Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of the We Make Books Podcast - A podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between!
Week Three of Submissions September and we’re on part two of Agents Week! For this episode we got to talk to three agented authors to hear about their journey and experience in signing with their literary agent. Tyler Hayes, Sam Hawke, and Caitlin Starling were all kind enough to tell us their stories, share their experiences, and even offer some insight and wisdom. You can (and should!) check them all out on Twitter, Instagram, and their website, all of which are linked below!
In case you’re just joining us, this month is Submissions September on the We Make Books Podcast! We’re doing seven (7!) episodes this month all about the process of submitting your novel. We have a lot of awesome discussions lined up and even some special guests. Here’s what will be coming your way for the month:
Week 1 (9/3/2019): Is This Ready For Other People to See?- Submitting Your Manuscript
Week 2 (9/10/2019): My Entire Novel in Three Hundred Words - The Dreaded Query Letter
Week 3 (9/17/2019): Agents of Literature, Part 1: An Interview with Literary Agent Caitlin McDonald
(9/18/2019): Agents of Literature, Part 2: Interviews with Agented Authors
(9/19/2019): Agents of Literature Part 3: Interviews with Agented Authors
Week 4 (9/24/2019):What is Going On Over There? - The Other Side of the Submissions Process
Week 5 (9/30/2019): Now I’m Even More Confused – Submissions September Q&A Episode
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
We Make Books is a podcast for writer and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Hit us up on our social media, linked below, and send us your questions, comments, concerns, and well, never mind about the football-related stress relief suggestions, Daniel Jones it is.
We hope you enjoy We Make Books!
And check out this episode’s interviewees!
Tyler Hayes- 00:01:28 - 00:15:34
Represented by Lisa Abellera of Kimberley Cameron & Associates http://www.kimberleycameron.com/lisa-abellera.php
The Imaginary Corpse https://www.angryrobotbooks.com/shop/fantasy/the-imaginary-corpse/
Sam Hawke- 00:15:35 - 00:25:42
Represented by Julie Crisp of Julie Crisp Literary Agency http://www.juliecrisp.co.uk/
City of Lies: https://samhawkewrites.com/books/buy-sams-books/
Caitlin Starling- 00:25:43 - 00:40:36
Represented by Caitlin McDonald https://literallycait.tumblr.com/ of DMLA http://maassagency.com/
The Luminous Dead https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062846907/the-luminous-dead/
Rekka:00:01 Welcome back to, we make books, a podcast about writing, publishing and everything in between. I am Rekka and I write science fiction and fantasy as RJ Theodore.
Kaelyn:00:10 And I'm Kaelyn. I am the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.
Rekka:00:14 So today is the first of our two episodes where we talk to authors about their experience with their agents, getting their agent and working with them.
Kaelyn:00:23 Yeah. And our previous episode we talked to Caitlin McDonald who is an agent, but we wanted to talk to some authors that have agents because hearing an agent is one thing. Hearing an author who has done this is another.
Rekka:00:37 So we got a bunch of them.
Kaelyn:00:39 Yeah. And um, you're, you'll hear in this, uh, this episode, these three authors all kind of have different paths to this. There really isn't like the standard story of how you got there. Um, we talked to Sam Hawk, Tyler Hayes and Caitlin Starling.
Rekka:00:54 Cause they're individual interviews, this episode goes a tiny bit long.
Kaelyn:00:57 A bit long.
Rekka:00:57 So we'll, we'll make room for the other episodes you've gotta listen to this week and we hope that this week on agents is serving you well and getting you excited.
Kaelyn:01:07 So thanks everyone. Enjoy the episode.
Speaker 2: 01:13 [music]
Tyler: 01:28 My name is Tyler Hayes. Uh, I've been, I've been writing for about 25 years and writing for money for 16 of that. Um, and my, my debut novel, the Imaginary Corpse is coming out from Angry Robot on September 10th. So I'm repped by Lisa Avalara at Kimberly Cameron and Associates. They're up here in northern California near me. So my story is a little bit backwards from typical, um, in that I actually had the offer on the book before I had an agent. Um, I had been following the kind of normal path of query, partial request, full request, reject, reject, reject, reject. Um, so I was piling up rejections, uh, on this book and they were all those like, you're almost there. Types of rejections. Like it was a lot of, I loved this, but I don't know where I'd put it. And so I don't want to offer to represent it when I'm not confident to where I'd place it.
Kaelyn:02:27 Okay. As far as rejections go better than others.
Tyler: 02:32 Yes, indeed. And I got of course a few, I formed out a few places, but the, the ones that were personalized, we're all like, God, I wish I knew where to put this, but I'm sorry.
