… Prepared, that is.
So, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m querying. Several amazing agents are in possession of my full manuscript, and we’re nearing the time I should begin hearing back from some of them. In the back of my mind, I’ve had this cheerful yet persistent voice reminding me to prepare a list of questions to ask should one of these agents want to speak to me about my manuscript and possible representation. Promptly, a darker, more pessimistic voice sneers, “Don’t do it! You’ll jinx yourself!” Then, last night, I had a little epiphany.
With it being awards season and all, I was thinking about the actors, directors, singers, and producers who take the stage to accept awards. They fall into two pretty distinct categories: Those with a prepared speech, and those who wing it. While I’d rather watch the winners who are flustered and weepy and completely unprepared, it’s the winners with the succinct, heartfelt, well-written speeches who come away looking like professionals. And that’s what I want to be should I ever have the pleasure of speaking to an agent on the phone: Professional.
So, I’ve buried the fear of jinxing myself and assembled a list of must-ask questions so I’ll be prepared if I happen to get that oh-so-exciting phone call. Here they are:
1. How close is my manuscript to “ready?” What are its strengths? Weaknesses?
*2. What do you think my comp titles would be?
3. How collaborative do you intend to be? What kinds of editorial/revision ideas do you have for my manuscript?
4. Do you represent a book, or an author? How do you see us working together in the future?
*5. Would you expect me to only write for one age group (YA) or in one genre (contemporary)?
6. What are your submission plans for my manuscript? Do you already have houses/editors in mind? How many will you submit to at a time?
*7. If my manuscript doesn’t sell in the first round of submissions, will we go on subsequent rounds?
*8. Are you willing to sub more than one manuscript at a time? In the same genre? In different genres?
9. How are fees and charges for submission charged ? What kinds of charges should a client expect to pay, and how is it accounted for?
10. What’s your disclosure style during the submission process? Will you give me all the details of editor feedback, or just the most constructive criticisms?
11. What is your communication style? How quickly are you usually able to respond to client inquiries? What is your preferred method of communication?
12. What are the terms of your client contract? *How is it different from contracts at other agencies? (Assuming there is a written contract…)
13. What are your commission rates?
14. How long have you been an agent? What do you love about it? Do you see yourself agenting into the foreseeable future?
15. How many clients are on your list now? How many clients would you like to have?
16. What sales have you made recently? (Assuming I can’t find this info on my own…)
17. How involved is your boss/other agents at your agency in your client relationships?
18. What do you expect from your clients as far as production in a given year?
19. What qualities do you like in a client? What do you think makes a good working relationship between you and a client?
20. When you receive a new manuscript from a client, how long does it usually take for you to get back to her with feedback?
*21. How do you handle clients wanting to work on similar projects/subject matter?
22. For what reasons would you terminate a relationship with a client? What if, for some reason, I should feel our relationship isn’t working?
*23. Would it be possible for me to contact a few of your clients?
*24. Do you have any questions for me?
* Recent additions thanks to input from a few generous and well-informed writing friends. Thanks, Kate Hart, Heather Howland, June G. and Caroline Tung Richmond! Many of the other questions were compiled with help from brilliant posts at Literary Rambles, and Writing For Children and Teens.
Okay, so those are the questions that feel really important at this totally-in-limbo stage of the game. Am I missing anything glaringly obvious? Please let me know in the comments!
9 thoughts on “Tales from the Trenches: To Be, Or Not To Be…”
A great list of questions, Katy! It’s so smart for you to be prepared—you really never know when you’ll get The Call!
If there’s anything I could add (you’ve covered pretty much everything!), it would be to ask for client referrals. When I was trying to choose between agents, this really helped me to make my final decision! (One of the agents said she’d get me a referral but then she never got back to me. That was kind of a warning sign for me because I wanted an agent who was on top of things.)
I’m sure you’re going to get The Call very soon! 🙂
That’s great advice, Caroline. I imagine referrals (or lack of!) can be very telling. Thanks so much!
GREAT list– I hope to be referencing it in the coming months!!!
You and me both, Kat! 🙂
If it’s an agent with a “superstar” client list, one question I’d ask is”With _____ on your list, will you have time to put into me?
It may sound funny, but it’s a reality that the one making the big money will probably get more attention. You just want to be honest and clear that your needs will be taken care of as well.
Definitely add the following:
If my manuscript doesn’t sell in the first round of submissions, will we go on subsequent rounds?
Are you willing to sub more than one manuscript at a time? In the same genre? In different genres?
How do you handle clients wanting to work on similar projects/subject matter?
Ooh, good ones, Heather. Thanks!
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