31 Questions when Choosing an Agent

Agents, it seems, are the way to break into the traditional publishing field for authors. But how do you find an agent? More importantly, once you find an agent, how do you know they are a good one? This is not a decision for the faint of heart, as Susan Kearney points out at Plot Monkeys.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when looking for an agent, and once you get that agent, is that your agent is NOT your friend. You have a business relationship and it is their duty to do their best to sell your book.

Also remember that the agent is your voice to big name publishers. If you have a bad agent, this might damage your ability to break into the market. So don’t be afraid to terminate the contract if you and your agent can’t conduct business in a professional manner.

For more information on disreputable agents, add Writer Beware! to your RSS feeds, as well as look up your potential agents in their archives.

If you want an inside look to the life of an agent, agent blogs are the way to go. See BookEnds, Nathan Bransford, Jennifer Jackson from the Donald Maass Agency, Rachel Vater from Folio Literary Management, Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency, and the snarkives of Miss Snark. At least…these are the ones I read.

Here are Susan Kearney’s list of questions that should be answered to help determine whether your potential agent will make a good business partner for your writing goals.

These questions should be your preliminary research. Most of this information can be found on the agency’s website, if such a website exists for the agency.

  1. How many authors do you represent? How many are published?
  2. Will you multiple submit?
  3. Who answers your phone? A secretary? A service? A machine?
  4. How long will it take to return my phone call?
  5. How often is it appropriate to check in?
  6. Does the agent help with career planning? Work with a publicist?
  7. What genres does the agent handle?
  8. What are the agent’s business hours?

These are questions you may have to ask the agent yourself once you and your agent agree to work together.

  1. How long after you send the agent your work will it take her to send it on to a publisher?
  2. Will you know where and when the agent submits your work?
  3. Will you receive copies of rejection letters?
  4. How long after the agent receives advances and royalties will it be until she sends them to you?
  5. Is the agent a member of any professional organizations?
  6. What is the agents percentage? Does he charge for mailing, copies? Faxes? Phone calls?
  7. If the agent doesn’t like the work, but the writing is good, will she still submit for you?

These questions address what might happen after a publisher expresses interest in your work.

  1. Does the agent handle subrights, scripts, foreign rights, audio rights?
  2. Will the agent ask you to sign a written contract?
  3. What happens if you wish to sever your relationship?
  4. Do you see eye to eye on where your career should go?
  5. Is the agent enthusiastic about your work?
  6. Ask agent for names of happy clients.
  7. Will agent submit just a synopsis and 3 chapters? Or need the whole manuscript?

These address the agent’s general behavior and how they handle specific situations.

  1. Who takes over when the agent is on vacation?
  2. Does the agent critique your work?
  3. How many authors has the agent dropped in the last year?
  4. Are royalties escrowed in a separate account? What happens to the royalties if something happens to the agent? (This is a concern in small agencies)
  5. If you speak to an editor at a conference and they ask to see your work, will the agent send it out?
  6. If you don’t like the story, but it’s well written will the agent send it out?
  7. Who pays for manuscripts copies? The agent or the author?
  8. Do you have problems if the author switches genres?
  9. How much work do you expect to get from me in a year?

* This list of questions came from Susan Kearney’s guest post at Plot Monkeys.