Tyler: 02:43 Um, so midway through that, uh, I got the notice for through my writing community, um, that Angry Robot books was doing their open door period, which they do once a year. Um, and I thought, well, worst case I'll be exactly where I am now if they say no, so I'll go ahead and send it and then I'll keep doing what I'm doing. And I just sent it and like made a note, you know, that it had happened and kind of set the, the drop dead date on it just so I knew when to not bother talking to them if something happened. And uh, just kept going and uh, I kept piling up the rejections. I got more and more discouraged. I had a real heart to heart with some of my critique partners and we actually agreed we were going to temporarily trunk the Imaginary Corpse. Um, not because it was bad, but because we're like, probably the problem.
Kaelyn:03:33 Wait, Tyler, trunk? You missed a perfectly good myster pun there. Bury! Come on.
Tyler: 03:41 Right. You know, we'll see. This is why I take multiple drafts. Um, so, um, so we're talking about, I'm talking about, uh, just burying this thing out in the desert and pulling it out later, basically saying it's good, but probably this will be a better second or third book. This will be an easier book to sell when you have a name to market it on. And um, and I said, you know, I think you've got a point. As much as I love this book, it's probably time to say goodbye. I'll let this set of queries kind of peter out and if none of them end in an offer, uh, I'll say goodbye and we'll move onto the next thing. And literally I made that decision and then came into my office job the next morning and I had an email waiting for me from Angry Robot books saying, we love this and we want to publish it next year. Uh, this was in summer 2018 after I finished biting down on my hand, so I didn't scream in the middle of my office. I, uh, you know, I finished screaming internally, told all the people who you typically tell, oh my God, I've got an offer. And they were, who reminded me do not pass go, get an agent. So I followed up with via three agents at the time, had my query and had not said anything.
Tyler: 04:53 Um, oh, that's not true. One hit it asked for a partial. Okay. Um, so I emailed those three, uh, and also one who also told me like, she took like a full request to decide I can't sell this. So I emailed her too, cause why not? And basically I got to, I've got two people who said, no. Uh, I still don't think, I don't feel strongly enough about the project to feel good taking you on. Um, and then I got to, who actually did the infamous agent call? Uh, one of them was Lisa. Um, and, uh, after a, some thought, you know, I did the normal thing. I took the calls, told them both give me a few days. Um, and I went with Lisa basically because of her enthusiasm, um, was a lot of it. Uh, I got on the phone with her and she was enthusiastic.
Tyler: 05:39 She was warm and she was kind, and she also took very seriously that I wanted to be a full time writer. Um, and she, and, but she also made sure I knew what kind of work goes into that. She was not like, Oh yeah, we can absolutely get you there. She said, well, okay, we can try, but here's the path that you are going on at that point. Here's when I think it makes sense for you to tell your day job: See Ya. Um, and so that also really won me over. I was like, oh good. She takes me seriously. But she's not, uh, you know, she's not trying to sugar coat it either. She's just saying like, we'll, we'll work to that, but we will work to get there. So, um, so yeah, so that's, that's my story. She gave me an offer, I accepted the offer and we wound up negotiating with angry robot. And here we are.
Kaelyn:06:29 That's, I mean, that's fantastic. That, you know, could not have gone more smoothly aside from, you know, all of the other rejections previous to that.
Tyler: 06:36 Yeah, absolutely. There, there were a few crying jags, but you know, that's, that's the business.
Kaelyn:06:41 It's a rite of passage, you know, if -
Tyler: 06:42 Right.
Kaelyn:06:43 Um, so because you had that really interesting, you know, sort of path to this, I think people listening to this might hear that and say, why do I then need to, I want to in who I'm going to have to give another percentage of my money to? So obviously you're very excited to have your agent and happy with them. So why were they worth it? That seems like a no brainer.
Tyler: 07:07 Okay. So they were worth it because I was not confident in my own negotiation power. Um, I knew that I was not coming from a place of strength in negotiating with a publisher. Um, and I knew I wasn't coming from a place of experience. Um, whereas Lisa, uh, when she spoke to me was immediately like, you know, she, uh, she immediately went, ah, you know, I know what, uh, probably the boiler plate contract looks like, and I know that I can get you something a little bit better in negotiations. I mean,
Kaelyn:07:38 Which you'd like to hear.
Tyler: 07:40 Yeah, absolutely. Um, and she was not um, just to be clear, I can say of my publisher here that she was not critical Angry Robot. She was just like, I know that this is an opening offer and I can, you know, if I can get you a little bit more in a negotiation, um, and just the relief of no, somebody who knows what they're doing with the business side, we'll be going to bat for that for my rights, for my advance rather than me with my, you know, I know a little something about something, but I'm not an a, I'm not a professional negotiator, you know, rather than me just going, well, I'd like a little bit more please.
