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Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting Stephanie Meyer's Mojo

The fact that vampires are sweeping the fantasy genre (again) comes as no surprise to any of us. They are and always will be ingrained into our literary history. After the popularity of Anne Rice's work there was a bit of a breather. Anne Rice was phenomenal in her time and she appealed to a large audience which is not easy to do. Then along came Laurell Hamilton. In the beginning I loved Laurell's books about Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. They were full of action and suspense. Then around book four or five the character took a dive from an independent woman with morals and standards to a sex addicted slut who couldn't stop herself from sleeping with every breathing man out there. If I had been looking for a porn book that would have been fine, but I wanted my action hero back, the one with morals. It was not going to happen so I stopped buying her books altogether. Did she commit career suicide? No, she just changed her target audience and ended up losing some readers while gaining new ones.

In Laurell's wake a lot of good authors have emerged who write a pretty good vampire story but none of them really grabbed the market by the throat until Stephanie Meyer. Did I read Twilight? Hell yes, I had to just to find out what was so great about this writer. And I loved it, couldn't get the next book fast enough. So what is so great about this writer? Ask different people you'll get different answers, and really your answer lies in that. She has figured out exactly who her target audience is and what they want. Which is why most men will roll their eyes when you mention Twilight and most women will go all dreamy eyed. I don't necessarily like that (SPOILER!) Bella gives up everything, including her humanity, for the man she loves at such a young age, but it didn't ruin the story for me.

Getting Stephanie's mojo is as easy (and as difficult!) as figuring out who your target audience is and what they really want deep down. Know your readers and you will be successful!

For an extra treat check out this link to see what Laurell says about Stephanie. The claws are out on this one girls! http://popwatch.ew.com/2009/07/31/this-weeks-cover-vampires/?xid=rss-feed-todayslatest-Vampires%21+First+look+at+EW+cover

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Do You Look For In a Book?

Being a lover of a good fantasy novel, I look for an escape from this world. But if it were that simple I wouldn't have such a hard time finding something to read. I visited my local Barnes & Noble store to look for a new book to read. I perused the shelves of fantasy thoroughly, then went back and did it again. Empty handed and desperate, I was left wondering what exactly I was looking for in a book. It occured to me that if I could answer this question I'd have an insight into what other readers of my genre are looking for.

I must admit, the cover is the first thing to draw me in. Yes, I'm ashamed of that, but alas, it's true. I'll pick up a book with a great cover almost every time. It doesn't even bother me if it's second in the series. The cover got me to pick it up so I'll put in the time to go back and look for the first book. Unfortunately out of the three second or third in a series books that I picked up, I couldn't find the first one in any of the series in the store! Being a budding author myself, I love debut authors and I'll pick up their book every time if it indicates that on the cover. I kind of doubt those who don't write do this though.

Beyond debut authors and great covers, what was I looking for? Well, I knew what I wasn't looking for that was for sure. War epics, stories of Gods, or anything steeped too much in court intrigue are immediate turn offs for me. Not to say that I wouldn't or haven't read these kinds of books, I have, and some of them are on my shelf of favorites (Starman, Dune, Shogun). But, they're not what I'm into right now. I found myself picking up a lot of covers with chicks with swords on them. There is little more I love than a strong female protagonist. Go girl power! But, and it's a BIG but, I'm sick of demon hunters, half vampires, or other Buffy knockoffs. Again, don't get me wrong, I'm a Joss Whedon worshiper and was crushed when Buffy was finally canceled, but I wanted something different! Alas, I reverted to the classics and walked out of the bookstore with an anthology of Edgar Allen Poe's work.

Did I discover anything about what readers want? Well, I'm a reader and I know I wanted something different than what I found on the shelves. Something with adventure, swords & sorcery, strong female protagonists, but please don't spare the testosterone (I love a man with a sword!), and free of the drama that plagues my everyday life. That I didn't find it doesn't discourage me. Perhaps that means the next great thing is just around the corner, perhaps it will emerge from my own keyboard, perhaps yours. Who knows. . .

