top 10 questions to ask an agent

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’re right. I sound presumptuous. But I want to be ready when I get “the call” from a literary agent.

Right again. The call could be a long way off. But being prepared is smart. And besides, I love list-making.

Here’s why I think this preparation is important: it’s easy to focus on what an agent may expect and need from you. But an agent/client relationship, at its best, is designed to be a true business partnership. As an equal partner, you need to think about what you want and need from an agent too. (I shall not digress into tales of wah from eager author wannabes who closed their eyes, asked no questions and became human ankle bracelets for the first agent who expressed interest. You are far too dear and sensitive for such horror stories.)

And so, here’s a list of questions for you to consider as you do your agent homework.

Disclaimer: Please think of this list as a guideline. You’ll want to customize it to suit your style and situation. That’s what I did. Some of these questions are my own, but I also adapted questions from a list used by my generous friend Kelly Barson (who found a wonderful agent!). Also, keep in mind, you may find the answers to some of these questions online (like the answer to question 6). This will give you room to ask other questions instead.

Get your question list ready. Then you’ll be ready when the agent pops the question: do you have any questions for me? (Whoa. I feel dizzy. I wrote myself into a circle there.)

1. If you work within a house, would I be considered your client or a client of the house? (In other words, if the agent moves on, are you connected to that house or will you move with him/her?)

2. Do you offer a representation contract or a verbal agreement? (Some writers might be uncomfortable with formal contracts, while others would feel too vulnerable with a verbal agreement. You need to ask for what’s best for you.)

3. You’re basing a decision to represent me on one work. What if you don’t love the next project? Do you refuse to send it out? Do you try to find it a home anyway? Do I have the latitude to branch into another genre (e.g., from MG novels to picture books)?

4. What will my working relationship with you look like?

5. How far do you typically go editorially? Do you request in-depth rewrites? A little tweaking? None at all?

6. Are you a member of AAR? (The Association of Author Representatives member agencies agree to abide by a code of ethics.)

7. How much communication do you provide? And how will you typically provide it–email, phone, telepathy? (Some agents only talk to you when there’s a deal to discuss or if there’s a problem brewing. They leave you alone to write. Others are more hands-on determining the next project, checking in during the writing process, giving feedback, updating on submissions, etc. You need to decide how much autonomy you want or if hand holding through the initial stages is exactly what you need.)

8. Will I be dropped if my work doesn’t sell right away or are you committed, no matter how long it takes? Is there a time limit? At what point would you ask me to move on to something else (or to someone else)?

9. What are your greatest strengths as an agent? (If you’re feeling brave–ask about weaknesses too, but be prepared to answer the same question about yourself!)

10. Could you describe your ideal client?

BONUS NEWS . . .

Not quite ready to begin your agent search? Here’s a fabulous opportunity to learn the fine art of revision. You’ll know how to make your work as polished as possible before you start your hunt.

Revision Retreat 2014 with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson

In this working retreat, Harold Underdown and editor Eileen Robinson will teach proven techniques for self-editing and revising and work with writers on their manuscripts. Mornings will be dedicated to revision techniques and afternoons to model critique groups, individual meetings, and writing time.

Hurry! Spaces are limited to allow for individualized attention.

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. ~ Harper Lee

15 responses »

  1. This is so great Vicky! I think these questions hit the nail on the head when it comes to negotiating with an agent. When I got my first agent these were the things I wanted to know, but I didn’t have them written down in such a concise way. I especially love number 3. I really wish agents would be open to seeing a portfolio of projects rather than just zeroing in on one piece. I think we all want to believe that our agent is our agent, representing us as an author, not just from project to project. But anyway, thanks so much for this and for the link about the revising workshop:)

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  2. These are good, Vicky! 🙂 I’d also ask for a client list if you don’t already have one, and for contact info for some of the clients so you can email them. Then have a short list of questions to ask them (including “What don’t you like about this agent,” “How long does it take to get your emails answered,” and “Would you sign with this agent again?”).

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