Pub Rants

One More Question To Ask During The Agent Interview

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STATUS: Totally on a 70s kick!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WE DON’T TALK ANYMORE by Cliff Richard

I get that a good majority of you might be thinking “could I just get to that place where I’m asking agents questions because they want to rep me” but in the event that you do, I think there is one more question you should add to your list:

Do you enjoy agenting and do you see yourself being an agent for the long-term?

Now, of course, an agent can always agree in an enthusiastic affirmative and still leave 6 months or a year later but I imagine authors don’t often ask this question. The answer could be interesting or telling. (Or it might not.)

I bring it up because I recently read about an agent leaving the agenting biz to take an in-house publishing job.

Big deal, right? Well, not really but we here at NLA were kind of bummed because this agent-no-longer had landed a client or two that we had been vying for when the author was on submission to agents.

This doesn’t mean that they would necessarily have gone with us at the time if the author had asked that question.

Still, probably worth adding to your list.

27 Responses

  1. ryan field said:

    Jenna, I was curious about the same thing.

    But I would imagine the author signed a contract and she/he was passed to another agent within the same agency.

  2. Meagan Spooner said:

    But do you really think an agent would answer, “Actually, I plan to leave in six months?” Knowing that this would mean that the author probably wouldn’t sign with them, wouldn’t it basically put them out of work until they decided to leave for the next job?

    Maybe I’m being overly cynical, though. It’s definitely a question I’d like to ask!

  3. Anonymous said:

    Well probably, had those clients asked that agent at the time, she would have replied that of course she planned to continue agenting.

    I doubt that the decision was made lightly.

  4. Graystone said:

    That is a great question to ask, especially since it’ll have such a huge impact on the client(s). I’ve been hearing a lot of stories about agents just dropping off the face of the earth or moving up, so I think it’s a nice thing to consider whether you’ll be together for a while or whether that won’t be the case. I’d definitely want someone to be with me throughout my entire career, and if the agent doesn’t think that’ll happen, I should get a heads up, I think.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Agents don’t make a salary; they live on commissions.

    Newer agents, those without a track record, while they may be looking to build a client list and therefore easier to connect with for a new writer, may also be a risky bet.

    Especially in the current economic climate. How do they survive? Most have other jobs. If they don’t make it within a year, they leave. No choice. Not an easy business in which to survive, let alone succeed.

  6. Krista V. said:

    Great question to ask. Just as agents probably want to know how we envision our careers five, ten years down the road, we should want to know the same thing about them.

    I wonder how often this happens, especially since a lot of agents used to be editors.

  7. justwritecat said:

    That seems a valid question, but it’s possible that someone wouldn’t anticipate a career switch in six months (or job switch within the same industry).

    I could see several situations where a person is going along just fine, and then finds either another opportunity that simply feels right or things don’t work out as hoped – and a change is needed.

    I guess it seems like your post is suggesting that the agent was not forthcoming about her or his career plans. That might not have been the case. But maybe I read the post the wrong way.

  8. Steve Masover said:

    This happened to a friend of mine a few years ago, but his agent was independent so he was faced with the prospect of starting all over again to look for representation. It was pretty sobering.

    I agree with other comments that suggest that an agent may not be able to anticipate how her/his career or life is going to unfold … life is uncertain, after all, if it weren’t what would we write about?

    Might it be appropriate to ask an agent what the authors relationship would be to an agency if the agent herself left? And to follow up — assuming the answer involves an author’s obligation to stick with the agency for the term of a contract — with questions about how the author should expect to be represented if other agents in the agency don’t feel as enthusiastic about the author’s work?

  9. Tara Maya said:

    A few years ago, an agent offered to represent me. This person was based in the midwest, but since Kristin is as well, I decided that alone should not be held against her. However, there were a few other red flags, namely that she was extremely new, had gone into the business initially to represent her friend, and had only one or two sales to just one publisher. She was nice as kittens — not a predator — and there were no other agents fighting over me, (more’s the pity), but I decided not to go with her because I was afraid her interest in agenting was only a passing fancy.

    I was right. She is no longer in the business. Yet she was very enthusiastic at the time.

  10. Anonymous said:

    I have to agree, it really won’t help you to ask this question of the agent. But I do think that when you evaluate an agent you must take into account how long they have been in the business and what the rest of their agency is like.

    Your contract will state what happens to you if the agent leaves the agency. Typically, you are reassigned to another agent in house. That is never as good as having an agent who picked you herself, but may still work out.