So what do you look for in a book?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Impressing Agents in Today's Industry

I wish I could tell you it's easy, but I can't, as those of you trying probably already know. It's not just because they're picky or they're looking for something specific, though those reasons do come into play. The main reason it's so hard to impress an agent is because the world is full of good writers and bad writers and every one of them has access to agents via the internet or mail. In the past it wasn't as easy to reach agents. The web has revolutionized that, which is good and bad.

It's a big wide world and there are some seriously talented writers out there, which makes it harder for each of us to impress an agent. When agents have read books like The Power of One, The Notebook, and The Sword of Truth (to name only a few of this decades greats) they'll be looking for something a bit more spectacular than they were before. It's only natural for one's expectations to rise once they've experienced something great. What are we to do? Believe it or not, I've covered that before. Never stop improving your work! Each one of the greats was like us once and to impress anyone they had to keep polishing their novels.

There are also bad writers out there making it harder for us as well. The slush pile isn't made up of all hidden gems waiting to be discovered folks. You're fantastic manuscript might be buried beneath a slew of others that can't even string a sentence together. There's good news in that too though. If an agent reads through a half dozen terrible manuscripts then comes upon yours, it will shine all the brighter. The problem is it will take them a while to get to it. How to help this? The same way really. Make sure your manuscript is the very best it can be before you send it out. If you think to yourself that maybe it could be better but you're just going to throw it out there and see how it's received, DON'T! Not to say you have to be a perfectionist, you don't. If you feel it has been edited thoroughly (either by yourself or a professional) and you've got at least a friend or family member's opinion (it helps to have someone else read it and look for errors) then go for it! What if you don't have anyone to read it? Join a writers group, check out AuthorNation.com, or if all else fails, read it aloud. Whatever you have to do, don't give up if you believe in the potential of your work!

Here's a story about a writer who got an agent: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/How+I+Got+My+Agent+Carrie+Wilson+Link.aspx

Monday, July 27, 2009

Marketing Ideas

I'm always on the lookout for new marketing ideas for one's writing. Don't get me wrong, I'm a believer in traditional publishing and will fight until I'm blue in the face to achieve that goal. However, even if an editor buys your work that doesn't mean the house will do all your marketing for you. They'll have a plan of course, but if you don't snag a huge advance your marketing plan is likely to be minimal. In which case, it's time for you to step in and take the reins. And of course for those who self-publish it's completely up to them.

One of my Twittering friends came up with a brilliant idea. He Twittered about offering a short story of his for free. When I asked him about it he said it was a way to bring more readers to his work than if he had just placed it on his website, and he's right.

And you thought Twitter couldn't do anything for you! If he has say fifty followers and only half of them check out his site, that's still 25 new readers! You can't beat free marketing folks. Of course FaceBook or MySpace can do the same. These tools are out there for us to use, making it easier and easier to do our own marketing.

Check Jon and his ideas out at: http://www.jonfmerz.net/ or https://twitter.com/jonfmerz

Friday, July 24, 2009

Whose Story Is It?

Figuring out who's point of view your story should be in is essential to it's success. My first book had six main character, oh yes, six. I loved them all and thought each one of them was strong enough to be the story's protagonist. However, I made the mistake of not picking one and wrote it from an observer's point of view. I even made the horrible mistake of occasionally jumped into different characters heads, without a change of chapter or a break. You can imagine how incredibly hard this was to read. Hey, when I make a mistake, I go all out.

That's not to say this kind of thing can't be done. However, you must be an experienced writer to pull it off and 99% of the time, if it's your first book it won't get picked up if it's written that way. This is often seen as an amateur mistake and agents and editors will usually pass on a book written like this.

So I had to fix my book. The really hard part was deciding who's story it was going to be. I loved all six of them and thought they all would make a great protagonist. But I had to pick. So I looked hard at the plot line and saw whose story had the most ties into it. Once I did that he jumped right out at me, practically smacking me upside the head. It was that obvious. The other characters are all still integral to the story and are strong characters in their own right, with whom I could easily do an offshoot novel. However, they will have to wait for their time in the lime light. By the way, I don't recommend having six strong characters with integral parts in the plot, it is a lot of work! I can't wait to write a book with just one or two!

