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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to pick a good agent.

The moment has arrived. Your phone rings, you answer it, and an agent is on the other line saying they love your manuscript and want to represent you! Terrific!! You hit mute on the phone and yell for joy while running around your house at a speed your body hasn’t seen in ten years. With a pounding heart, you come back onto the line to talk to the agent, trying not to pant into the receiver. “I’m yours!” you chirp. “Where do I sign the contract and how fast can you get it here?” Never mind that you sent your manuscript to at least twenty agents, and you can’t exactly remember this one. This is the first agent to want you. And you know what they say in the industry: it’s harder to get an agent than a publisher.

Who cares if you can’t remember the particulars about this agent? YOU SHOULD CARE!!! You wouldn’t have sent your manuscript to someone you hadn’t thoroughly researched would you? Not even at midnight while crying after receiving yet another rejection. Oh, yea, you did do that.  Is it too late to backtrack and ask a few questions?  NO, no, and no.

Compliments of the RWA Pro site here is what they say you need to ask before accepting any agent:
1. What do you like about my work/book?
2. What is it about me or my work that made me stand out as someone you wanted as a client?
3. How would you market it?
4. What is your commission?
5. Are any of your expenses charged to me?
6. How much does this generally run?
7. How often do you bill me, or do you take it from the advance?
8. May I have the ability to first approve any expenses that will total over $50?
9. Would you advise me when the expenses reach $100 or whatever?
10. Will I sign a contract with you?
11. What are the contract terms? WHEN YOU SEE DOCUMENT ASK MORE QUESTONS.
12. Do you work on a project-to-project basis or will you be representing my career?
13. How do you work with your clients?
14. Do you send copies of all letters from you and/or about the project that are sent to you?
15. Do you prefer snail mail, e-mail or phone?
16. If phone, is there a particular time of day you prefer to be called?
17. How soon do you generally return calls/e-mails?
18. How do you keep me advised on progress?
19. Do you send out a 1099 at tax form time?
20. How quickly are advances, royalties paid after you’ve received them?
21. Will you sign anything on my behalf without first consulting me?
22. If you are ill or on vacation, will somebody else handle my account while you are gone?
23. Will my contract be with you, or with the agency? What happens in the event you leave the agency?
24. Can you tell me how many clients you currently represent?
25. Can you tell me the number of sales you’ve had in the past year?
26. Can you tell me how many of these were romances?
27. Can you tell me what publishers and/or editors you have worked with?
28. Would you be willing to give me some client names as references?

Go print out these questions and keep them handy because I just know you are going to get that call very soon!

Julie Johnstone, Marchioness of Mayhem


  1. Great questions, Julie! I have a list prepared for just such an occasion.

  2. What a great list. The only thing I would add is to keep your excitement in check until the signatures are on the contract. Not every agent who says they're interested in representing you will actually produce a contract. When you are on the verge of signing, and the deal falls through, that can be a big blow psychologically.

  3. Maybe if I write these out and tape them up, my call will come...
    *here's hoping*

  4. One thing I would add to the list is a "will you represent ALL my work or, if there is a work you are not interested in representing am I free to shop it on my own?".
    And on a side note, that's a lot of questions to ask! They're all important, though. So make sure you yourself understand each one, why the answer is important, and what answer YOU prefer to hear. Put the questions most important to you right at the top so you're sure to get an answer to them.
    Finally, when that call comes, remember to breathe : )

  5. Catherine - me too!

    Gail, yes, of course, excitement in check as hard as it may be.

    Candyland - Here's hoping for you!

    Jen - Thanks for adding that great question. I agree that these are a lot of questions, and the most important ones should be at the top of your list.

  6. Julie, great post! I've never even thought about what I would ask an agent...thanks for posting that list. I'll definitely have it handy once I start looking for an agent again.

  7. This is great timing, Julie. Thanks for the reminder that we are interviewing the agent just as much as they are interviewing us!
    Erin Rieber

  8. Get as many views as possible from the agents clients and former clients!

    Sad fact is though, that some agents work great with some clients but not with others. When i got my agent, I'd heard great things from two of her clients. Of course these clients made a lot of money for her. When I signed with her (i had a contract already in hand) she was super great at first, then started to ignore me more and more. I wasn't making her nearly as much money as her clients I'd talked to.

    I have two friends who signed with another agent who is supposedly wonderful, now they're having problems with her. She won't send to certain editors, even though they've asked her to. Sadly many agents take their job too personally. If they don't like an editor, they don't want to send to that editor. It ends up being more about them than their clients.

    There's only so much research you can do, quite a bit of finding a great agent, in my experience, has to do with luck and trial and error. In reality there are very few super good agents and just because you can't get an agent doesn't mean you can't sell to a ny publisher. Just my two cents. :)

  9. Good post on a very important subject. Choosing the right agent is vital. I'm very lucky to have an absolutely phenomenal agent who is also lots of fun to work with!

    If you're in this business for the long haul, you need to ask if the agent will help you with career planning. Getting a manuscript sold is great, but in order to keep selling for twenty-five years, you need a plan.

    Also, ask how much the agent gets involved in the editorial process before a project is offered for sale. Great agents have a thumb on the pulse of the market and can be invaluable in helping you get your manuscript in the best shape possible.

    Good luck!

  10. Very helpful post, Julie. Thanks so much for collating all those important questions.

    Lori - thanks for the word of warning. Guess
    there's not much you can do about people's egos. :(

  11. Wow, Julie, great post. I never thought about what happens after you get the call. A lot to think about, thanks for posting this!

  12. Great blog Julie! I think I've seen a list like this before but forgot where it was (sliding over to my printer). Thank you!

    A funny thing about getting the call. Even when its by email, you still have that remarkably silly reaction. I kept blurting out loudly "I'm getting published" then I would hurry back to check the email was still there.

    Hubby was fine with it for a week, but then the looks he kept giving me convinced me I'd told him often enough. He puts up with so much *blush*