  11. CFD Trade said:

    Ouch! A few weeks ago, I was wondering the same thing about Colleen Lindsay’s clients when she left being an agent. And I continued to wonder about other agents who have other preoccupations like writing as well or into business, what if they left suddenly? Well, here’s my answer.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Call me a cynic, but if an agent really wants your ms, they’re not going to answer anything but what you want to hear, no matter what the question is.

  13. Anonymous said:

    When you’re interviewing agents as a way of choosing between offers, in a lot of cases, the answer doesn’t really matter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the question. To wit:

    Q: Do you see yourself still agenting in six months? a year?

    Possible A1: Absolutely! I love it! I was born to agent and I can’t imagine not waking up every morning looking forward to working with authors!

    Possible A2: Sure, of course I do, it’s great. You can count on me.

    Possible A3: What? That’s none of your business.

    None of these answers guarantee that the agent will still be around in three years — nothing can! — but they all tell you something about the person you’re talking to, and that factors into your decision.

  14. Ric said:

    The best story I have here is the young agent who called me after I submitted to tell me she was getting out of the business because she couldn’t handle all the rejection.

    Still makes me smile.

  15. Malia Sutton said:

    I’m going to be so good here, because I know exactly who you are talking about.

    I wish the clients who had to deal with this all the best. If nothing else, it’s a very good experience in the area of anything can happen in publishing :))

  16. Loree H said:

    I think you can tell a lot by the way someone answers a question if you are really listening.

    I think it’s a good question to ask an agent. I put it on my list.

  17. Amy B. said:

    The first client I signed actually asked me that, and I gotta say, it threw me. Not because I wasn’t sure but because I couldn’t even fathom not continuing to be an agent. I thought I was the luckiest person in the world to be an agent assistant at my agency and the idea of leaving was just unthinkable.

    Still is, of course, only now I know that that is a valid question because some agents do leave. Even if I can’t fathom it myself. 🙂

  18. Harry Connolly said:

    Actually, this is the question you should ask:

    Q: So, do you plan to be diagnosed with cancer and be forced to take a corporate job for the health care?

    A: …

    Nice. Very nice.

  19. mynfel said:

    Thought I’d just step in here and end some of this speculation since I’m one of the authors being referred to. I’ll admit I dislike the way some of these comments are going and while I can’t fault anyone for forming whatever opinions they have, please understand that for the most part, the client-agent relationship is private, and really should remain that way.

    Gossip benefits no one.

    I went with Colleen because I thought she was the best fit at the time. Within 36 hours of going on submission, I went to auction. About a week later, I landed a 3 book deal at Pocket.

    And yes, I have a new agent at Fine Print – Suzie Townsend. I’m perfectly happy with that.

    For those of you wondering if I didn’t do my homework, please note that I had 4 fabulous agents who had made offers and about a week in which to make a decision. I spent several hours talking to Colleen on the phone and via email. (As I did all the rest of the agents.) Many questions were asked and answered.

    It was a nerve-wracking, wondrous experience.

    It was not a decision I made lightly and in the end, I went with my gut.

    Every author’s circumstances are different – how they get to where they are, the choices they make, the luck of the draw. It’s unfair to make comparisons after the fact, because no, you will *never* know what might have happened if you chose a different path.

    Things change.

    Life happens.

    Hindsight makes everything look rosier.

    One thing I *can* guarantee?

    Had I asked Colleen if she would still be an agent in six months, she would have said yes – because the doctor hadn’t told her she had cancer yet.

  20. hanillas said:

    Awesome. I’ll throw this in the same pile as my ideas for surviving on a desert island and things to buy when I win the lottery.

  21. BorneoExpatWriter said:

    One agent who was handling two of my screenplays (based on novels I had written) had a nervous breakdown after she lost her father and a son a week apart in an auto accident and, advised by her doctor, closed down her agency that she ran successfully for years.

    Life sometimes gets in the way of good careers. Hers, and, perhaps, mine. I often wonder where I would be right now had she optioned or sold one of those screenplays that she was in love with. That was 13 years ago, and soon after I began teaching full time at a university and went through a divorce/custody battle and writing or marketing my work, especially my screenplays and novels, for the most part, got derailed.

    Recently I opted to walk away from teaching and I’m back to rewriting those novels and screenplays right now…

    Wow, this really makes me think.

    Thanks, it’s time for me to move on (obviously!) and get back on the saddle in a big way; I can’t do anything about the past, but I definitely can about my writing future, this second time around…

    PS, love your blog!

  22. An Agent said:

    True, True, all true, but then again if the agent is healthy at the time and say develops cancer, 6 months later, like an agent recently did, well then it would be understandable would it not? After all, her agency did not offer health insurance. Things go on behind the scenes that we might never know about.