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Going On An Agent Hunt


But you still aren’t sure. Is this agent right for me?

 Communication is the key to any good relationship- especially the relationship between a writer and an agent. Before you sign with any agent find out whether you and the agent communicate effectively. Ask lots of questions. Think about the agents answers—both the substantive information (do I like the idea that this agent will be selective about which pieces of my work he or she sends out?) and the manner of communication (Was she eager to talk to me? Did her answers seem straightforward and well considered or was she just telling me what I wanted to hear?)

 When I went looking for an agent I knew it was important to learn more but I didn’t know what questions to ask. I began to collect questions from various sources- friends, websites, conference presentations, and books. Today I’ll share my ideas about topics you may wish to discuss with an agent.

 You may have the opportunity to ask an agent about his or her working style or about the business before you receive an offer or even before a query, at a small conference or some other fairly intimate setting. Most likely you won’t get to “hear it from the horse’s mouth” at least in any great detail, until the agent is close to making an offer or even post offer.


 Communication-  How do you typically communicate with clients (phone, email, face to face)?  How often do you typically communicate- both when work is out being considered by editors and in between? Do you communicate with all your clients as a group in any way (listserv etc)  In general, how quickly do you respond to client calls or emails?

 PreSubmission - Do you work with clients on a book by book basis or are you an agent for a writer's entire career? Do you do editorial work with clients on manuscripts before submission? What is your editorial background?  How does the presubmission  process work? How do you prepare your manuscript pitch to editors and how does your pitch process work? How early do you look at new projects (outline stage? Early drafts? When it’s ready to send out?) How long does it take you to review a client manuscript and what’s your procedure? Do you set aside reading weeks or are you open to receiving work on an ad hoc basis?


Submission- How do you select the list of publishers and editors for a submission? Will I be consulted about this list before my work is submitted? How many houses do you submit in a round, generally? What is your feeling about auctions and if you do conduct auctions what is the format (this may not apply to your work)? What is your policy about follow up with editors when they have a full manuscript? What general time frame to you expect before sending out another round? How many editors would you send work to before “giving up” on a manuscript? How do you handle revision requests? How and when do you communicate editor response to clients- revision requests, rejections, and offers? Do you consult clients on every offer received?

Agency- What is the structure of your agency? Who will be working on my behalf? Who will I communicate with most frequently? Do you have an agency agreement? Can I see that agreement now? Are you open to negotiation on the terms? What fees do you charge to clients (copying, postage, other)  What is your fee and how is that calculated? If the relationship doesn’t work out what are the termination procedures? What about work that you have seen and perhaps had input on but have not sold?

How many other clients do you have? What are your future projections as far as the number of clients and agency size? What staffing accommodations do you plan to address growth in your client base?


So are your eyes rolling around in your head yet?

You don’t have to ask every one of these questions,or even most of them, but it’s a good idea to discuss the topics. And before you sign is the best time to get upfront answers. 

 Tomorrow I’ll suggest LOADS more questions… on branding, career planning, foreign sales, subsidiary rights, royalty payment, taxes and other career stuff.

 But I’m sure my lists of questions don’t cover every base.  What would you ask an agent?




( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
Wow, what a great list! My mind always gets muddled trying to think of questions for agents for the day I might find myself needing to, and this post has helped clear it up a lot.
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
Great post, and I can't think of anything to add as far as questions to ask. This is excellent!
Apr. 18th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Additional questions
I would want to know what would happen if my agent left the agency. Who would process my royalty checks? Would someone else in the agency take over, or would I follow my agent to her new agency? What if my agent leaves the agenting business altogether? What if (God forbid) she were to die?
Apr. 18th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
Great questions, by the way. I'm finding this an incredibly helpful series of posts. Thanks!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )