Questions to ask an agent part II

So last time I waxed on about finding an agent who’s a good fit. There are a lot of stories out there about agents who don’t fit well and how writers are afraid to “break-up” with them for fear of never having another agent or getting blackballed or something else along those lines. Some writers do not have agents and do quite well. Some writers have gone through several agents, usually because of that essential quality of a good fit. Most all writers I’ve ever talked to, however, say that a bad agent is worse than no agent. And a bad agent is not necessarily one who doesn’t do the job. It could be an agent that doesn’t work well with you or whom you don’t work well with. You might just have different approaches or different tastes or something else that you didn’t realize at first and it just isn’t a good fit. It happens. Don’t be afraid to say no to an offer of representation or to say goodbye to an agent who isn’t working out.

But back to the questions. There’s a lot of advice out there on kinds of questions to ask as far as the professional elements go, and here’s a couple of good lists:

Rachelle Gardner
Quill Driver Books

Once you figure out that personally you can work with an agent, then you want to look at the specifics. Rachelle Gardner’s list is a pretty good one. You want to know what the agent’s commission is–agents should not charge money up front. They get paid when you get paid. Typical commissions are %15 for domestic sales and %20 for foreign sales (on the latter, the agent splits the money with a foreign agent). You want to know how the agent handles foreign sales. The Knight Agency has a page on their website that explains about foreign rights sales and has a substantial list of who they work with. This is important. It shows they are networked and that they are working the foreign sales angles.It also lists their recent sales.

Let me digress a moment. The Knight Agency (which represents me), has a good website. They promote authors, they are very open with what they do, they are thorough, they have a newsletter, and they are obviously very professional. I think in this day and age, if an agency doesn’t have a good solid website, I’d have my doubts about them. Okay, digression over.

You want to talk to the agent about the submission process. How many will she make for a given project? When will she give up? You don’t really want one who gives up. Specifically, you have to realize that maybe a project won’t sell, but some projects can take years to sell. So if you believe in the project, and the agent believes in it, you want to know she’ll keep trying. Now in the meantime, you want to be working on something else for her to sell. Remember, she makes money only when you do, so you want to start making her and you some money.

I think now is a good time to mention career track. You and she should discuss her approach to a career. She’s got to be thinking of the long term, as you are. If you want to write in multiple genres: romance, fantasy, westerns, scifi, YA, whatever, you have to find out if she’ll support/encourage that. She’s going to want you to build a brand, and she’s right, so she will likely encourage you to focus at first, but she should be open to other things your passionate about. And she should know up front you want to be diverse since you want her to be able to get behind you in all your endeavors. Some writers have more than one agent to represent their various kinds of writing, so that’s a possibility if it suits you. You want to talk about how many books a year you think you can write or plan to write, if you plan to be full time or not, how quickly you write, and so on and so forth. Much of this may have come up in your process discussion, but if not, now it’s time.

You want to talk to the agent about how she approaches negotiating a contract. Often agencies will have boilerplate contracts with publishers that they’ve pre-negotiated. From that boiler-plate, they can then negotiate better for you. Now that depends on a lot of factors, but it means they aren’t starting at the drawing board. But you want to know how the process will work. Will she send you the initial contract? Will she negotiate it to the best of her ability and then send it to you for discussion? Will she keep you updated on the process? What sorts of updates would that entail? (BTW, it’s not a short process). Think about what is important to you in a contract and ask about how she might negotiate those things. What would she consider deal-breakers? What would make her walk away from a contract?

Caveat: these are things you only discuss if you and this agent are serious about working together. Otherwise there’s no point. But understanding how the process will work is important.

That’s enough for now. More next time.

How I got an agent
Questions to ask an agent part 1

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