Kaelyn:08:19 Yeah. Maybe extra money? Yeah, no, it's okay. You know what? I don't need the money. You guys should have it. Yeah. I think that's a good point that you brought up though that um, there's a lot of people don't consider with the agent and everything they're thinking is, you know, advanced royalties, money. There's a lot of other stuff that goes into these, like rights is a huge part of it. What are the agents know these things that, like you said, shoot, I know the boiler plate here. I know what they're going to send you already because I'm sure she's dealt with them.
Tyler: 08:47 Yeah. That was the other thing was that I found really helpful was that she was able to also, uh, reassure me about, she was able to explain my contract to me in language that I understood because of course it's written in legal-ese, which exists for a reason, but is hard for a lay person to interpret. And she was able to get on the phone with me and say, so this clause means this, that clause means that.
Tyler: 09:10 I understand the wording here is alarming. But actually what they're saying is, um, and, and she was also able to tell me what wasn't, wasn't unusual, you know, she was able to say like, so this clause here, literally every publisher will put this clause in the contract. This clause here is news to me, but possibly it's because they're British, not American. Let me look into that.
Tyler: 09:35 And that was the other thing is she was like, I'll, I'll check with the other people I know who've worked with Angry Robot or other British publishers, make sure that I'm not raising an eyebrow at something that just has to do with UK copyright law, et Cetera.
Kaelyn:09:47 Yeah. I, I, well see, it's funny because I'm very involved with the contracts at Parvus.
Tyler: 09:51 Right.
Kaelyn:09:52 And I'm even sometimes having to go like, wait a second. Okay. Right. Yes. That thing, I remember that now. So yeah, having someone who can walk in and that is so tremendously helpful and important so that you know what you're signing.
Tyler: 10:04 Yes.
Kaelyn:10:05 So you signed the agreement and then, you know, what came next?
Tyler: 10:10 Of course we had the negotiation until we signed. Uh, and then it's been follow up on the negotiation. Um, you know, checking in about stuff like publicity, um, you know, like making sure that I'm aware of what expected next steps are, which Angry Robot, of course, it also has a publicity manager. A shout out to Jenna who is amazing. Um, but, uh, you know, but both of them, both her and Lisa are working with me to say, okay, these are the things we're going to expect you to do. This is the sort of stuff we recommend in Lisa states, ss going: So my authors at a similar level to you, I've had a lot of success doing this and that, so let's try to make sure that's on the schedule. Um, and then kind of the other stuff has been follow up, uh, getting ready for the next project and kind of making sure we're both on the same page about what we're doing next and where we want to go up is of course the answer.
Kaelyn:11:03 Yeah. What we're kind of finishing with everyone it advice that you have or something that surprised you about this process.
Tyler: 11:11 As far as what surprised me, I think I was, this is going to sound cynical at first, so give me a minute to explain it. I was surprised by how little really matters in a query packet, by which I mean, you know, I, I've mentored several people I've worked with folks. I'm kind of coming up behind me trying to get their debut together and I thought the same things they did. I thought I should in my bio list, everything that was even vaguely tangentially related to writing. Um, I that I should, you know, mention any scholarship I got that might apply to creative writing that I should talk about how much people loved my short stories in high school, that sort of thing. Um, when really what they want in a query is they want a query letter that pops in whatever way they want you to follow their darn directions and they want to see a good book.
Kaelyn:12:08 And if you've got something else that's great, but it's gravy. As, as for advice, I guess my biggest advice would be for finding an agent. Um, do your research. Like really look for someone who seems like a good fit. Who, uh, I can, I can highly recommend Query Tracker. I highly recommend manuscriptwishlist.com.
Tyler: 12:28 That's a great website.
Kaelyn:12:30 Yes. I, uh, I also recommend looking at, uh, like writers conferences and pitch parties and stuff that are happening to find out who's going, not necessarily to go yourself though if you, if that's your bag, fantastic. But I'm not really into the like speed pitching type thing. Um, but that was actually how I found Lisa was I found out she was doing a writer's conference in near me and I went, oh, she's out there. She's actively growing her client list. You know, she is seeking out new people to represent.
Tyler: 13:00 This is the type of agent I want to talk to as opposed to just cold emailing agents and going, I think you're looking for someone new. You're not listed as closed. So, um, but also, uh, my biggest thing once you're talking to them, but once you are actually corresponding with agents, whether it's the legendary agent call or just emails, um, look for someone who is a good fit, who feels right to you. And I know that sounds very vague and kind of crystal vibration-y, um, but seriously, look for someone who you talk to and you feel this is a good fit. This is a personality fit because they are your business partner. When it comes down to it.
Kaelyn:13:41 You said something very telling when you were talking about why you decided to go with Lisa was that she was excited and enthusiastic.
Tyler: 13:49 Yes.
Kaelyn:13:50 Working ... do this is, this is a business partner. This is someone that is going to help you be the most successful that you possibly can. And if they're not excited, that's not gonna, probably not going to work out great in the long run.
