Twenty Five questions to ask a literary agent may seem like a lot. Afterall, there are a lot of great, reputable agents out there but there are also a lot of not so great and not so reputable ones. Even more important to realize is that even if you find a great, reputable agent interested in your work….they may not be all that great for you.
And, frankly, a bad agent is way worse than no agent at all.
So, how do you sort the bad from the good, the reputable but not for you from the match made in author heaven?
You ask questions, lots of them.
Here are 25 Questions to ask a Literary Agent to get you started.
- Who are some of your clients? (You can usually discover this information on your own by searching the agent’s website, paying the $20 to get access to past deals at Publisher’s Marketplace or simply posting the question on an author loop or forum, but it can still be enlightening to ask. You ask because you want to know they are authors who are selling and because you can then email those authors and get their input on the agent.)
- How or do you relay information on submissions to your clients? (forward rejections, supply a submission list)
- Would you personally be handling all aspects of my submissions or will others in your agency be involved? What is the break down of what others will do? (Others being involved can be a good thing, see next question….)
- If you are out sick or away from the office, is there someone else at your agency who will be familiar with my work that I can contact?
- Will you inform me of any and all offers?
- What are your commission rates? (domestic, foreign, other)
- Are there any other fees besides commissions? (Even reputable agencies sometimes charge “expenses” like copying fees or mailing. However, these fees should be directly tied to an out of pocket expense for them. And there are plenty of agencies who feel their commissions cover these “expenses” and don’t add them back on.)
- How is money handled? What are the processes and procedures for disbursing client monies? How much of a wait can I expect from when your agency receives payment and when I receive my portion? Are separate bank accounts maintained for client funds and agency revenue? (Want to avoid this all together? Ask the next question.)
- Do you split payments? (Splitting payments means the publisher pays both the agency and the author directly. Your portion of royalties/advance never goes through the agency.)
- Do you supply a year-end statement with detailed information on payments received and disbursed? (something you can’t expect if you do split payments)
- If you died or left the agency, what would happen to our agreement?
- If we should dissolve our agreement, what is your policy for any unsold subsidiary rights to my work that you have represented? What is the procedure for terminating the agreement? (If the agency had a written agreement, ask to see a copy of the agreement before you agree to go with the agent. )
- Have you ever fired a client? Can you give me examples of why you might do this?
- Do you offer editorial input?
- If I don’t agree with your input, will you submit my work anyway?
- Do you offer career planning? As questions to ask a literary agent go, this one may not be as important to you as others. You may just want a literary agent to sell the books you send to her, but if you think you want career advice as well, it is a question worth asking.
- What provisions do you put into the publishing contract? May I see a copy of this? (When an agent negotiates a deal, a section is added to the publishing contract acknowledging that they will be paid their percentage. This section may, however, contain wording you don’t like…such as giving the agent a percentage “in perpetuity”. You want to see this section before you are negotiating the contract with a publisher.” )
- Do you have “boilerplate” contracts with the major publishing houses? (Boilerplates are contracts where the agency has pre-negotiated terms for all of their clients that vary from the publishing house’s standard contract. This should mean the agent/author doesn’t have to start at ground zero when negotiating a new contract.)
- What kind of things do you watch for in contracts? (Publishing contracts are legally binding documents. You need an agent who won’t get you into the soup. Make sure they know their stuff.)
- How many clients do you have? Are you actively looking for more? (This isn’t a right or wrong answer kind of question, but it may give you a feel for how much personal attention you will receive.)
- How do you prefer to communicate? (If you like to talk on the phone and this agent only uses email, this may be an issue.)
- What do you like about my work? What specifically makes you want me as a client? (This question is especially important if you come to the agent with a deal in hand. You want to know this agent is interested in working with you for the long haul, that they “get” you.)
- If I chose to write in another genre, would you be willing to submit that work? If I wrote something in a genre you weren’t comfortable submitting, would you be adverse to me approaching a second agent for just that genre? (Many agents specialize in a few categories, which in many ways is a great thing. However, if you want to write in a number of genres, this may be an issue for you.)
- Will you be representing all of my work, or will this be a project by project relationship? What if I write short stories, submit to a small /epress or self-publish? Would you expect to be involved in those projects? (The world of publishing is changing fast. There are viable publishing options available today where you may not need an agent. It is best to know upfront how an agent you are considering views these things. I would definitely include this in your list of questions to ask a literary agent.)
- How long on average do you take to reply to emails/phone calls from your clients? How about submissions? (If your email goes unanswered for weeks and your submission is sitting on your agents desk for month, this can seriously affect your money flow.)
Optional Questions to ask a Literary Agent that may matter to you:
- Do you blog/tweet/go to conferences, etc.? (None of these things may matter to you. However, it does to some authors, especially when they are waiting for a reply on something.)
- Do you agent full time? (Not all agents do. If this is important to you, ask. )
This list of questions to ask a literary agent is far from everything you might choose to ask an agent, and while it is a good start, please don’t depend solely on the answers you receive to these questions. Do your research. Ask other authors, search for interviews with agents, go to conferences they are attending and look for what they have sold through services like Publisher’s Marketplace.
Signing with an agent is a big decision. Don’t do it lightly. Ask questions.
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check our her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.