I’ve done multiple posts now on questions you can, should, and might ask an agent before signing, but a reader came forward to ask me a question I hadn’t considered. Is it appropriate to ask an agent how much she thinks she’ll be able to sell the book for?
Of course I think the answer to this question depends greatly on the author’s personality and whether or not she is comfortable asking such a question. And authors have asked this question of me before signing. Strangely enough, I think they’ve all been nonfiction authors. While I do think it’s entirely appropriate to ask the question, it does put the agent a bit on the hot seat, and of course none of us likes that. For you, though, it’s a great testing ground. It’s the kind of question that’s really going to throw most agents, and the kind of answer that will give you a real look into how this agent probably operates.
While it’s unlikely you’ll get a straight answer, because it’s unlikely the agent has a straight answer, how the agent does answer can say a lot about how comfortable you might be working with such a person. In other words, I wouldn’t base your decision in choosing an agent on how much money she thinks she can get for you, but instead how straightforward she is when answering. How honest is she with you, or how honest do you feel she is? The truth is that agents don’t really know the answer. She can give a ballpark based on her experiences of how much she thinks a publisher might offer, but until she talks to editors who have read the book and knows the passion they feel for it, she won’t know how much they are willing to fight for it—which is when the real money comes in.
Okay. I’ll stop talking in circles now. What I’m trying to say is that I would be wary of the agent who gives a fantastical figure and sounds like she’s promising to get you that kind of money. I would also be wary of the agent who gets mad at you for even asking. I would, however, seriously consider the agent who takes the time to explain how the money process works and what sort of range you might expect based on the subject of your book, its “hotness” factor, your experience, etc. An agent who is as open and honest about your question as she can be.
I’m curious, though. Have any of you asked agents this question, and what kind of responses did you receive?