Tyler: 14:05 Yeah, I I knew so related story, I don't mean to toot my own horn, but down the road from the book was at the book was, was finally edited. It was going to proofs. I didn't, they have to touch it anymore. And so Lisa and I had to call about, okay, what's next? And I told her my idea for my next book that I was in the process of writing at the time. And she actually gaspedout loud on the phone. She was like, oh, that sounds amazing. And I was like, see, now I know for sure. I've done the right thing.
Kaelyn:14:34 What a gratifying feeling that must have been.
Tyler: 14:34 That's what you want. You want that agent - Exactly right. I was like, oh my gosh, you know. Oh good. I really did pick the right person. Like I hadn't, no doubt, but it was that beautiful reaction of like no, good! This, this is a partnership where I know she wants to sell this work because she wants to read it. So the Imaginary Corpse is a weird fantasy about a plush dinosaur and ex-imaginary friend investigating the first serial killer of the imagination. Uh, it is out from Angry Robot books. Uh, you can pick it up from your friendly local bookstore or directly from Angry Robot's website or from the usual online book vendors.
Kaelyn:15:07 Okay. Awesome. So yeah, check that out. How can people find you online?
Tyler: 15:10 The easiest places to find me are Twitter at, @the_real_Tyler,underscores, between the words. So the underscore real underscore Tyler. Um, or an Instagram @TylerHayesbooks. All one word also on my website, Tyler-Hayes.com.
Kaelyn:15:25 Congratulations on the book, I know we're recording in the future, so I will wish you good luck with the book launch and uh, so that sounds fantastic.
Tyler: 15:32 Thank you.
Rekka:15:34 [sound effect]
Sam: 15:35 I'm Sam Book. I'm going to scifi and fantasy writer. My first book City of Lies, came out last year in July and I'm currently working on the sequel.
Rekka:15:43 The City of Lies, which I happened to have read is a, uh, an award winning book. I notice you're, you're a little too humble to say, so I'll say it for you. Quadrupl now? Was it four awards now for that one?
Sam: 15:56 It has won a few. Yeah.
Rekka:15:58 Fantastic. Well, congratulations. So could you tell us who your agent is and how you chose them?
Sam: 16:05 Oh, well my agent is Julie Crisp, in London. Um, applied to a whole bunch of agents when I was query and um, ended up having conversations with um, a few different agents in the UK and in the US um, all of whom were really lovely. And, um, all of whom were enthusiastic about my work and um, I got along really well with all of them on the call. I think ultimately I chose Julie, uh, because of her editing background, uh, in particular because I was a very isolated writer. And I really didn't, um, we hadn't really worked with anyone who'd ever edited me before. I've, well I can probably use it. Um, so Julie was the, um, acquisitions editor at UK Tor before she switched to agenting. So she has a really strong editing background. Um, and she has some really strong ideas for changes to the book. Um, so ultimately that was, that was probably the key.
Rekka:16:58 Okay, cool. So you, you kind of knew what you wanted out of an agent in addition to your representation and someone who would submit to publishers that might be out of reach. Otherwise, you also like had a strong sense that you needed somebody who was going to be involved in the editorial process with you before that even happened.
Sam: 17:17 Yeah, I think that's, that's right. Because as I said, I really hadn't worked that much on my writing with anybody. I'd been very solitary.
Rekka:17:25 What was the experience, I assume you, um, made a revision or two on City of Lies before it went out to some.
Sam: 17:33 Yeah, so we actually did some pretty enormous revisions on it um, in that time. So we probably took out from when I signed to when we actually went out on sub, it was probably eight or nine months.
New Speaker: 17:45 Cause I do kind of a massive structural change in the where Julie had suggested that I balance the, the two point of view characters differently. So I essentially had to kind of pull the book completely apart, work out what scenes needed to be in what perspective and kind of rebalance, rebalance it and put it all back together again. Which um, is a very, um, look, it was a difficult -
New Speaker: 18:13 process, bit totally worth it in the end. It definitely made it a better book.
Rekka:18:17 Um, POV shifts and like tiny adjustments to POVs can make such a rippling effect on a revision pass.
New Speaker: 18:25 Oh my God, so much you think it wouldn't be that hard to switch from one to the other, you know singles? It was, it was so hard and so different because the two characters, even though they're quite similar in terms of, um, they'll rise in the same way and they have a kind of similar perspective, um, they still, they still react to situations differently and they differently notice things, different things about a scenario. So, um, changing from one to the other, even it's just not defined.
Rekka:18:51 It was not a find and replace of the name. Yeah,
New Speaker: 18:52 Not the same thing. Yeah.
Rekka:18:54 Yeah. Awesome. Well, okay, so what other kinds of interactions do you have with Julie? Um, in terms of, um, like copy editing or line editing, um, and then the submissions process and, um, what, what do you rely on her for in your author career?
