Posted On March 12, 2010 by Print This Post

Working With Your Agent and Editor

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!

Hello! I’m so flattered to be blogging at Romance University! Today’s topic is about (of course) relationships…in this case, the author’s relationship with her agent and editor.

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 —

Your Career

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.

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Discussion

20 Responses to “Working With Your Agent and Editor”

  1. Hi Kristan,

    Thanks for hanging out with us at RU today. Super article. I’ve never seen the process spelled out like this before – very informative.

    When working with your editor, do you cc: your agent or keep her updated in some way? If so, how do you decide what info to pass on?

    In the beginning, how often did you speak with both your agent and editor each week?

    Thanks again,
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | March 12, 2010, 6:53 am
  2. I’m greedy this morning ’cause I have another question. 😆

    What was the best piece of advice you received from both your agent and editor?

    Thanks!!
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | March 12, 2010, 6:58 am
  3. Hi Kristan!

    I need a moment to gush…..I love your books! I love your writing style!
    Okay, I’m done.

    Now on to business, I’ve been writing for about three years. I’m not a heavy hitter in that I don’t send out hundreds, or even dozens of submissions a year. I research and select agents and editors carefully. Maybe this isn’t the best approach, since I’ve yet to be published, but it’s the way I’ve chosen to do things. That being said, a published author I respect, highly recommended an agent who works closely with a publishing house I am targeting. With the agent’s approval, the author told me to send my query and first three chapters ASAP and she’d review them with a one week turnaround time. That was back in November. Last Friday I got an e-mail from the agent apologizing for taking so long. She PROMISED to review my work over the weekend. Today is Friday, one week later, and I still haven’t heard from her. I know agents are busy, but I’m starting to question whether I want to work with an agent who doesn’t do as she says. Will she be more dependable if I’m one of her clients? I just don’t know.

    Posted by Wendy Marcus | March 12, 2010, 9:00 am
  4. Hi, Kristan! Thanks for all the great insight this morning.

    I think we met briefly at Nationals last year while in line for the concierge, and I wish I’d read Too Good To Be True before that moment so I could’ve gushed all over you about how awesome it was. 🙂 I’m really looking forward to finding the time to dive into The Next Best Thing.

    You mentioned your agent talking about career planning – have you found that you’ve followed the plan, or have you had to adapt and modify it along the way?

    Thanks again!
    Jamie

    Posted by Jamie Farrell | March 12, 2010, 9:04 am
  5. Kristin,
    Thank you for the great advice! I pitched last year to an agent and I was kind of torn between, hey I may be paying you for a service, so what do you have to offer me? vs please take me on as a client and help me get published.

    I appreciate the questions you raised and will keep them in mind as I pursue it further. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

    Posted by Jane L | March 12, 2010, 9:24 am
  6. Morning, Kristan –

    Thanks for hanging out with the RU crew today! Did either Maria or Keyren mention what first caught her eye about your writing?

    I’m also curious how long (ballpark, of course) it takes you to revise once you receive the revision letter.

    Thanks for all the wonderful advice. This lecture will go in my personal “keeper” file.

    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | March 12, 2010, 9:36 am
  7. Hi Kristan!!

    I’m a gusher too, I love reading your books!

    Do you think it’s best to have several manuscripts under your belt before you go agent hunting? How did you find your agent?

    carrie

    Posted by carrie | March 12, 2010, 9:42 am
  8. Hi Kristan.Thank you for being with us today. I’m curious if you have ever gotten a revision letter that completely overwhelmed you. If so, how did you handle that? Is there “negotiating” room regarding the amount of changes or the deadline?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | March 12, 2010, 9:48 am
  9. Tracey, yes, I always cc my agent when dealing with my editor. And they cc her automatically, because that’s how Maria works with her clients…she’s in on everything, and I certainly am grateful. Best piece of advice? Trust yourself. That’s tough to do when you’re a newbie, but the reason I sold (and the reason everyone sells) is that there was something worth buying. Sometimes it feels like your agent and publisher are doing you a favor…but they’re not. They really want you, and that’s because you’re good! That might take some getting used to, but it’s also very true.

