10 Questions to Ask When Offered Representation

This is a list that I’d written a while ago to help a friend who had just been offered representation. I thought it would be perfect for the blog, and frankly can’t believe I held on to it in my files for so long.

When you’re offered representation by a literary agent, you should have the opportunity to talk to them about potentially working together. This is an exciting and nerve-wracking phone call for a writer (and sometimes for an agent if we want to work with you really, really badly!), but it’s important that you really take the time, ask the right questions, get full answers, and give yourself as much information as possible.

The following are 10 questions that I would ask if I were signing with an agent. They’re questions I answer about myself when speaking to writers all the time. If you get an agent who is unwilling to answer questions or seems to balk at these basic ones, that would be a red flag for me, personally. Communication problems and transparency are big issues in a writer-agent relationship, and if there are issues from the word “go,” the situation is unlikely to get better.

So do your due diligence. Here’s the list I would use to get started:

1. What is your communication style? Do you prefer phone or email? Do you check in often even when we’re not on active submission?
2. Tell me more about how your agency works and handles clients. Is there an agency agreement for new clients? (There usually will be, it’s okay to ask to see it beforehand.) What are steps for termination? (You hope it doesn’t happen, but you need to know that you have an out if you need it.)
3. Are you a member of AAR? (The Association of Author Representatives. Member agencies agree to abide by a code of ethics. Their website is www.aaronline.org.)
4. What books have you sold and what publishers do you work with?
5. What is your submission strategy? Do you go on a big round to editors or do you do smaller rounds that let us hear feedback and make changes, should we need to?
6. How would you position this book to editors? Where do you see this fitting in to publishers’ lists?
7. What editorial changes do you think I should make to this manuscript?
8. What happens if we don’t sell this book?
9. How do you work on revisions with clients?
10. How do you work with clients as they’re generating new ideas? (For example, I ask clients for idea pitches and then help them hone in on what’s strongest to pursue.)

Before you put these questions to an agent, of course, figure out what you feel like you want the answers to be. Some of these issues may not matter to you, but you may have strong opinions about others. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, per se, but right and wrong answers for you. (“If we don’t see this book, I will burn down your house and run around your backyard naked,” would probably be a wrong answer for everyone, though…)

Different agents have different styles. Part of this feeling-each-other-out process after an offer of representation is made is to see if you like their answers and strategies and if you can see working well with them.

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  1. Julie Daines’s avatar

    This is great advice. I’ve seen some authors who are so excited to have an agent interested that all they see is gold. Unfortunately, some of them end up with an agent or contract that isn’t working for them.

    (Not you of course, Mary!) :)

  2. Jackie Yeager’s avatar

    Thanks for these great questions. I hope many of us need to ask them one day soon! :)

  3. Shaun’s avatar

    I think writers should also ask agents what books they read. It sounds stupid maybe, but an agent should really have a firm grasp of the types of books they rep. An agent doesn’t have to read every single book in that genre, but they should know what’s out there.

    If your prospective agent only reads middle grade books or funny books and you’re writing edgy contempt, it’s something I would definitely question.

  4. Susan Adrian’s avatar

    This is a useful list. However, I’m really interested in the corollary: what kinds of questions do YOU as the offering agent ask the author? You already know you like the one book, but what are you looking to find out in that call?

  5. Damon Dean’s avatar

    This is a keeper, Mary. I’m not anywhere close to having a body of work ready for agent representation, but I’m filing this–and maybe pasting it on the refrigerator. I’d also like to see any answers to Susan Adrian’s question in her reply, on what kind of questions can an author expect from an agent.

  6. Taryn’s avatar

    Wish I’d seen this last week! There are sooo many questions out there, and after compiling them all I had about four pages. Nice to see what’s actually important from your point of view :)

  7. E. Kiely Kearns’s avatar

    Great list! I have often wondered what you ask after the shock wears off….hope everyone has to use this list soon….:)

  8. Gwen’s avatar

    I’m interested in the breakdown of editors and publishers the agent works with and sells to. Do they only target the big names, or do they work with smaller, niche publishers and editors?

  9. Kathryn’s avatar

    “Before you put these questions to an agent, of course, figure out what you feel like you want the answers to be.”

    Best advice ever.

  10. Stephanie Weippert’s avatar

    I clicked the link to the AAR and it goes to a railroad site. I did a google search and it appears to be aaronline.org

    Thanks for the list of questions. I needed this info. :)

  11. Mary’s avatar

    Stephanie — Thanks for pointing this out. I fixed the link!

  12. TC Avey’s avatar

    Great advice. I’ve slowly been putting together a list of questions I think are important to me. You just added a few more to my list- Thanks!
    I am starting to feel more prepared for when the dream moment arrives and I get that magical phone call.
    Now I only have to hope and pray I am near my computer to look at my list and that I will have enough blood flowing to my brain to be able to find the document of questions that is saved on my desktop!

  13. Becky’s avatar

    I need to post this on the board above my computer!

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