New Speaker: 19:14 Well, she kind of, um, pulls me back from the edge when I'm being in giant baby.
Rekka:19:19 So emotional support.
New Speaker: 19:21 Emotional support, you know that, um, there's a Gif of a little boy holding onto a rope and wailing and crying in what looks like fast running water. And then his guardian comes over and standing up and he's actually sort of standing at thigh high water and it's not dangerous at all.
New Speaker: 19:39 That's how I feel about me, me, me sort of panicky about things and her talking me down. Um, yeah. So no, I use it very much. It's, I'm a person who's kind of always my advocate and on my team and helping me, um, get through this sometimes quite challenging business so that in addition to the support she gives me in terms of editing and she still works really, she worked really extensively on the book. Even after we'd signed with a publisher and know a lot of agents would kind of step back at the point of which they've sold the book and say, you know, that's the publisher's job now. I've kind of done my part and Julie very much doesn't do that.
Rekka:20:15 And she was involved all the way through the copy editing stage and, and um, basically just anything that I need, she always makes herself available. Um, which has just been really, really invaluable to me.
New Speaker: 20:29 Yeah. To know that there's always somebody who's got your back and will reinforce your decisions and stuff like that.
New Speaker: 20:36 Awesome. Um, so how often do you check in with her? Is this like a weekly or a biweekly or monthly?
Rekka:20:45 Uh, it, it depends what's going on. So when there's a lot of stuff going on, we could talk every couple of days when it's just sort of like right now where I'm just drafting a new material. They may, it might be less frequent, but yeah, if you've, when you're on submission, I was checking in quite regularly and when there's a lot of things happening anywhere around the kind of releases, the first book last year was a very busy time and I was harassing her constantly. She's very good about it.
Rekka:21:13 And when you were putting the book out in submission, had you worked on the pitches for the publishers together or did you, uh, you know, throw up your hands after you queried agents and say, okay, no, you can do it please.
Sam: 21:27 She handled that, that um but entirely. Um, I mean, I think to some extent she used some material that I developed in terms of pitching agents. Um, she, she kind of used some of that in her pitches to publishes, I think. But one of the good things about having an agent, um, is they're kind of preexisting relationships with, with people in the industry and they know what particular editors are looking for and they're kind of in a much better place than I am to know what we'll work on a particular person. So I left that entirely in her.
Rekka:22:00 Yeah, I can, I can understand, um, being relieved that you don't have to be part of that process. Um, I'm a micromanager, so I don't know,
Sam: 22:10 I'm bad at talking about, about, about what my book is about. Yeah.
Rekka:22:12 Yeah. I think every author is guilty of that for sure. So if you were talking to a new author or an unrepresented author who was looking for an agent, what tips would you give them about, um, seeking someone to represent them?
Sam: 22:27 I will, I would say there's so much information available now about how to do a good job of pitching and approaching agents, um, that there's really, as long as you're well prepared, there's really no excuse for making dumb mistakes that are gonna get you eliminated before you even get a chance. So take your time and do your research, um, approach the, the, the query letter or whatever you're using to, to approach the person as a business proposal. So you're looking to, to strike up a business relationship with somebody. So you want to sound like a person that they want to do business with. So, you know, don't be a dick.
Rekka:23:04 Fair enough. I mean, there it is. Okay. Awesome. So, no, I think that's a great tip. It's like there is, like you said, so much guidance out there, there are tons of blog posts about how to write a query letter. There are, uh, editors and agents who post query letters they've received, you know, that have been scrubbed for identity, but they kind of pick them apart and say like, here's why this isn't working or here's why this is a good example. And then there are plenty of people, um, you know, within anyone's, uh, general, uh, community that could offer advice or can even, you know, um, send people in the direction of a, of an agent that they might be interested in. Yeah.
Sam: 23:45 Yeah, I think that's right. The information is there. Um, so don't, you know, don't rush it. But on the other hand you can also over research forever. I probably [laughs] I'm an over preparer.
Rekka:23:56 Oh yeah.
Sam: 23:56 You don't need like the 11 spreadsheets in one. All the colors probably.
Rekka:23:59 Oh, come on.
New Speaker: 24:00 I had that. Unless you really love spreadsheets like I do that.
Sam: 24:04 Yeah.
New Speaker: 24:04 In which case it's a delight.
Rekka:24:06 Well, it, they can be calming, right? Like they can be reassuring. Like, look, I have facts. There are cells. Um, why don't you, uh, plug City of Lies again, the award winning City of Lies. Um, so our, our listeners know, um, like basically give us your elevator pitch.
