What to Ask An Agent Before You Sign

Imagine getting "the call": an agent calls and offers to represent you. After you scream and cry and run around the house, what do you ask the agent to make sure that this is the person with whom you can entrust your career?

I had no idea, either. 

With a completed book under my belt and a full manuscript out to agents, I realized I needed to be better prepared. So I took to Facebook, where I'm connected to a supportive and information-rich network of authors thanks to my years of membership with the Washington Romance Writers of DC, and asked the following question:

Below are some of the phenomenal answers. Romance and fantasy author Fallon DeMornay pointed me to this fantastic blog from her agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and many of the questions are from that truly helpful article.

  • Why do you believe in my work?
  • What is your plan to build my career beyond this first novel?
  • How involved will you get in revisions before you submit it to an editor?
  • What about my book did you respond to?
  • How much revision do you think will be necessary? Are you expecting minimal changes or a major rewrite?
  • What's your editorial style?
  • How long have you been with your agency? What support do you have in your agency? What connections do you have to the romance world?
  • How many clients do you have?
  • What is your typical response time to email/phone calls?
  • How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during a submission?
  • What happens if you don't sell this book? Revise? Something new? Part ways?
  • How many editors do you go to before giving up? How does your submission process work?
  • What percentage of projects that you sign do you sell?
  • How long is your average client relationship?
  • Who do you work with to sell foreign/film rights? Do you handle contracts? Rights? If not, who does?
  • What does your agency agreement look like?
  • Can I speak to one or two of your clients about their experiences working with you?

Historical romance author Sally MacKenzie also shared with me a blog she'd written about choosing an agent. She has wonderful suggestions for things to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Did I want an agent who read my work and gave me editorial feedback or one who considered her job only to sell? Was it important to me to be with a Big Name Agency? Would I mind being a small fish in a big pond? Would I care if I didn’t work with my Big Name Agent but with her assistant instead? How did I want to communicate with my agent—snail mail, phone, email—and how quickly did I want to hear back from her? Was she based in New York City—and did I think her location was at all important? Did I care if my agent was male or female?

I still plan to do all the screaming and crying and running if and when I get "the call." But thanks to some dear friends, I'm better armed to make sure that the agent I sign with can help me keep my dream going.


Want to learn more about the writing journey from unpublished to (hopefully) published?