Here are some great links on the subject:
http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2009/07/23/DoesYourNovelFallVictimToTheProtagonistGoalSwitcherooPlotProtagonistSecret2.aspx
http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2009/07/24/YourProtagonistMustHaveAGoalPlotProtagonistSecret3.aspx

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting Inside an Agent's Head

Once you're able to do this your chances of finding representation explode. However, before I tell you how to do it you must understand that no matter how well you get to know an agent, they are only going to represent you if they love your book. Like your mother taught you, no means no and when an agent says it that means its time to move on, not plead your case. They will not love it more if you can just explain it to them in person. It's your writing you're trying to sell them on, if it didn't convince them in the first place the spoken word certainly won't. Even if an agency lists their phone number on their site you should never call them unless you're invited to or you become a client of theirs.

Once you get to know an agent and think they will be perfect for your work, it's even harder when they say no. This is especially true if you think you'd work well with them. I'm speaking from experience here folks. But, be noble and take it like a pro if it happens. Now that you've been forewarned, on to how to do it:

Look up their agency on the web. If they have a web site it is a huge advantage and a way to at least see how they present themselves and their clients. I love agents who brag about their clients on their website. If they don't have a site and you think they'd still be a good match for you, that doesn't mean you have to give up, you just have to look harder. Check FaceBook and MySpace, see if their agency has a page, or better yet if they personally have one. See if they're on Twitter. Follow them in these areas will give you a huge insight into the way they work and what they like. I've discovered volumes about agents by following them. You might even get lucky enough that they'll follow you too! And of course, there is little I love more than an agent who blogs. They'll tell you practically everything you want to know about their work style and what they like and dislike that way, it's fantastic! Last, but definitely not to be discounted, is attending conferences or writer's retreats and meeting the agent face to face. This one is expensive but remember, it's your future you're investing in. If you're able to go conferences can really get your foot in the door. But if not don't despair, with the world wide web there aren't many obstacles that can't be overcome.

Here are some examples of why I follow people in the industry (ALERT! Query letter advice!): http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2009/07/21/5ElementsOfQueryLetters.aspx
And for my dedicated readers here is a continuation of an agent's dislikes in a query: http://www.johnsonliterary.com/blog/2009/7/23/slush-realization-round-up.html

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Who to See at Comic Con



What does Comic Con have to do with that incredible picture? Well, the picture is the reason I cannot go this year. My tropical adventure tapped my finances! But I'll be there in spirit!

Don't be fooled by it's name, Comic Con is definitely not just all about comics. It's also about movies, anime, and yes, books! A lot of great authors attend Comic Con and do signings. It is a crazy time, full of wild fans of all things entertainment and an excellent place to network if you're a writer.

If you're going this year be sure to check out Eldon Thompson, author of The Crimson Sword, The Obsidian Key, and The Divine Talisman. If you enjoy epic fantasy with a bit of hack and slash and some incredible imagery, you'll love him. Also check out Sarah Rees Brennan, outstanding debut young adult author of The Demon's Lexicon.

See what it's all about at: http://www.comic-con.org/

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barnes & Noble Makes Leap Forward in E-Books

Whether we're ready or not technology is rising and the Barnes & Noble booksellers are definitely ready. They've just announced an e-book that can be read on a wide variety of devices. Now you don't have to own a kindle and buy your e-books only from Amazon! The monopoly has been shattered! I am really excited about this because I am not a fan of Amazon (gasp!). I haven't bought a thing from them since they posted only bad reviews of a friend's book. My feelings on Amazon aside, this is exciting news from Barnes & Noble because competition is always a good thing for the market and consumers. Check out their story on it here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6672066.html?desc=topstory

Personally, I'm not into e-books. I like the feel and smell of an actual book. I love the cover art, turning the pages. It's not just a reading experience but a physical one. I'll never stop reading and collecting actual books, but it's good to see that books are surviving in the ever advancing entertainment industry.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Word count: How Long is Too Long?

Is there even such a thing as too long when you're writing a book? I mean, the story is what it is right? Well . . .

I'm a dual genre writer, fantasy and young adult and when I crossed over I wasn't sure what the word count in young adult should really be. My first fantasy novel began as a 160,000 word behemoth. At the time I had no idea that word count was way over the top and likely the reason a lot of agents turned it away. The word epic came up a lot in my first rejection letters.