Sam: 24:21 Uh, City of Lies is uh basically a closed room murder mystery set, you know, a besieged city. So it's about a couple of siblings whose family are poisoned tasters for their, the ruling family of the city. Um, there at the beginning of the book, their uncle, uh, the current poison taster and the chancellor of the city are both killed by an unknown poison. And then the city falls under the sage, seemingly from its own people and our main characters, the brother and sister have to try to figure out who, who killed their uncle and the chancellor, um, prevent that person from doing the same to the new chancellor and figure out what's happening with the rebellion, um, before that whole city falls, I guess.
Rekka:25:05 Yeah. You know, it's funny you say it's a closed roommurder mystery and you're totally right. Even though it's like in an open world city. Um, they are definitely, um, for most of the book confined to a small area and also by their, um, like their class standing. They're expected to stay in certain places. So that's a really interesting way of putting that.
New Speaker: 25:22 Yeah, I picked fantasy it's my, my jam, but my other great love is closed door mystery. So this is like my collage to the, the two genres that I love the best.
Rekka:25:34 I really appreciate your time and um, thank you so much for coming on and I know everyone's going to go check out that book because they should.
Sam: 25:40 No worries. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 6: 25:42 [sound effect]
Caitlin:25:44 My name is Caitlin Starling. I'm the author of the Luminous Dead, which came out, um, this past April from Harper Voyager. And I also worked as the narrative designer on this strange little show in New York last fall called A Human.
Kaelyn:25:57 Interesting. I didn't know that actually. That's very cool.
Caitlin:26:00 Yeah, I got to design body parts for money. It was very exciting.
Kaelyn:26:03 That is very cool.
Caitlin:26:05 So I am repped by Caitlin McDonald, who is over at the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
Kaelyn:26:10 Caitlin McDonald is the agent that we interviewed for the previous, uh, yes, the first episode that came out this week.
Caitlin:26:16 I may have thrown her. I may have thrown for your way. There's a bunch of Kaitlin's in my emails at all times. It gets very exciting on calls. We actually have to refer to each other as Agent Caitlin and Author Caitlin. So before anything happens, everyone else knows which one that's talking in, which one is referring.
Kaelyn:26:31 So, um, that's been really fun. But, um, so I signed with her back in April of 2017 and I had been querying at that point for a little bit over a year and Caitlin McDonald was actually the first agent I ever queried. Um, but it took awhile to get to a full request and then also for her to get to the manuscript after that. So she also ended up being the first one to offer even though I in the meantime queried about 40 other agents. Um, which of course kicked off the following up with everybody else. I ended up getting one other offer, um, and a couple of their near, near misses, but it was between two agents and Caitlin Macdonald was newer and um, had fewer sales under her belt, but we clicked more on several levels, including for me what's really important is, um, being extremely detail oriented and comfortable talking about logistics and practicalities like contracts.
Caitlin:27:31 Um, Caitlin McDonald, I'm sure she told you, uh, used to work in contracts.
Caitlin:27:37 Pretty much exclusively for a while. So, and I used to work for a lawyer, so it was really nice to basically say, what's your termination clause like? And for her to just send over the boilerplate agency agreement. And we were able to just talk about contracts. Now, I know that's not for everybody because a lot of people see contracts and start screaming internally. Um, but for me, that was a really big determining factor of why I felt so comfortable with going forward.
Kaelyn:28:00 Well, and that's actually very interesting to hear because I'm, one of the questions we got or things people ask is, do I just take the first offer that I get? And I've heard other people say, well, you might only get one offer. You had two and you actually had to make a choice.
Caitlin:28:15 I did. Yes.
Kaelyn:28:15 So that's very interesting to hear -
Caitlin:28:17 Which is very difficult.
Kaelyn:28:18 Yeah. Um, it's a, it's a big deal in, it's a commitment. It's a potentially very long relationship. So -
Caitlin:28:25 Yeah, it was, it was a really hard decision. Um, the other agent who offered, like I alluded to, you had a lot, a lot more years behind her and a lot more sales behind her. Um, and in some ways I clicked with her personally right off the bat faster than I did with Caitlin McDonald. But after talking, having several conversations with both and, um, in particular, Caitlin McDonald's boss, Donna Moss actually was willing to talk to me about what sort of support she had behind her as a new agent. Um, because it's really important for new agents to have, you know, you'd be able to use the connections that their agency has to be able to go to other agents to say, okay, have you ever been in this situation? What did you do? Um, and that made me confident that even though she was newer at the time, that she had the clout behind her to basically put her on an even footing with the other agent and then I could focus on other details.
