Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Last week we discussed THE CALL when an agent says they want to represent you, and I gave you some ideas of what might happen after you’ve accepted representation. But what about before that—when you’re on the phone with the agent? It’s a good idea to have some questions ready so that you can make an informed decision.
There are a few things you should do before the phone call, if you can. Read the agent’s website. If they have a blog, spend some time browsing around it to get a feel for their personality and opinions. Know what genres they represent, and if they have a specialty. See if they list current clients and books they’ve sold. Try not to waste valuable phone time on questions you can get answered from the internet.
Here is a long list of questions you might consider asking. You don’t have to ask all of them! These are just some ideas.
- What are the terms of the representation being offered? Is there a time limit? Is it for one book, or is it open ended?
- If you and the agent agree to work together, what will happen next? (This is what I outlined in last week’s post.)
- Does the agent use a written author-agent agreement?
- What happens if either the agent or the client wants to end the relationship?
- If the agent/client relationship is terminated, what is the policy for any unsold rights in the works the agent has represented?
About the Agent
- How long have they been an agent?
- How long have they been in publishing, and what other positions have they held?
- What are some titles the agent has sold?
- How does the agent keep clients informed about their activities on client’s behalf?
- Does the agent prefer phone or email, or are they okay with both?
- How often does the agent want the client to check in?
- What are the agent’s business hours?
- Does the agent let you know where and when they submit your work?
- Does the agent forward rejection letters to the client?
- What happens when the agent is on vacation?
- Does the agent consult with the client on all offers from publishers? Does the agent make any decisions on behalf of client?
- What is the agent’s percentage? (Industry standard is 15% with exceptions for some sub-rights sales at 20%.)
- Do payments go through the agent first and then get forwarded to author?
- If so, how long after the agent receives advances and royalties will they send them to you?
- Does the agent charge for mailing? Copies? Faxes? Phone calls? Any other fees?
Career and Editorial Issues
- How close is your book to being ready for submission? Will there be a lot of editing and rewriting first?
- Does the agent help with long-term career planning?
- How does the agent feel about authors switching genres?
- Will the agent help you polish your proposal?
- What if the agent doesn’t like your next book?
Please note, these questions are appropriate to ask only if the agent has offered you representation. Don’t grill an agent with questions like this if you’re at a conference, for example.
There aren’t necessarily right answers to all of these, because there are many legitimate ways for agents to do business. Your main goal is to be informed so you’re not surprised by something later.
And one more thing:
Feel free to talk to a couple of the agent’s current clients (like checking references) and it doesn’t hurt to talk to a couple of publishers, if you have access to them. This can help you get a good handle on the agent’s reputation.
How do YOU want to be represented? Are there any other questions you’d want to ask?
Image copyright: lenm / 123RF Stock Photo
Thank you, Rachelle, for these important suggestions. But If I get “the call,” I’m afraid it will be just one question: “when can we talk again to discuss the details?” Sometime when my brain, heart and lungs are working again–’cause if and when I get “the call,” my brain will be spinning, my heart will be thudding and I’ll be breathless with wonder.
Shirlee – that would be an acceptable question. 🙂
Shawn D Brink
Great info When the time comes for me to have that discussion with an agent, I will certainly use this blog as a guide. Thanks!!!
I always want to know what an agent will do to support new authors.
This is the best list of questions I’ve seen. Thank you!
Would it be appropriate to ask how many other clients the agent has, to gauge how much time they might have for new clients?
You could ask that question, and many authors do, but the answer would be virtually meaningless and would not really allow you to accurately “gauge” anything. There are really good agents who have 80-100 clients. There are other really good agents who have 10 clients. There’s not a general frame of reference that can tell you how much personal attention you’re going to get. That agent who has 10 clients probably has very big and time-consuming clients. The agent who has 100 might be more efficient, have a bigger staff, and/or have fewer obligations outside of agenting. You just don’t know. Most of the Books & Such agents are usually carrying between 30 and 60 active clients, but that doesn’t say anything about how others do it.
–What a helpful list! Thank you.
–If the agent doesn’t volunteer it, I’d like to know why he/she decided to offer representation. What clenched it for them? The story idea, voice, etc.?
–Inwardly, I’d be asking myself if I thought the agent was a good fit personality wise. Do we click or are we on different wavelengths? In short, will this agent be able to put up with me? 🙂
Samantha, the personal fit is all-important! Great point.
I agree with Becky—this is a fabulous list of questions. I can’t think of any other questions that I’d need to ask.
I totally trust this agency. 🙂