The Power of No

Super Agent’s phone number pops up on your caller I.D. and before he can even utter “Hello,” you scream, “YES! I’m all yours!”

Your unabashed acceptance is similar to going all the way on a blind date. Sure, it happens, but is it the wisest choice? Desperate writers are so thrilled to have any professional interest in their work that they sometimes sign away years of writing effort with barely a glance at the dotted line. If an agent is offering you the moon, it may turn out to be a useless moon rock.


Guest column by Alison Ashley Formento, author
of the picture book, This Tree Counts! (March 2010;
Albert Whitman & Co.). See her website here

Take a few wary moments to think before you sign and seal yourself to someone who might not be the best business partner to sell your writing. “No, thank you,” and a quick hang-up might be the best response if you experience any of the following statements during a phone call from a potential agent:

        1. “I love your literary novel in verse, but you’ll need to add in three hot vampire fairies so I can get the editor I have in mind for this.”

Response: You hold back a scream and ask, “Did you actually read my novel?”

2. “I only rep nonfiction, and while I’m subbing your memoir, I’m sorry, you can’t send out those rhyming picture books. You’ll have to sign an agreement not to submit any outside work for a year, including magazine or e-zine work.”

Response: “Well, signing this will get me out of writing the PTA newsletter.”

3. “Never phone or e-mail. I’m too busy. I’ll contact you if I hear from an editor about your novel.”

Response: “So if I don’t hear from you ever, you’re saying that’s normal?”

4. “I’m sponsoring a retreat for potential clients—for those like you, who have the “it” factor. It’s a four-day weekend at the Des Moines Hilton and I’ll choose my new clients from those that attend. Send your $1,500 non-refundable registration fee to my P.O. box. Cash only, please.”

Response: “This sounds fantastic. If only I hadn’t thrown $1,500 down the garbage disposal this morning.”

It’s not easy, but knowing when to say “No” is a powerful asset, especially when choosing the person you want to represent your writing career. And when you get that great phone call and make a connection, you can be ready with the response of “YES!”

If you want to compose books of little ones,
seek out Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford
Paul, whose own picture books have
won numerous awards.



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