Caitlin:29:15 Um, and then also, I mean, what, I didn't really think about it at the time, but what does become really clear to me that I'm really, um, was really a good move on my part: Caitlin McDonald is queer. I'm queer, I write queer fiction. It's really nice having her in my corner and fully understanding where I'm coming from as opposed to, um, you know, being supportive but not having that same lived experience when I like want to self edit or pull back or go, oh no, is is the reason why we got a rejection because it's too gay. She'll be like, I will, I will fight for you. I will fight anybody who says it's, and it's just really nice to have that. Um, you know, and I hadn't really anticipated needing that, but it's become one of the most, you know, not one of the most, because obviously like business negotiation things are kind of really important because at least I'm getting paid, but it's really important. It's really important on an emotional and a creative level to know that I have that support.
Kaelyn:30:11 You know, I think we like to go like, oh well the personal stuff really shouldn't matter. But like it does sometimes and if it's just like, you know, one more thing that makes you more comfortable working with someone that's really important.
Caitlin:30:24 Yeah. Especially if you write fiction that is very emotionally based.
Caitlin:30:29 Your personal life is gonna be very important to your art. So then you need someone who also understands your personal life so they can see what you're trying to do with your art.
Kaelyn:30:36 Yeah. It sounds like you guys have like a fantastic relationship. So what are your, what are your interactions like what do you, how often do you talk and how often do you get in touch for like, I have this problem or I'm worried about this because a lot of authors and agency, agents, excuse me, have different styles of communication. So do you find you're more comfortable being in constant touch or do you just go by what works best for both of you?
Caitlin:31:04 I probably bother her more than I technically need to. We actually, we have, um, the way we have the arrangement we've come to is that if I'm asking a question that is substantial that we may need to be able to find the answer to later, it goes by email because email is searchable and sortable. But we also text and that's usually for really quick questions. Um, or just touching basis friends or, you know, we're, I, I wouldn't say that we're friend, friend friends, but we are friendly enough that we check in on each other about personal stuff as well as business stuff. Um, and we try and keep the two streams separate. Um, and like on Instagram, I don't ask her business questions. I just get very excited about the cool pictures that she posts. And so we try and keep some, some pretty formal divisions.
Caitlin:31:54 Like I don't want to be, um, impinging on her very scarce personal time if I don't have to. Um, but I also am a bit of an anxious person and so sometimes I will spiral out. I'll need to be like, can you please talk me off the ledge? Because I'm clearly having a problem and I know that it's stupid, but I can't get out of it on my own. And she is very good about stepping in and being like, it's fine and this is why it's fine and it's going to be OK. Um, and, and, and so there's parts where even over two years in, we're still learning. I'm definitely still learning about what is good to bring to her versus what I should probably take care of on my own. And there's times where it goes the other way where I decided that, oh, this is something that I shouldn't bother her with. And it turns out that it's something that she really would have liked to know about two or three weeks ago by the time she ends up finding out.
Kaelyn:32:48 Um, I always wonder with agents, and you know, I, I edit books for Parvus as well and um, a lot of our authors don't have agents, so I'm kind of like their point person on a lot of things and it's like there should be a manual that's like, okay, besides all of this, there's gonna be a lot of emotional support involved and -
Kaelyn:33:07 How you feel about people texting you, having panic attacks over things that are not a big deal. Can you manage that?
Caitlin:33:15 Yeah. Yeah. And it's, and I've, I've apologized to her on many occasions and usually what she does, what she tells me is basically this is part of the job. Like this is a thing that happens. It's a very, it's a very stressful business and there's a lot that's out of your direct control and a lot of it's outside of what you can even see going on at any given time. And so it's really easy to tell yourself stories that are completely wrong and not realize that they're wrong because you can't fact check them.
Kaelyn:33:43 Well, I always tell, you know, if I have authors or someone getting in touch with me and they're worried about something and they go, oh, sorry, this is so silly. It's like, no, if you're worked up about it and you're concerned, it's not silly. So we'll figure it out.
Caitlin:33:56 I mean, best case scenario is there is a simple answer and you're like, oh, and now it's resolved and now you don't feel that way anymore.
Kaelyn:34:02 I feel better
Caitlin:34:02 Right. And you feel silly at that point. But also at the same time, look, it was an easy problem to resolve and it's not actually something you need to continue being afraid of. So that's great. Yeah.
Kaelyn:34:10 So, um, we're asking everyone, what tips do you have or suggestions or misconceptions about looking for an agent in getting an agent? What do you wish people knew?
Caitlin:34:19 This is, it's a big question. Um, but a couple of things that come to mind. The first is to be really thoughtful about who you're querying about if you'd actually want to work with them. Um, and it's because it obviously you feel when you're querying and it's a very real feeling that you are putting everything on the line. And if this doesn't work out, you're setback another year or another two years, whatever else. So it's very scary and it's very like there's, there's a scarcity of options. So you want to maximize the potential for someone saying yes, but at the same time, you really do want someone who wants to represent your work in the way you want it to be represented. Um, and so for instance, when I was querying the Luminous Dead, uh, I had actually reworked it at one point in its revisions as YA because a very good friend of mine said that the themes are there.