I was tremendously lucky that an agent saw something sparkling brilliantly beneath the mountain of words. His critiques taught me how to tone down, cut back, and reveal the true beauty of the novel. But at 140,000 words, it is still considered by most to be a really long novel. As far as the fantasy genre goes though, it's still long, but not too bad.

When I wrote my first young adult novel it surprised me by ending at around 73,000 words. I thought I'd done something wrong, left something out maybe. I was afraid no one would buy such a short novel. Then I started researching the average length of young adult novels and reality sank in. I was right in the average! Considering the story felt very complete, that was a huge relief.

So how much do you really need to stress about word length? That depends on your agent, or the agents you plan to submit to. Editors can tweak things like word count on a page to make your book seem either longer or shorter. Pick up a few different books off your shelves and count how many words are on a page. The variation may surprise you. One book may have 250 words a page and another may have 500. It all depends on font size and spacing. However, be forewarned that many agents may not be willing to take on the daunting task of a 115,000 plus word novel.

Here is one agent's take on word count: http://www.johnsonliterary.com/blog/2009/7/14/a-word-on-word-count.html Considering I have trouble keeping an adult novel under 130,000, I must admit, I just about spit my coffee all over my poor laptop when I read this. However, this is something I'll be working on in the future!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Editing: Choosing Your Battles

Once an agent has offered you representation should you expect to do editing? Absolutely. But wait, you say, if they want to represent my book doesn't that mean they love it as is? Yes, and no. Certainly they love it and feel as if they can sell it, or they wouldn't have offered in the first place. However, that doesn't mean they won't want to polish it up a bit. After all, they know how to make your work shine just right to catch the eye of a publishing house. Finding and polishing literary gems is what they do.

But how much should you agree to change at this early stage in the game? That all comes down to choosing your battles and realizing what's best for your story. If you missed cutting any of the fat your agent will find it and most likely recommend cutting it. A hint to catching more of it during your own editing is to look for any and all excess or unnecessary words such as 'that', and too many verbs. Those are things you shouldn't stress over cutting.

So why choose your battles, why not stand up for your book as a whole to protect its integrity? The main reason is because you want the agent to want to work with you again. If you're difficult to work with at every turn there is a good chance they'll drop you after the one book. If you only plan on writing one book that may not be such a problem, but for those of you who plan on writing another (or already have) you must choose your battles.

After cutting the fat (trust me, it's a huge blessing for you and the agent if they don't have to do that part!), then they'll get down to the story. They'll look for anything that doesn't flow or isn't integral to the plot of the story. If they suggest it doesn't flow they're probably right and you should seriously consider either cutting anything like that or changing it so it does flow. A break in the flow is not a good thing. If they want you to cut something they don't think seems integral to the plot, its time to sit down and rethink that scene. Is it integral? Will it tie into a second or third book down the line? If so, explain why and fight to keep it. You may be asked to get rid of non essential characters. I had a character in one of my books that died only a few chapters in. While I liked him, he didn't really add anything important to the book so when my agent suggested I cut him completely, I did. However, if I had plans for him to reappear in a follow up book, I would have fought to keep him.

Aside from wanting to work with your agent again, there is a secondary reason you want to choose your battles. When an editor picks you up chances are they may ask your agent how you are to work with. If there is any chance your story needs much work at this point in the game you really want that answer to be a positive one or the agent may pass.

Take a good hard look at your agent's critique. Understand that they have your book's success in mind. Stand up for what is necessary and be ready to let go of what isn't.

The Literary World is Evolving, are You?

Chances are since you're reading this the answer is yes. But are you evolving enough for your writing career? This was a question I had to ask myself, and the honest answer was no I wasn't. There was a time where you wrote your novel, submitted it and then things were pretty much out of your hands from there. Today an author is much more involved in the entire process, including promotion of the novel. So what do you need to do to keep up with the evolution of the literary world? As long as you have a computer (or access to one) you're well on your way.

