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5 Things Writers Should Ask Potential Agents

Categories: Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig Tags: Brian Klems.

questions-to-ask-an-agentAn agent has offered me representation, but I don’t know how to tell if she’s right for me. What are the most important questions a writer should ask an agent before signing? —Anonymous

There are hundreds of questions you could ask an agent, from the sensible “What attracted you to my book?” to the slightly less sensible “When will you net me my first million?” The key is to choose the ones that will get you the most important information you need to make an informed decision.

Here’s a list of the five most crucial questions you should ask any agent before agreeing to join her client list.

1. Why do you want to represent me and my work?

The agent should be able to answer this easily. Agents generally take on projects that they not only think will sell well, but that they personally admire. This question gives the agent an opportunity to express her interest to you.

[Want to land an agent? Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.]

2. How did you become an agent/get your start in publishing?

You want an agent who has a history in publishing, whether as a junior associate at a well-known agency or perhaps as an editor with a small imprint. You need to be assured that the agent knows the business and has the contacts necessary to give your book its best shot. You might also want to ask if the agent could refer you to one of her clients in your genre as well; getting the perspective of a writer who is in the role you’re about to step into can be invaluable.

3. What editors do you have in mind for my book? Have you sold to them before? Will you continue to market to other editors if you can’t make a deal with your first choices?

This is more of a three-part question, but it’s the overall answer that you want. By asking these questions, you’re checking to see if this agent has connections, and you’re also clarifying her overall game plan. This is key. You want to make sure your expectations are aligned.

[Understanding Book Contracts: Learn what’s negotiable and what’s not.]

4. What books have you sold recently?

This indicates whether the agent has a track record of selling books in your category or genre.

5. Why should I sign with you?

You’re about to enter into a partnership that neither party should take lightly. This is an opportunity for the agent to pitch you, just as you’ve pitched her, and convince you that she’s the right person to represent your work.

You’ll have additional questions more specific to your work, so don’t hesitate to ask them. They’ll simply show the agent that you’re savvy about your book’s target market. Agents are used to these inquiries, so they are unlikely to be surprised by any questions you may have. And if an agent refuses to answer anything on the list above, that should be a red flag that something is amiss.

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Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

 

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5 Responses to 5 Things Writers Should Ask Potential Agents

  1. cecalli says:

    I liked this article a lot, I was clueless about this topic before. And I think having these questions in mind is a win-win process, because as writers, we want to live our books in the best hands. There are tons of agents out there offering services, and I think this is a great guidance. Getting to know the background of your agent is a must.

  2. Some of these questions seem strange to me. My answers?

    #1: Because you asked me, I like your book, and I think I can sell it. Did you think it was more complicated than that?

    #2: It’s on my website. Hopefully you checked me out before you submitted to me, yes?

    #3: I haven’t made that list yet. Why should I do all that work, before I have that signed contract in hand? And of course I have a Plan B. Again, it’s too much work, to give up after just a few submissions.

    #4: See #2

    #5: See #1

  3. alfetherlin says:

    Hello.
    These are great questions, but in our search for an agent, should we not already know which books they’ve recently sold, if they sell well in our genre and how, when and possibly, depending upon the stalker-ish level of our research, why they became an agent?
    I’m interested in the last question. “Why should I sign with you?” “What promises can you give me and are you willing to go to the ends of the market to fulfill them?” I know we writers are willing.
    Thanks for the consistently informative articles.
    Amy Kidd

    • Alfetherlin has a good point. Any writer shopping for an agent should do their research before they submit anywhere.

      I can promise you my best efforts, nothing more. Same as any agent.

      • Mr. Marvel says:

        Yes, but…
        There’s nothing wrong with asking questions you already know the answers too. At this stage in the relationship, how your agent responds, their enthusiasm, style or talent, is much more important that anything they may have slapped up on their website. And when your heart is pounding so loud you can hardly think straight, “safe” questions are a good way to bring the ship out of orbit and safely landed back on earth.

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