Nine Questions To Ask A Literary Agent

Has a literary agent offered to represent you and your book? Congratulations! Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask a literary agent while you’re in the “getting to know you” stage.

At the heart of the agent-writer relationship often lies a legal literary agency contract, so you should find out what you’re getting into before you get into it. While it might not be wise to inundate a prospective agent with too many questions, there are certain things that you should consider asking before you sign any contract.

Please note: some of these questions may be answered on the agent’s website or in other supporting materials. Be sure you don’t ask questions that don’t need to be asked if the information is already available to you!

* How long have you been in business as a literary agent?
No one goes to school to learn how to be a literary agent, but experience within the publishing industry can give an agent the edge when it comes to selling your book. Agents profit from their intimate understanding of editors’ reading preferences, so you’ll want someone who has strong connections. That said, don’t write off new agents. New agents are always hungry for manuscripts, so if you connect with a new agent at an established literary agency, you both may benefit from the partnership. Just be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions!

Read more: Is A Good Literary Agent Good Enough? When To Settle For Your Second Choice.

* What is your experience with this particular book genre?
An agent who only handles romance novels might not have the right contacts to shop a thriller around. An agent might be trying to broaden his or her genre horizons, but you have to ask yourself if you want your book to be the guinea pig. If the agent’s enthusiasm is strong, it might be to your benefit to work with the agent in a genre that he or she doesn’t historically represent. Again, weigh the pros and cons by getting all the necessary information before you make a decision.

* Who will be handling my work within the agency?
Make sure you know who will be familiar with your book and to whom you can go if you have any specific questions down the road. Some agents at bigger companies will assign you to an assistant or a junior agent rather than rep your book personally. However, if you’re working with a boutique agency, you’ll probably be working with the agent you queried. Just be sure you know!

* What is your game plan for this project?
You should always be aware of what an agent has in mind for your book, including how the book will be positioned within the larger market and if there is a possibility of selling secondary rights (film, audio, electronic, etc.).

* How often will I be updated on what you’re doing on my behalf?
No one should do anything with your book that you are not aware of. Writers put a lot of trust in their agents, but what’s at stake here is your career. Communication is crucial. Does your prospective agent prefer email correspondence or a phone call for a quick chat every once in a while? Find out ahead of time.

* Are you a member of the Association of Authors’ Representation (AAR)?
You may take heart in knowing that your agent is part of the AAR; however, if an agent is NOT an AAR member, you probably shouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker. The important thing is that the agent is in line with the AAR’s requirements for ethics and handling clients’ funds.

* What are your commission rates?
Anything over 15% on domestic sales suggests less-than-honest business tactics. Ditto to agents who require an up-front “marketing” fee or an editorial fee upon contract signing. See our articles Warning Signs: How To Spot A Bad Literary Agent: Part One and How To Spot A Bad Literary Agency: Part Two  for more information.

* What is the minimum time requirement on my contract?
Find out how long you are expected to work with this agent and what happens when one side no longer wants to work with the other.

* How will you be involved in my ongoing career?
Every agent has a different approach to building an author’s career: some are collaborators (working with authors on their projects in a very hands-on way by offering critique), and others are more aggressively involved in the negotiation process. Ask your potential agent how he or she likes to work with clients.

Read more:
How To Research The Best Literary Agents For Your Book
When And How To Follow Up With (Or Nudge) A Literary Agent About Your Book Query
When A Literary Agent Requests An Exclusive: Solutions For Sticky Situations 

In the end, your gut might be your best gauge when considering a literary agent. If after all your questions have been answered and you still feel wary of signing, it may be best to gracefully decline the offer. As nice as it is to be offered representation, proper treatment of your work by a trustworthy agent is paramount.

Writer’s Relief would love to help you find the right literary agent for your book! Our submission strategists can help target your book to distinguished literary agents to find which ones are best for you and your work. For more information about our services, please visit www.WritersRelief.com.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What other questions do you feel are important to ask literay agents?

9 Responses to Nine Questions To Ask A Literary Agent

  1. I like the blog, but could not find how to subscribe to receive the updates by email. Can you please let me know?

  2. Excellent post, and great timing for me – I’m going to a “pitch an agent” event at CrimeFEST next month, and if I should be so lucky as to receive an offer of representation (fingers crossed!) I will now be ready with some pertinent questions. Thank you!

  3. Rin, Thank you for the comment. We’re glad you found this article useful—good luck at your event next month!

  4. I can’t agree with this completely. I mean, it’s good advice, but… you should do your homework about an agent BEFORE you query them, not after. If you query an agent and you don’t already know they are or are not a member of the AAR, then you haven’t done your homework, and if I were an agent, that question when it’s so easily available would make me think the author was amateur and not willing to research. Same for how long the agent has been in business. You should know that before you query. This information is easily available for most agents.

    Their experience with the genre is also something you should have researched prior to speaking with the agent, because you do not want to query an agent who has no experience in the genre of your book. Research that first, and then use that to choose who to query. You don’t just blindly query every agent and hope for a bite. That’s insulting to the agent and wasting time for yourself.

    I also disagree that anything over 15% on domestic sales is ‘less-than-honest’. It might be high for the industry, but that doesn’t make it dishonest, especially if the agent is upfront about it in the contract. Some agents absolutely do charge 20-25%, and there are other stipulation in the contracts that will be higher than 15% too. While 15% is a nice industry standard, it isn’t the do-all-end-all percentage for literary agents, and each agent and author should negotiate that fee for themselves.

    So I’m not saying the advice here is bad, because it’s not, but I am saying that it’s not 100% accurate, and that by asking some of these questions, you brand yourself as a newbie and perhaps as a non-professional, because you didn’t do your research and properly query agents.

    Love and stuff,
    Michy

  5. Hi Michelle,

    We love your (articulate and thoughtful) comment! You hit the nail on the head.

    In a perfect situation, many of the questions on this list SHOULD be researched before a writer queries an agent. But that’s not always possible. Some literary agents—really good ones—still haven’t stepped into the digital age by starting a website. They lack transparency to some extent. Others eschew listings in market books or offer incomplete information. In a perfect situation, a writer wouldn’t need to ask the questions above.

    As the article says, if the information that a writer needs is already publicly available, then the writer shouldn’t ask. Perhaps we should have titled the article “What You Should Personally Ask A Literary Agent As Long As There’s No Other Way Of Finding Out.” But it doesn’t really roll off the tongue. :-)

    You’re right on the money that agents’ percentages do fluctuate (for example, we’ve seen some new agents drop their commission to 10%). But we would caution writers: If an agent is asking for more or less than the standard, dig deep to find the reason. We feel that asking more than 15% may be inappropriate—unless there’s some reason to ask for more. If the major, big-time agents aren’t asking for more than 15%, then a midlist agent (or a nobody) better have a really, really good reason for charging more.

    Every writer is going to need to ask the questions that pertain to his or her situation, but we hope these questions are a good place to begin thinking about what is important to know.

    Thanks again for your comment!

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