5 Questions Writers Should Ask Potential Agents

questions-to-ask-an-agentThere 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 his or 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.


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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Brian 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.

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8 thoughts on “5 Questions Writers Should Ask Potential Agents

  1. Jackie

    Definitely a lot of good things to keep in mind. However, I hadn’t been lucky enough to actually get to this point. Years ago, I queried a dozen agents in my genre and nobody who replied had any interest. I understand it’s a tough business, but also a dangerous one if you don’t do your homework. If an agent finally gives me the time of day, I’d want to sign and move forward because it feels like I might not have another chance. And of course parts of me doubt I’m any good, which is why no one has had any interest in the book I wanted to publish.
    At the end of the day, it is good that websites like this exist so up and coming writers have more of an idea of what they’re doing.
    Sorry to be so negative, but I gave up trying to get that one book published 4 years ago because nobody would represent me. And I tried to editing to make the book better based on what advice all these websites had and it got me to the point of no return where I couldn’t continue on with it. I started on something new and I’m taking my time with it- although part of me thinks I’m delaying the inevitable- that I’m really not good enough and the one thing I want to do with my life never happens.

    1. Elizabeth West

      It’s so easy to talk yourself out of it–I know the feeling very well! But just because it didn’t happen with that book doesn’t mean it won’t. Maybe you weren’t ready yet. I’ve written five books, and it’s only on the last one that anyone wanted to take a look (so far, it’s only been one person). I still don’t know what if anything will happen, but that hasn’t stopped me from moving forward with other books. And it shouldn’t stop you. The more we write, the better we get. 🙂

      Don’t give up!!

  2. cecalli

    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.

  3. Steven Hutson

    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

  4. alfetherlin

    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

      1. Mr. Marvel

        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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