Surviving THE CALL, part 2: Herding the Mental Cats

Yesterday I talked a little about the lessons I learned that prepared me for THE CALL.

Today’s follow-up looks a little more closely at the experience itself.

It’s a generally-accepted axiom among writers that when your novel is on submission with agents, bad news comes by email and good news comes by telephone. This isn’t always so. My “call” was preceded by a fantastic email from my agent telling me that she loved my manuscript and wanted to represent it. (No, you don’t get the actual text.) I’d heard other authors speak of hearing the news this way, and I actually found it helpful.

It let me get the squee out in private, so I could herd my mental cats when the call came through.

Well, mostly. It took a couple of days for us to connect by phone, and I developed a striking twitch/jump response to the sound of telephones ringing. I also read my email about a thousand times, to make sure I hadn’t dreamed the entire thing. Eventually, though, the call came through and everything returned to normal (well, almost).

You don’t get a breakdown of my conversation with Sandra, but here are the lessons I learned from the call itself:

1. Do not underestimate the power of having someone who does not know you compliment your work, or its ability to completely fry the circuits in an otherwise competent brain. It took me about half an hour to collect myself enough to make something that passed for intelligent conversation.

The corollary to this is:

2. BEFORE you get the call, consider the questions you want to ask an agent and the issues that are important to you as an author.

Do you want representation for all of your work and for your entire career, or only for certain projects? Do you know what kind of publishers you’re hoping to work with? (Note: if your agent already works with an author who’s published by a publisher you fancy, that’s a great advantage in terms of knowing how the publisher does business.) Do you want to write a series or stand-alone books? These are representative questions, but important ones.

Receiving an email in advance of “the call” gave me time to get my mental cats in order. Not all agents call in advance…start thinking about these issues as soon as you can.

3. Write things down. No matter how well-prepared you think you are, your mental cats will scatter the moment the agent introduces himself or herself on the other end of the line. Just trust me here. One minute they’re napping peacefully on the chaise lounges in your head and the next they’re plowed under the cushions, climbing the drapes and swinging from your cerebral chandeliers.

4. It’s ok to stop talking and listen for a minute. (Disclosure: I get an F at this one, and that only because there isn’t a lower grade.) When I get nervous, I talk. At length. About anything and everything. When I finished my call with Sandra, my first thought was “this is awesome,” but my second thought was, “and I should have listened more.” Think, breathe, write things down…and remember to stop and listen when the agent – soon to be your agent – speaks.

That’s one I’ll be working on in the future.

Have you got other suggestions for surviving the call? Hop into the comments and share!