It finally has happened. An agent is interested in you and your manuscript. But not so fast. Even if you like this agent, does that mean that they will do what you and your manuscript need?
Granted, you’ve done your research, which is how you queried this agent in the first place. But now you need to be certain that this is in fact a partnership that will work for both of you. Getting answers to these questions may help with that decision. And besides – you present as professional. Always a good place to start out from.
1. Why did you pick me and my work?
This may seem like an ingenuous question, but it’s not at all naïve or simple. What answer you receive sheds light on where your agent will focus. There’s a world of difference between “I love your characters” and “The market is ripe for this type of book.” Neither reply is wrong – it just gives you a bit of insight. However, if an agent can’t answer this question, this isn’t a great sign for a working relationship. It’s an important question to start out with.
2. What is the plan for the short term?
Sometimes, the short term involves edits directly from your agent that you’ll work on before your manuscript goes anywhere. Other agents may have readers who they send your manuscript out to for editorial feedback. In any case, it’s a rare manuscript that lands on an agent’s desk that needs no feedback and/or edits before going out on submission.
3. How do you plan to present my manuscript to publishers?
Does your agent have specific editors/publishers in mind? Will this be a one-at-a-time approach or will it be simultaneous submissions? A focus on home turf or international markets? When you get the answer, there’s no reason to not ask why the agent is making this choice. And find out if you will receive a list of submissions for your own records. Open communication means you’re not in the dark about where your manuscript is going.
4. Which publisher would be ideal for this book?
This one is especially useful to give you insight into how connected your agent is in the publishing world. And how astute they are about your manuscript and finding it the best home for publication. Ideal doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest fish in the pond if ideal offers your manuscript benefits you hadn’t yet considered.
5. Do you consult with your clients on any offers?
You want to be consulted and not leave it all to your agent. Given that you are the person who will be signing the publishing contract, you’ll want to have input with your agent beforehand. But even more important to you is to know about offers that your agent doesn’t recommend. If so, you want to know why your agent doesn’t think it’s right for you or the book’s journey. Maybe you have a perspective that could change the agent’s mind or at least suggest ways the publisher might sweeten the offer to your benefit. And just maybe, the agent has information you don’t know about. Remember, it’s all about communication.
6. How often do you communicate with your clients?
It’s not just whether to send an email or make a phone call – you want to know what is the connection expectation here. Agents are busy and have real lives. But they are also in a working relationship with you. So there needs to be contact and you need to know what to expect. When your manuscript is out on submission, are you expected to wait to hear? Or will your agent send you weekly or monthly updates? Establish what is reasonable for both of you and save yourself one more level of anxiety. (Note: anxiety is a norm for writers but this will at least lessen your hourly need to check your email for updates.)
7. How will I be represented on the agency website?
When looking for an agent, writers visit agency websites all the time. We’re looking for connections – writers we know personally and can ask about the agent, for example. We can also be looking for comparison writers/titles. Some agencies list their clients alphabetically; some list them by agent and some by genre/title. No matter how you show up, you want to know that you’ll be there, on the website even if your first book hasn’t yet been sold. (Note: have your bio ready to revise to fit the agency’s online style.)
8. What social media do you use and what do you expect from me on social media?
Coordination is helpful for a great working relationship. While your agent’s role is to find that perfect home for your manuscript, you have a role as well to support your agent. Promoting one another reaps benefits you won’t always know about – but at the very least, it is a tangible approach of working together. Find a common platform or consider expanding your horizons to a platform you’ve not tried before.
9. What happens when you or I choose to end our contract?
Every good contract is clear about how to end the relationship. But it’s good to hear directly from the agent about what they expect from you, and what you should expect to hear from them in this regard. Agents and clients part ways for many different reasons. In all cases, even if you are not happy with an agent, it is important to be professional and direct. Asking this question sets out that professional relationship before a contract is even signed.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
Absolutely you need to give the agent the opportunity to ask you questions. Assuming that they haven’t been asking throughout your meeting, this is the agent’s chance to explore areas that are unique to you and your work. It’s a path to making even stronger connections with each other. And that is the foundation of any good relationship.
Ruth E. Walker asked some of these questions of her agent, Ali McDonald of 5 Otter Literary. Some she didn’t need to ask because Ali shared many of these details without any prodding. But Ruth did her research before the meeting and was ready, in case.