Sunday, May 26, 2013

Getting the call: My nonfiction agent story

A lot of awesome writers I follow have their "agent call" story on their blogs, and they're a lot of fun to read, but I never did one back when I signed with my fiction agent, Michelle. So I'll have to do that someday! But for today, since it just happened, I'll give you guys a rundown of how I came to sign with Andrea Somberg for my nonfiction project, and what that offering call was all about.

The book idea

The Asexual Flag!
I decided to write a nonfiction book on asexuality just over a year ago. A self-published book on the topic exists, and a textbook exists, but there aren't any books on asexuality in the bookstores or available through mainstream publishing companies. I started working on it on April 7 last year, finished a draft within a month (because I've said it all before!), and began querying on May 21 after writing the book proposal. (What I've learned about book proposal writing is a story for another time.) For nonfiction, you don't actually have to have the book written, but I figured it would be easier to describe it for an agent (and ultimately a publisher) if I'd actually written it. So I began querying, offering potential agents a look at the proposal if they were interested.

The querying process

I queried throughout the end of May and the beginning of June. I also sent the book to a couple publishers directly. I stopped querying completely for the rest of that year when I got one nibble from a publisher (who asked to consider the proposal) and one nibble from an agent. Ultimately my exchanges with that agent made me think I did not want to work with him anyway for reasons I will not discuss here, but he requested my proposal. He didn't follow up until four months later, asking whether it was still available. When I sent him the updated proposal, he disappeared again. I still haven't heard from him.

My querying push for the asexuality book was put on hold because I got signed to Michelle Johnson for my fiction, and there was a lot going on with that, including submission, editorial feedback from publishers, and a significant revision. I also decided to work on the book itself for a while and asked for a volunteer test audience for the book. More than 60 people volunteered and some of them gave me really good feedback. I started querying again after speaking at a queer conference on the Asexual Voices Panel. (I guess it inspired me!) I started a round of queries in February 2013. I didn't hear back from a single one of them.

Finding Andrea

March 2013 ended up being my last round of queries. Andrea at Harvey Klinger was in the March group. I was attracted to her as an agent because she had a great track record for nonfiction books, was actively attending conferences and even heading up workshops about nonfiction book pitching, and in general seemed both approachable and selective. And I liked Harvey Klinger as an agency because they've been around longer than I have, represent prominent authors I've actually heard of, and have a clearly outlined, understandable submissions procedure posted. They struck me as the kind of no-nonsense agency I wanted to handle my nonfiction book.

I received a few quick "not for me" rejections, finally started getting some trickles from the February group (rejections), and then on April 12 Andrea requested my five pages. (Inclusion of five pages is requested in her query guidelines, actually, but since the book doesn't actually have to be written if you're querying for nonfiction, I figured she only wanted that for fiction.)

Andrea read my introduction, requested my proposal (plus sample chapter) on May 10, communicated with me a couple more times, and finally ended up saying she wanted to know what I thought about her ideas for where to send the book for publishing. We arranged a phone call and she offered me representation on May 21. I accepted the next day. Normally I might have taken longer to consider her offer, but I only had one outstanding agent proposal in consideration at that point and he'd been silent for seven months, and on top of that, Andrea said all the right things in her phone call. I could tell immediately that she was a perfect match.

Talking with Andrea

I know most of the blogs that discuss agent calls mention the "I WAS SO NERVOUS" thing, but I have yet to feel "nervous" on an agent call. (This was my third, but my first for this book.) That's mostly because I already know or assume the agent likes my book, likes me, and is excited about it, and so that's mostly what I feel on an agent phone call: excitement! Hooray, I'm about to talk to the person who's going to help me take the next step!

I couldn't have been more right about Andrea being a good match for my book. First off, she complimented me a lot and gave me a clear picture of how much we're on the same page. Paraphrased are some compliments and thoughts she offered me:

"I thought first off that the writing was fantastic."

"I thought that this could be a really great resource for a lot of people."

"I also think you can really effectively market it to the people who really need it."

"I loved your conversational tone."

"Everything's very well-written. I do think it's very strong as-is. The changes that I think would need to be made would be more from a marketing standpoint. If there were to be revisions, I would anticipate them being very very minor."

"I really enjoyed it. And you know, you're a very talented writer. It's rare to find someone who's a talented writer, and the book also fills such a hole in the marketplace. It's really wonderful to find."

"I see so many projects a week, and it's nice to come across something that I think is exciting."

"I just think that there's a real need. I think it's really wonderful that you're doing this. And I think it'd be really wonderful if there is such accessible, helpful information out there that people can buy in book form. I think it's very important."

Yeah. So even though I knew she wouldn't be offering representation if she didn't think I was pretty groovy, it's still really touching and a little overwhelming to hear those kinds of words about your own work, and to think she must really mean them if she wants to take a chance on getting my book out into the world.

So I signed with Andrea on May 22, and one thing that really impressed me about her was that she had such a clear idea of who we were going to propose to. She threw out half a dozen names during our phone call--not just publishers but editors she knows personally at those companies--and I could tell she has a fully developed understanding of what these folks acquire and what their tastes are. That's going to be fantastic for the submissions process, and I feel very good about what it's going to mean for the future of this project.

Andrea also was very understanding about explaining their agency's typical procedures with foreign and audio rights, responded very well to my concerns about the contract and modified a couple items to address my comments, and was enthusiastic in follow-up e-mails about further ideas for the proposal and the book. She responded quickly every time and she seems like she's in the same place I am: We can't wait to get started.

So . . . watch this space for news. :) Thanks for reading!


  1. So exciting!! I've actually been dying to read/learn more about asexuality, and now that you've got yourself the best agent in the biz (NOT AT ALL BIASED) I know I'll get to have that book on my shelf soon! Congrats!!

    1. Thanks for the support. :) I already do a ton of activism stuff on asexuality--media interviews, a documentary interview, published articles on the subject, you name it--so if you ever have a question and want me to point you to info you're looking for, I probably got involved with answering the question somewhere on this nutty Internet. However, waiting for the book is always an option! :) Hehehee.