Today a lot of successful authors not only have a great website, but they blog, Twitter, and have a MySpace or Facebook page. Do you have to do all of these things to have a strong web presence? Absolutely not. Like most things in life, pick the things you're good at and focus on them. If you like to chat in an almost texting style format, then Twitter might be for you. If you like to talk about all the things that interest you, post pictures, and such, then Facebook or MySpace might be for you. Blogging might be for you if you have something to share with others. The thing to remember in blogging is that if its all about you, people will lose interest (unless you're a celebrity in which case, you don't need to worry about your web presence!). They want to read about something that interests them or that helps them in some way. Once you're published and famous, then they'll love to hear all about you, but save most of that content for that point in time.

So should you wait until your published to begin all this? Not necessarily. Beginning these things now will allow people to get to know you a bit and start to build readers, which is what the publishing industry refers to as a platform. Even if you only gather a few people, at least you have begun. The best part about it is you will have started to meet people with similar interests and you'll have started to network. And as we all know, networking is key in the literary field!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Success Story

What I had planned on blogging about today must wait. I got HUGE news from a friend of mine. You've heard me rave about Aprilynne Pike's book Wings (under my post, What I'm Reading)and dedicated readers of mine know that I was quick to announce when she hit the New York Times Juvenile Bestseller list. Now I have even bigger news from her. Her debut title, Wings, has been optioned by Disney! Disney folks, can you believe it? I'm so excited for her I can hardly breath!

Just like you and I, getting published was just a dream to her not long ago. And just like you and I can, she achieved that dream by hard work, diligence, and patience. She is living proof that it can be done (with great success!) and still happens in today's world. I know that at times it can seem like the odds are stacked against you and that agents and editors just aren't picking up good books anymore. But if you are patient and never stop writing, there is a much greater chance that one of your books will some day break through with great success just like Aprilynne's!

If you haven't checked her book out yet you should. It's a delightful and refreshing teen read. Considering who Disney has slated to star in the movie, you better run out and get this book for any of the teen girls in your family because they'll soon be screaming for it! Check out her news here: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118005989.html?categoryid=13&cs=1&ref=bd_film
http://apparentlyaprilynne.blogspot.com/2009/07/disney-and-me.html

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Bad Do You Want It?

Your success in publishing will ultimately come down to this question. Of course there is a degree of talent, luck, and timing thrown in, but once those come together it will become about how bad you want it. The first hardship is wading through the rejections. Many writers with a great story give up because this part of the process can be so discouraging. See my previous entry on turning rejection into motivation. You can get through this part, don't despair!

Once you've been picked up there is a mountain of work ahead of you and you'll need a lot of motivation to climb it. First will be the round (s) of edits your agent recommends. At times they'll be brutal so you will need the skin of a rhino. Just remember they are ultimately for the good of your novel and your agent has the work's success in mind. Next get ready for rejection all over again. When it's ready your agent will begin submitting it to editors and the rejection letters could very well begin again. Don't fret though, your agent will likely approach several editors over the course of a year and just because the first few say no doesn't mean they all will. Editors are like agents after all and they really have to be excited about your work to be willing to pick it up. If you're really lucky your book could go into auction, meaning several editors are interested and a bidding war will ensue. This is definitely cause to celebrate if it happens.

When that magical moment finally arrives and a publisher offers you an advance, the work is still not over. From here there will be several rounds of editing (yes, more editing) and this time there will be deadlines. Expectations are high, and rightly so because they've invested money into you. Finally, when all of that is finished, you're still not done. You can't expect the publishers to do all the promoting for you. Some do very little, some do a lot. This often depends a lot on the size of the advance. The more they invest in you, the more they have at stake.

Be prepared to do some of your own promoting, and it never hurts to start ahead of time. Start building your platform from the moment you finish your novel. Blog, Twitter, join an online writers group or website. An established platform will look very attractive to both agents and editors. Platform=readers, it's that simple. Also, be prepared to set up your website for your book once it's been picked up by a publisher. They may not offer you a site, or might just give you a mention on theirs. It will help bring readers to you and keep the one's you have if you plan on having a good site.

Now that mountain is starting to look like Everest isn't it? This is why you can have a phenomenal book but still fail if you don't want it really bad. But now you are forearmed, knowing is half the battle!