    Thanks for your kind words, Wendy! The problem you describe is pretty common…an agent really and truly wants to find a great talent, but they’re among the busiest people I know. One of the truths of publishing is that it moves at a glacier pace. “Next week” usually means “next month,” so try not to take it personally. Also, non-client dealings always fall at the bottom of an agent’s list. It would obviously be much more reassuring if this agent had stuck to her timetable, but it’s not necessarily a sign that she doesn’t want you. If she were to make you an offer, that’s something you’d definitely want to discuss, though.

    Hi, Jamie! Nice to hear from you! Glad you liked Too Good! As for a plan, I’ve stuck to it pretty well just in terms of the fact that I’m writing full time. My writing career took off pretty quickly, which was a surprise, so I’m actually a bit busier than I’d anticipated being in terms of speaking at conferences, book tours, signings, stuff like that. But my plan so far has just been to write full time, do my best work and kind of see where that takes me.

    Hi, Jane! Glad you found this helpful!

    Kelsey, good morning! Let’s see…the answer to what caught Maria’s and HQN’s eye was my voice. I wrote small-town romantic comedy at the time when chick-lit was dying out (the Sex in the City genre, that is…Manhattan and martinis). The family element, the humor and the rather clean romance was (apparently) very fresh. I had no idea, however; I was just writing the type of book I wanted to read…normal people, big love stories, a few good laughs. It seems to have hit a nerve, which is just so gratifying and wonderful…

    As for revisions, I’m pretty fast with those. Two weeks, maybe? I’m a perfectionist, so I always give the absolute best book I can to my agent…I’m not one of those writers who sends in a first draft.

    Carrie, hello! I don’t really know if it’s better to wait or not…I really am not able to answer that. Might be a good question for an agent, though. You should definitely be working on something else when you submit, that I do know. Most agents would love to make a multi-book sale.

    I found Maria by writing a query letter. Sent it via email; within hours, she’d asked for a partial; a week later, wanted the full; a couple of weeks later, made the offer. O, happy day!

    Adrienne, thanks again for inviting me here today! I did get one revisions letter that suggested a change that would greatly affect the plot, and I thought long and hard on that one before going back to Keyren and saying, “I really don’t think this would work.” That was probably the only real disagreement we’ve had, and it was completely amicable; she had good reasons for suggesting it, I had good reasons for resisting it. And again…my name on the cover, so she said, “That’s absolutely fine.” But I really did consider changing it before saying, “Nope, I just don’t think that will work.” It wasn’t just me being a diva.

    As for turnaround time, I’m very fast on that and usually get my stuff in well before it’s requested. That being said, I don’t usually get a manuscript in early; again, I’m a perfectionist, so I always want to polish it one more time. Once I did need an extension (my grandma had just died and I was taking care of my grandfather), and HQN couldn’t have been nicer. It was about 6 extra weeks, which didn’t affect the release date or anything.

    Once you sign a contract, your book is scheduled, so wiggle room might be a little tight on extensions. I guess it depends on what your editor has asked for.

    Posted by kristan higgins | March 12, 2010, 10:43 am
  10. Hey Kristan! I gush about you all the time, so I won’t get into it here. Okay, maybe a little…If you guys haven’t read all her books yet, what are you waiting. I love her stories because they are so real, and I feel like I know the characters. They could be people sitting right next to me, and the emotions each of them have are very palpable.

    Kristan is AWESOME in person as well. Her voice is very distinctive, and she is funny as all getout. I LOVE Kristan!!! Okay loving and gushing over…not really, but I have to put it on simmer…LOL!!!

