Thursday, January 15, 2015

11 40 Questions to Ask When You Get THE CALL from an Agent

Writers who want to take the path of traditional publishing all dream of that magic phone call when an agent offers to take them on as a client. It’s the first of many magical moments en route to seeing your book on a shelf in an actual bookstore.

image via Judy_and_Ed
For me, the two years between “the call” and the publication of COMPULSION publication have been a steep learning curve, and there isn’t nearly as much written about any aspect of that period as there is about the process of learning to write a book or craft an effective query letter. Even the questions authors suggest you ask during “the call” don’t go far enough. I have constantly come across terms and issues that are unfamiliar and that I have no idea how to handle.

Having come through these two years, I’d like to share what I’ve learned in the form of additional questions to consider asking a prospective agent. Some of these are questions that I asked myself, some are questions I’ve since heard were asked by other authors, and some are questions that, having gone through the process, I believe would have helped me to manage expectations, smoothed communication, and resulted in less uncertainty on my part.

Does this mean you have to ask each of these questions according to a checklist? No, of course not.

Make the call a conversation. But do make sure you can answer the bulk of these questions before you sign an agency agreement. And here's a red flag to consider. If you're not comfortable asking the questions, or you're not comfortable with the answers, don't sign.

You and your agent are going to be working together closely, not just on this book but on many different books. You're going to have great news, and not so great news, and news that you don't understand. You need to be totally comfortable with the lines of communication, and you need to be sure that you're getting answers in a way that fits your communication style.

The Basic Questions

These are the defaults. You’ll find them suggested by almost every author, and you must force yourself to be your own advocate and ask them when the call actually happens.

  1. What do you like best about my manuscript?
  2. What do you like the least?
  3. How much editorial feedback do you like to provide?
  4. Do you think the manuscript ready to submit to publishers, or does it need revisions before submission?
  5. How extensive are the revisions you envision, and specifically what kind of changes are we talking about?
  6. Did you have particular editors in mind for submission as you read?
  7. What publishing houses do you think would be a good fit and why?
  8. Where do you see this book positioned on a publisher’s list? Lead title, mid-list, etc.
  9. What authors or books do you think are comparable and where do you see this positioned in a bookstore or categorized on Amazon?
  10. Who do you see buying this book at a bookstore or online? How would you describe those people as a category?
  11. How many editors do you envision sending it to in the first round of submissions?
  12. What does your standard submission packet include and what is your submission process
  13. How many rounds of submission are you willing to do before you consider a project “dead”?
  14. Are you interested in representing only this project or do you want to represent future work with a career perspective?
  15. Is there any work of mine, genre, age range, etc., that you would not be able to handle?
  16. What sort of a path would you like to see with my career? How many books per year, what type of books, etc.?
  17. Do you use a written agent-client contract?
  18. How does your agency handle digital rights, foreign rights, and other subsidiary potentials?
  19. How often do you provide updates on submission status?
  20. Do you send copies of the editor’s responses?
  21. Do you prefer to correspond by email or phone, and how often do you like to touch base verbally?
  22. What sorts of things do you want to hear from me about and at what stage would you want to be involved in a new project?
  23. What would be your ideal client relationship?
  24. What is your standard agency royalty percentage?
  25. How, and how often, is money distributed by your agency?
  26. What would happen if you decided to leave the agency? Would I be able to stay with you, or would I be assigned another agent?
  27. What are your standard termination provisions if either of us decide the relationship isn’t working?
Beyond the Basics

Initially, I thought the above questions were more than comprehensive. But there’s a great deal to working with an agent beyond the initial submission, and going through the process myself, listening to author friends, and meeting other authors since I embarked on the publication process, I have discovered that managing expectations for all concerned would have been much easier with additional information up front. The answers we get early on provide us with a basic foundation of information. They set the foundation. And without that foundation, it’s too easy to spend time floundering and wishing for knowledge.

To that end, here are some additional things you might ask your agent and consider:
  1. How involved do you expect to be in the editorial process once the book is purchased by a publisher? Do you ask for updates and gauge satisfaction from both author and agent?
  2. How would you handle editorial differences of opinion between an editor and author?
  3. How would you handle differences of opinion on titles or covers, etc?
  4. How and when do you explain the various stages of the publication process or do you leave that to a publisher?
  5. How would you handle a request for help if I need additional information, education, or intervention in the publishing process?
  6. What do you see as the agent’s role when it comes to marketing or publicity decisions, mine or those of the publisher, and to changes or shifts in marketing or publicity plans for the book?
  7. How do you handle foreign and subsidiary rights?
  8. What do you see as your role, if any, if the publisher retains subsidiary rights, and what do you see as your role or process for checking/advocating for those rights?
  9. If the book sells as part of a multi-book contract, what role do you expect to play in the editorial process for subsequent books?
  10. How far in advance of the contractual submission deadline do you want/expect/need to receive subsequent contracted manuscripts?
  11. At what point do you want to consider additional work to be submitted for “option” books or outside of an initial contract?
  12. What sort of timeline do you envision needing before getting back to me when I submit future projects for potential submission?
  13. How would you envision handling the situation if I love a project that you did not feel was salable or that you couldn’t market enthusiastically?
Remember, the right agent isn't scary. She or he is your business partner, and you will both be more likely to make money and have a solid, prosperous career if you can be open with each other about what you need.

This post first appeared on the QueryTracker blog.


  1. Great post, great advice. (Although, I'll admit the thought of actually going through this is a bit daunting! Lol.)

    1. It is daunting, and I'll admit that feeling stupid asking too many questions contributed to me not asking *enough* questions. But not having the right answers can be even more daunting! :(

  2. This is just what I needed right now! My manuscript is currently in the hands on my dream agent, and I'm holding my breath waiting for The Call (or an e-mail scheduling one).

    1. Oooh! Fingers and toes are crossed for you! Let us know! : )

  3. Martina, You're right I didn't think to ask many of the "Beyond the Basic" questions. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Not too late though! Better to get it out in the open early. Good luck!

  4. This is a terrific post. Thanks!

  5. Thank you so much for posting this comprehensive list of questions. Haven't started querying yet, but when I do, this list WILL be next to me just in case I do get the CALL! ☺


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