Questions to Ask About a Literary Agent

Just because an agent has agreed to take you on as a client, doesn’t mean she’s the right agent for you.  Though it might seem foolish to question it (you’re lucky to even have an agent, right?), you really have to make sure the agent is going to do the job you need and expect.  So before you sign with an agent, ask these important questions.

What’s Her Track Record for Sales?

The most important thing that makes an agent a good one is their track record for sales.  Many agents will have a list of their clients on their website, or you can find publisher-agent deals reported at Publishers Marketplace (subscription required).

How Much Experience Does She Have?

You want to make sure that this agent has experience representing (and selling to publishers!) the type of work you’re hiring her to manage for you.  Remember to consider whether the publishers she has sold to are appropriate for your book.

You should check to make sure your agent is known by people in the publishing industry.  Look online for mentions or references to your agent, and check to see if she’s a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR).

Should You Consider a “New” Agent?

You might find yourself with an offer from a new agent who is trying to build a client base.  If you’re a new author, and especially if you think your book wouldn’t be picked up by one of the “big” publishers, then a new agent might work out just fine.  Even though she hasn’t established sales experience yet, you might take a look at her background and see what kinds of things she’s done so far in the publishing world.  She might have been an editor, or she may have a long history with the agency she’s associated with – is that a good agency with a good track record?  Just make sure she’s in it for the long haul and not just trying this role on for size.

How Has She Treated You Thus Far?

Ask yourself if her communication with you thus far makes you feel confident about having her as an agent.  Is she professional?  Respectful?  Clear and honest?  Does she respond to your calls or emails promptly?  You should make it clear from the start that you will expect good communication from your agent; specifically, keeping you posted on the status of things every step of the way. Don’t make a pain of yourself by calling on a daily basis, or expecting her to drop everything and have a conversation with you at any time of the day or night.  Don’t expect her to treat you like you’re her only client, because hopefully, you’re not.  It’s important to remember that she’ll be working for free until your book is sold – but it’s also OK for you to expect good service.

Do You Feel Like She’s Excited to Represent You?

You should be working with an agent who sincerely believes in you and your work.  She should be interested in making sales, of course.  After all, everyone is doing what they do for the purpose of earning a living.  But she’ll be a better agent if she’s also excited about what she does – and excited about the work and clients she represents.  Remember your agent is going to be handling every aspect of your work from this point forward – financial details, contracts, negotiations.  You have to be able to trust her completely.  And feeling like she’s on your side helps you to have confidence in her.

What You Should Expect From Your Agent

Good communication. The most important thing you can get and should expect from your agent is good communication.  She should be sharing with you any rejections she receives, any meaningful input a publisher might give your work. She should be having discussions with you about how she plans to approach certain publishers, changes she might make to your book proposal, etc. If your book isn’t selling, don’t decide she’s not a good agent.  As long as she’s giving you honest feedback regarding the rejections she’s receiving, then you’ll likely have a good idea about why publishers aren’t buying your book.

Help with your proposal.  A good agent will put effort into making your proposal a good one. She should be doing everything she can to ensure that your pitch/hook/proposal has a good chance of being successful.

She must be knowledgeable about contracts. She should know how much money to ask for, what author rights to insist on.  She should know what’s the current norm, and she should also be able to determine, say, if a publisher offering a somewhat smaller advance might have other “pros” that are to your advantage. Above all, she should know whether she’s getting you the best possible deal.

Your Relationship With Your Agent

A good agent is your business manager and should also be your cheerleader.  She should stick by your side and guide you through the process, and give you support when things go wrong with an editor or publisher. What’s in your best interest should be her priority, both financially and regarding your long-term career.

For More Information

Much of the information in this article was found in blogs written by Jane Friedman.  She is a trusted source for help and information for writers.  You can visit her website here.

You can also visit Writers’ Digest’s “Path to Publication” for tons of help about getting your book published.  Click here.

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