keyren Gerlach at HQN. One of the things I love about her that she marks what she likes on the text — if I’ve made her laugh or smile or cry, she tells me so with a little note. As is the case with my agent, my editor and I are linked by how well my book does. She and I were both somewhat new when we started working together, and it’s been great to have her so invested in my books. Like Maria, there’s nothing better for her career than to have her writers do well.
There are other things my editor does for me — she informs me of promotional opportunities, suggests my name when the publicity department gets a request of an author to feature — I was sent on book tour because my editor (and her bosses) felt that I was an up-and-comer, for example. In short, she’s my champion at the company, and I know she’s got my very best interest at heart.
There are times when my agent acts as a go-between…Maria gets my print information, for example. When I didn’t like one of my covers, Maria had it written into my next contract that I’d get input for the next, and so I’m now shown the cover concept before the cover is printed. When the publisher makes another offer, they go to Maria, who then passes that info onto me.
To sum up, your agent and editor should be the best friends you have in the business. Your career is their career, at least in some part. I guess that’s about all I can think of this subject, but I’d be more than happy to answer any questions I can. Fire away!
To our unagented/unpublished readers, does any of this surprise you? For our published readers, do you have additional tips for our unpubbed readers?
A special thanks to Kristan for being with us today.
Join us on Monday when Michelle Buonfiglio from Romance B(u)y the Book discusses developing a press kit.
Bio: Kristan Higgins is the best-selling, award-winning author of five romantic comedies; mother of two; wife of one. Her novels have won numerous awards from readers and reviewers alike, including the 2008 Romance Writers of America RITA Award for best single title contemporary romance for Catch of the Day. Called “one of the most honest and creative voices in contemporary romance,” Kristan enjoys eating out, riding her bike, playing Scrabble and watching the New York Yankees. For more information about Kristan visit her website at http://www.kristanhiggins.com/ or www.facebook.com/KristanHiggins.
- Kristan Higgins Author Chat
- Who wants to share an agent?
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – April 8 – 12
- The Road to an Agent with Adrienne Giordano
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, December 10-15, 2012