Pub Rants

You—As Agent Journalist

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STATUS: Doing lots of editing for client material this week (and trying to read sample pages/fulls at night). Also putting the finishing touches on the February eNewsletter. It’s going out this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BACK WATER BLUES by Dinah Washington

I promised I would talk about Qs to ask an agent if you get THE CALL. I think you can pick and choose what’s most important to you but here are some questions I received recently when I offered representation.

First off, I think you should always ask for a copy of the agency agreement. Most of your questions will probably be answered in that document. If an agent operates without one, you’ll want to ask about termination, whether the agency holds rights into perpetuity, how they handle expenses etc. Otherwise, your conversation is more than likely going to encompass how the relationship will operate.

And Blog readers, if you want to add suggestions in the comments, go for it. And I’m not going to state obvious Qs like how long have you been in the biz, recent sales, and if you are an AAR member. That’s all stuff you SHOULD know before querying the agent.

1. If it’s a big agency, ask who will be handling your work. Assistants are great but they should be assisting, not doing all the work.

2. How do you communicate with your clients?

3. How will I be kept informed of the status of my work?

4. How long does it take you to edit a project and how involved are you in the editing process?

5. Do you have co-agents for foreign rights and Hollywood?

6. Do you consult with clients on any and all offers?

7. How do you prefer to handle future projects? Should I run ideas by you first or can I simply write?

8. What if you don’t want to handle a project? What happens then?

9. What kind of career guidance do you offer?

And then you might want to track other indicators. For example, does the agent suggest that you talk with his/her current clients? What’s your gut feeling during the call? Do you feel you connected with the agent–and in whatever way you define “connection.” For some people, it’s a business so does this person feel like he/she will take care of business? For other writers who want more hand-holding, do you feel that needed emotional connectivity that makes you comfortable?

That about covers it—until I remember a prime question I should have included!

24 Responses

  1. December Quinn said:

    I was just about to post what Eileen said. “What did you like best about my book?”

    It would be exciting especially if they liked the things you thought were your specific strengths, but either way I think it would be a really useful question to ask.

  2. JC Madden said:

    Something I didn’t know to ask:

    If you sell something and I terminate the agency contract at a later date, who keeps my rights?

    I actually signed a contract (and am waiting for it to end) with a reputable AAR agent where this particular agent kept my rights even if we parted ways. So I wouldn’t be able to take my book ‘with me’ if I switched agents.

    I had no idea such things were in contracts, but I know what to look for now! Live and learn.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Other questions I asked:

    What do you see as a reasonable expectation for this book?

    Why do you work in this genre?

    Who will handle my work if you are incapacitated in any way?

    How do you feel about clients continuing to submit work to contests?


  4. Anonymous said:

    When will you start submitting my manuscript?

    (I’ve heard horror stories of agents who sat on their new client’s manuscript for months before finally shopping it around.)

    Also: At what point will you stop submitting my manuscript?

    (Because you don’t want an agent who gives up after four or five rejections.)

  5. Joelle said:

    I thought that once an agent signs on a book it always “stays” with them (or the agency) no matter where the author moved on to. Someone wrote about this as if that was unusual. Is it? When you’re an actor the agent who negotiates the contract gets their 10% forever, no matter who reps you later on in your career.

  6. Joelle said:

    Never mind. I just read the explanation of in perpetuity again from September. Ignore my last post. Thanks. I get the cons of an agreement like this, but what are the pros, if any?

  7. Anonymous said:

    Really good stuff. I’m mailing a query her way tomorrow and mayby I’ll get to ask her those questions eventually. That would be too cool.

  8. Keri Ford said:

    How do you feel about your clients wanting to expand their careers into different genres? Say from Romantic Suspense to Paranormal romance?

  9. Anonymous said:

    4. How long does it take you to edit a project and how involved are you in the editing process?

    Take you, the agent, to edit a project? What? Admittedly I’ve only published 40 books in my career, but this is the first time I have heard of an agent “editing a project.” Surely that’s the job of (a) the competent writer her/himself and (b) the, uh, publisher’s editor?

  10. LadyBronco said:

    8. What if you don’t want to handle a project? What happens then?

    I would be very interested to hear an answer to this one, because eventually I will be writing in two totally different genres. What should a writer do if his/her agent does not handle the second genre? Hire a second agent?

  11. Anonymous said:

    Joelle: That would be their 15%. The only time an agent only gets 10% is when they’re co-agenting on a foreign deal in which case the other agent also gets 10% thus the author is giving away 20%.

    Which is totally worth it by the way because they’re working out all the tricky tax problems of selling to another country and also the co-agent in the foreign country really knows their market and is extremely well-placed to sell your books.

    In other words, without your agent and the foreign agent working together you would get 100% of nothing. Instead of 80% of something.

  12. Anonymous said:

    4. How long does it take you to edit a project and how involved are you in the editing process?

    anon 10:13 — I suspect this is a matter of word choice. Remember, there are a few different connotations for “edit”. Though the text says “edit a project”, I took this phrase to mean more, how long does it take said agent to read and provide revision notes on a project? And will the agent suggest revisions or leave it to an assistant?

  13. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Some agents are more into editing than others. If you don’t want an agent who does this, one of the questions you should ask is about whether or not they insist upon eiding before they send the book out. But a lot of agents edit to ready a project for submissions, and feel it is warranted when they and their clients are rewarded with quick deals for lots of money.

  14. Tori Scott said:

    Ask if they charge fees for copying, postage, phone calls, etc. There’s one RWA-recognized agent out there who charges a $45 submission fee!

    Also ask how aggressively they will submit your work. I’ve had some friends burned by agents who sat on manuscripts for a year, or only submitted one manuscript to a handful of editors over a three year period.

  15. Kristin said:

    This is awesome! Thanks so much for giving me a post that I will print and keep forever…or at least until the day I get an agent.

  16. Anonymous said:

    What manner of time frame can I expect between signing the agent contract and dealing with publishers?

    What happens if the agent doesn’t wish to represent something I’ve written? I answered this one for myself. Part ways, I guess. That’s not really in the spirit of the agent/author relationship, is it? Actually, I’d like some clarification on this question; is the book bad, or does the agent just not love it? What if it’s already written? Would the volume of works published have an effect on this stance?