You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know—Questions to Ask a Potential Agent
Yippee, you have an offer of representation, or an agent has asked to speak with you by phone. Yay, you! I know you’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and you are ready to tattoo a giant YES across your forehead in time for that confetti-filled Zoom meeting. But don’t act too quickly. Tattoos are permanent, and an agent’s attachment to your book is permanent, too. Take a deep breath and have a plan. The truth is, we don’t know what we don’t know, so let’s start with a simple reminder: an agent has to believe in you as a career writer of marketable books, but once you have their attention, you need to decide if this is someone you’re willing to be married to for the life of your book(s). That means you are interviewing each other during the call. You absolutely want to have a rapport with an agent, but don’t let a sparkly personality distract you from professionalism. Go into the phone call as if it’s casual Friday—relaxed but still taking care of business.
If multiple agents have your manuscript, let them all know immediately when you have an offer of representation, and ask for a response to your submission by X date (maybe a week for a picture book or a bit longer for a long-form project.) After your conversation with the offering agent, tell her/him that you would like a week to consider. It’s standard procedure, so don’t feel awkward about this.
What do you ask an agent during an introductory phone call?
Much will depend on what you already know from their website, published interviews, etc. Below is a lengthy list of possible questions. Don’t try to ask every single question on this list, but don’t be afraid to ask any of them. Print out this post and highlight the questions that most interest you.
General Agent Process
Do you think my manuscript is ready for submission now or in need of revisions?
Do you already have specific publishers/editors in mind?
Do you generally communicate with your authors about potential editors before you submit?
How many editors do you typically submit to during each round of submission?
How often do you check submission status with editors?
How would you keep me updated about any submission status?
How many years of agenting experience do you have?
How many clients do you currently represent? How many clients would be a full list?
Are you an editorial agent? (Some agents prefer not to give editorial feedback, so it’s good for you to know upfront.)
Do you read your own submissions or do you employ first readers to cull through your submissions?
Are you a member of AAR, Association of Author Representatives? (Not being a member isn’t a deal killer if the agent is experienced and/or is mentored by a well-established agency)
Do you report sales to Publishers Weekly/Marketplace? (Not a deal killer at all. It’s just exciting when your sales are announced in these publications.)
What kind of promotional efforts do you do for your clients? Website, outreach, etc.?
How many sales have you had in the past 12 months? What genres or formats?
What type of books are you most drawn to? (Remember, you are gauging your overall bookish compatibility. Remember the agent represents your career, not just a single book.)
What type of books are you NOT drawn to? Are there genres you do not represent?
How do you balance each client’s projects? Do you prioritize certain clients in any way? (This is a loaded question about whether some clients get more attention than others.)
In what ways do you stay connected with editors and publishers to understand their wants/needs? (Regular lunches or meetings, for example)
How do you prefer to communicate with clients? Email or phone? How often?
How quickly do you respond to your client’s emails or phone calls?
If a client submits a project to you that you choose not to represent, are you opposed to the client submitting directly to editors?
Are you also a writer? If so, how do you juggle those responsibilities and time demands with your agenting responsibilities?
Agency Agreement & Accounting Procedures:
Do you require a signed agent/author agreement?
Are you interested in representing this one project or all my projects? (Ideally, agents represent all of your books moving forward.)
What is your termination clause? (If you ever want to “divorce” your agent.)
What is your standard commission on domestic and foreign sales?
Who handles subsidiary rights for your agency? (Film, foreign, audio, etc) for your agency?
Do you field all gross advances and royalties through your agency, deducting the agency commission, or do you request that publishers send net amounts directly to authors?
What questions do you wish authors would ask more often? (Seriously, don’t miss this question!)
Alrighty, friends, that’s quite enough questions to get you thinking. Be informed. Be prepared. Be relaxed. Be objective. Don’t say yes until you know the agent is the right representative for your work.
Oh, and forget the tattoo and confetti.