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  • Guide to Literary Agents

10 Questions to Ask an Agent Before You Sign

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Contracts and Copyrights and Money, Guest Columns.

You have spent considerable time trying to create the best impression on potential literary agents. You have done so well that an agent has contacted you—congratulations! The tables are now turned. It is time for the agent to impress you. Your objective is to hire an agent you can trust with your money, your work, and your future. It’s all part of finding your perfect match.

   


Felice Prager is a freelance writer and multisensory
educational therapist from Scottsdale, Ariz. Hundreds
of her essays have been published locally, nationally,
and internationally in print and on the Internet. She
is the author of Quiz It: Arizona, from Arthur
McAllister Publishers. See her website here.



Authors are often so excited about finding representation that they sign an agreement without knowing if the agent is an ideal match. In addition to agreement-specific issues regarding money and terms, there are other questions you should ask before you sign anything. These are your interview questions to which there are no “correct” answers. The purpose of the questions is to obtain information that will help you decide whether the agent is a good fit for you and your work.

10 Questions:


1. How long have you been an agent? Tell me about your path to becoming an agent.

2. Are you a writer yourself? (Writing experience can give an agent a better perspective. However, if they’re immersed in numerous projects of their own, it can possibly mean that the agent isn’t totally focused on getting your book published.)

3. How many other clients do you represent? Will this stay approximately the same? (Some agents have short lists and like to keep it that way so they can focus on each client. Others sign many writers in hopes of placing as many books as possible.)

4. Will you be handling my work, or will there be someone else on your staff with whom I will work?

5. Can you tell me about a few recent sales you’ve made? (Though an agent’s track record is important, new agents can make up for lack of experience through enthusiasm, time, and hard work. Also, keep in mind that you can track agents’ sales on sites such as Publishers Marketplace, so you may be able to skip this question.)

6. What publishers do you have in mind for my project?

7. How frequently do you update authors? Do you have a preference for our communication? Will you keep me abreast of where and when my work was submitted—and the outcome? (Don’t enter into a relationship with someone whose communication style will leave you frustrated. A good way to determine this is to ask the agent to describe the ideal client. Is this you?)

8. How close is my book to being ready for submission? Do you foresee much editing and rewriting before it’s submitted? Will you be working with me on this?

9. What co-agents do you work with for foreign rights, film rights and other subrights? Is there someone in-house who specializes in this? Can you tell me about some recent successes selling subrights of a project?

10. Why do you want to represent me? (This will give you a great sense on what they like about you and the project.)


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4 Responses to 10 Questions to Ask an Agent Before You Sign

  1. Chuck,

    Thanks for the great post. I think so many of us don’t think past getting a "yes" from an agent. I’ve only queried a few, but hadn’t even considered what I might want to know past the research I’ve done prior to contacting them.

  2. Kay says:

    Thanks for the summary which covers the points I’ve seen most often to ask about. I’m going to keep it for reference in case the "Call" ever happens.

  3. angela says:

    I would also add that it is important to get a sense of how and when they nudge editors reading manuscripts. A writer needs to have a strong sense of how the agent’s process works, that they adhere to a timeline and that they are very comfortable about doing it. A timid agent in this regard will not be a strong advocate for your career.

  4. Could you be a bit more quantitative about the number of clients that an agent might have when talking about a short list versus a long list? I could ask this question, but if the agent says 25 clients, I wouldn’t know if that was a short or a long list at this point.

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