Discouraged? Check out this success story from an author who self published first: http://www.crunchgear.com/2009/07/11/indie-kindle-author-lands-book-deal/

Monday, July 13, 2009

Turning Rejection into Inspiration

Unfortunately, rejection is a huge part of the literary business. The thing to remember is that it's all about finding the right match. When an agent says 'I'm sorry but I'm just not right for this project', it's not a cop out, it's actually true. Anyone who is less than enthusiastic about your work isn't right for you. Just as often you'll hear, 'it's just not what I'm looking for', or 'it didn't grab my attention like I'd hoped it would'. So what are you to do?

First, don't give up. Use their rejection to inspire you to better your story. The last thing you should do is shelve it because fifty people or more said no. If you got a lot of the first reason then you most likely just need to research those you're sending it to a little more intensely. At the same time though, make sure you have edited your work to the very best of your ability. The submission stage is no time for grammar errors or bad sentence structuring. Unfortunately, editors don't expect to edit as much as they once did. Besides, a really polished piece of work makes you look like a pro and goes a long way in impressing both an agent and an editor. As a first time writer the odds are already stacked against you, but if you ...

Read the rest on my editorial blog, Enigmatic Editor. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Writer's Business



Before the heavy thoughts I wanted to share an inspiring photo from my vacation. Now right into it:

That one's easy, a writer's business is to write, right? Wrong. A writer's business is to entertain. It's nice to think of writing a novel you are completely in love with and want to share with the world. Nice and unrealistic. The truth of the matter is, the public must be in love with it. If you are too then that's just a wonderful coincidence. I'm not saying don't write what you love, by all means please do. But if you want to make your writing a business you must make the public happy because when it comes down to it, writers are in the entertainment business. If our novel isn't entertaining to others, they won't buy it. Which means agents probably won't pick us up because they know editors won't buy it. That's where that vicious cycle of what's selling at the time comes in. Timing in the entertainment industry is why some really fantastic books get passed over.
If you've wrote a book you feel very confident about and it's just not selling don't get discouraged. It could just be your timing. What doesn't sell this year might sell next year. Shelve it, maybe do a little editing, then try again the next year. It's easy to get discouraged after dozens upon dozens of rejection letters. But remembering that it could just be your timing can take some of the sting out.

You can even go a step further into the entertainment industry and think about your book being made into a movie. Many of us dream of seeing our characters up on the big screen. But how to go about that? It isn't all up to your agent, in truth it's more up to your book. Some books just aren't going to make good movies and that's fine. But if you want your book to have a shot at it it's a good idea to think about that as your writing it. Here's some great advice on the subject from a literary manager: http://kenatchity.blogspot.com/2009/07/five-things-to-consider-when-writing.html

If you're not planning on making a business one day out of your writing then relax and just enjoy the process. But if you really want to dive into the entertainment industry start keeping track of what's selling in your genre, how its being marketed, and if it's being made into a movie. Best of luck!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Multiple Requests to Read Your Manuscript

Wow, if only we all had that problem, huh? But what happens if you do? Since I had to answer this question I thought I'd share my experience just in case it happens to any of you (crossing my fingers for you that it does!). The first thing to remember is that at this point your writing is becoming a career and you have to treat it that way. These folks are kindly asking for your material on which they will spend a considerable amount of their time. That said, we must be courteous to those who have already begun reading our work and have started investing their time.

The last thing you want to do is send the entire manuscript out to everyone who requests it without communicating with those who already have a partial or the entire piece of work. That could be career suicide. Once someone has already begun to read your entire manuscript if another asks to read it, it's a really good idea to ask the first agent if they'd like an exclusive read. Imagine being an agent and reading a potential clients entire manuscript, putting a lot of time and effort into it, and then the client pulls the rug out from under you and says 'thanks but I've been offered representation by someone else'. If they're taking their time to consider our work we need to take the time to be considerate of them.

Does this mean you have to go with the first agent who says yes, especially if others are interested? No, of course not. Finding an agent is like finding a spouse; it can be incredibly difficult to find the right one. However, if you did your research on the agents you submitted to in the first place and didn't just throw out a blanket of query letters, you're already well on your way to finding the right agent. Keep up the communication with any who have asked to read your work, even if you're unable to send it out right away because someone else has asked for an exclusive look. You never know if the first agent will end up passing on the project or offering to take you on.