    Okay…breathe taken…Kristan loved the topic today. I learned a lot. As a newbie writer, this information is quite useful because now I have some questions in my arsenal for when I get to the point where I am looking for an agent or editor, yours sound wonderful. Hopefully, I find some people like yours. I also liked the “personal” questions to consider as well. One definitely needs to consider all the factors when taking the plunge into the writing pool. Thanks for the wonderful advice.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

    Posted by Paula R. | March 12, 2010, 11:35 am
  11. Hi Kristan. 🙂 Great article. Thank you for your insight into the world of editors. I’ve learned a lot.

    Choosing the right agent is so important. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful agent (a guest on RU this month 😉 ) I trust her experience and knowledge of the market completely. In my mind, she is my boss because my writing career is in her hands.

    Posted by Kim Cresswell | March 12, 2010, 11:55 am
  12. Aw, thanks, Paula! You’re so nice!

    Kim, you’re right. It’s such a huge decision. The wrong agent can do horrible things for a career. Congratulations on making a great choice!

    Some horror stories I’ve heard…an agent completely trashing her client’s second book, saying she hated it (not constructive to a fledgling author!). An agent doing absolutely nothing to sell a manuscript…an agent convincing her client to take a bad offer, saying it was better than nothing (it wasn’t…it hurt her more than nothing would’ve).

    I’ve also heard a couple of stories about editors who’ve wanted such radical changes that the author was either really unhappy with the final product or, in one case, just refused to make them (she actually ended up givng back her advance).

    But by and large, most of the authors I know have been really happy with the people who work with them, so while it’s wise to be careful, it seems like a field packed with good people.

    Posted by kristan higgins | March 12, 2010, 1:18 pm
  13. Hi, Kristin.

    I’m definitely a fan – love your books.
    Your article is full of great information, and I the list of questions are exactly what I needed. I’ll be printing this one out to keep in my “The Call” folder.

    Thanks,
    Lucie j.

    Posted by Lucie J. Charles | March 12, 2010, 1:53 pm
  14. Hi Kristan:
    Thanks for making me do some thinking with those great thought-provoking questions. My head has been so stuck in the revisions, the contest entries, the queries, that I hadn’t been thinking about these very important answers.
    Thanks for the wake-up call!

    Posted by Debbie Kaufman | March 12, 2010, 4:04 pm
  15. Hi, Lucie! Nice to hear you got something out of this (one never knows, does one?). And hi to you, too, Debbie! I admit that I hadn’t really thought things through when I got my agent, but luck was on my side, and Maria is just fantastic.

    Posted by kristan higgins | March 12, 2010, 4:16 pm
  16. A very informative blog, Kristin.

    I’ve just signed with an agent, and I appreciate your take on the client-agent relationship.

    Now, I’m just waiting to find out if I’ll have a great editor like yours.

    Posted by Connie Gillam | March 12, 2010, 5:02 pm
  17. Thank you for your post, Kristan; and everyone for your comments. Lots of useful info here!

    My questions: What are some common mistakes unpublished writers make when submitting to agents? Aside from writing a good query and manuscript, what can an unpublished writer do to make a good impression on an agent?

    Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Mary Anne Landers | March 12, 2010, 7:22 pm
  18. What a great post! Thank you, Kristan. I submitted it to StumbleUpon, or as “the (geek) kids” say, I “stumbled it.” 🙂

    Posted by RhondaL | March 13, 2010, 9:23 am
  19. Kristan,
    There is sooo much useful information here! Definitely a keeper (for my “someday”. Thanks so much for all the insight.
    I’ll have to try to figure out StumbleUpon, so I can vote or whatever. Am I stumbling, too? Time for another session with my teenage niece… 😆

    Posted by Jessi Bacon | March 13, 2010, 12:37 pm
  20. Kisses from Derek Jeter … wooohooo…now THAT’S a feeling 🙂
    Thanks for the inside information and spending time with us today.

    Appreciate ya’!
    Nancy

    Posted by Nancy Naigle | March 13, 2010, 6:17 pm

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