Caitlin:35:15 Even though I wrote it, I had written it as an adult novel originally and it ended up being published as an adult novel. There was a period where she was like, you know, the themes are there, you could make it, YA has more opportunities for sales, there are more editors and there's more money involved. So consider it. And as a friend who, who writes both YA and adult, so I worked, reworked it as YA and I was querying it as YA, but I didn't really want it to be YA. I just thought I should do that as a business move. And it turns out I got a lot of rejections and probably because I was casting it as YA, because I think that comes through the, you know, if you're, if you're trying to sell a book as something that it's not or that you don't want it to be, you're going to run into some problems.
Caitlin:35:55 Um, I was very lucky that when Caitlin and I were originally talking, I said, so how would you feel if we made it an adult and terrified that she would say no because she had, she had taken me on as a YA author and she was like, Oh yeah, it could work either way. What do you want to do here? Or here are the actual considerations on both ends. But in the end it's what you want the piece to be, which was great. Um, but I think I wasted a lot of time and energy querying YA agents who pr- who are fantastic agents, but who would have ever been a good fit for my work in the end. And then I got rejections that were upsetting that I didn't need to get. So definitely like really cultivating that list, even though it makes it feel like you're, you're giving up options and chances is a really great place, is a really good skill to learn?
Caitlin:36:43 And it won't be easy and it will be comfortable, but it's, it's worth it. And the other thing that comes to mind is actually more about the query letter itself and a lot of people treat it as just a hurdle that you have to do in order to get past this phase.
Kaelyn:36:56 We talk about the same thing where it's like everyone thinks about it as, oh, I just have to, it's just something I've got to do.
Caitlin:37:04 It's busy work. It's like it's like a homework assignment, but it turns out you're going to use it, that skill a lot.
Caitlin:37:09 That skill set is going to be very important for writing your base pitches. I have found that actually if I write a fake query letter at about the halfway point of a first draft, I can usually find the problems in the first draft by trying to articulate it as a query letter. So I use it as a diagnostic tool almost -
Kaelyn:37:24 And that's fantastic.
Caitlin:37:25 - and it's a really tricky skill to learn. It's, it will not come naturally, especially if you're writing the query letter after you've done like five rounds of revisions and you know your book forwards and back because you're gonna want to show all the work that you did. But if you can learn how to distill it down like that, it ends up becoming a skill. Like writing a good query letter isn't just to get an agent's attention so they'll read the full. That is part of what it does, but it also teaches them that you can do some of the preliminary work for pitching the book to editors, which makes their lives a little bit easier. And it also proves to you, I'll come with me with a good pitch. Yes, it proves that you know how at least a little bit of how to market your own work, which is always great because you're going to be in situations where you're talking to people you know, maybe face to face where your agent is not there.
Caitlin:38:10 For the record, Luminous Dead, so the back cover copy is not my query that got my agent, but it is the query that I wrote for funsies. After we'd done some major revisions and I went, Huh, I wonder if I could write a better query letter now I wrote it, we got the back cover copy from the editor, which was based off of my original query letter, which then became part of my agent's pitch, which became part of the back cover copy. And I went, you know, we can do better. Hey I have this thing right here for you. And now the back cover copy, it's not 100% that obviously because I am not a marketing person and there are certain things that I missed or that I put in the didn't matter. But it is substantially influenced by that. So you know, if you've ever read this, and I'm sure there are lots of publishers who really don't care what the author wants to put on the back cover, but if you've ever like read a back cover copy and gone, hmm, that's not how I would've written it. Guess what? You can learn that skill.
Caitlin:39:01 And it will help you in getting an agent in fixing your own work at times and in working with your editor.
Kaelyn:39:08 Well thanks so much for talking to us. Tell people where they can find you.
Caitlin:39:12 Yeah, so um, I am mainly on Twitter @see_starling. It's a pun, it's a very silly pun. And um, my website is CaitlinStarling.com that has filings that has a couple of sneak peeks of things that I am working on that I will hopefully one day find a home for. It also has those pictures from the body parts design project over in New York.
Kaelyn:39:34 Yeah, that's very cool. All right, well thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.
Rekka:39:40 Thanks everyone for joining us for another episode of we make books. If you have any questions that you want answered in future episodes or just have questions in general, remember you can find us on Twitter @wmbcast, same for Instagram or WMB cast.com if you find value in the content that we provide, we would really appreciate your firstname.lastname@example.org/WMBcast. If you can't provide financial support, we totally understand and what you could really do to help us is spread the word about this podcast. You can do that by sharing a particular episode with a friend who can find it useful. Or if you leave a rating and review at iTunes, it will feed that algorithm and help other people find our podcast too. Of course, you can always retweet our episodes on Twitter. Thank you so much for listening and we will talk to you soon.