Thursday, January 10, 2008

Questions Not to Ask an Agent

Or maybe I should have titled this Not Bothering to Ask an Agent Questions . . .

As you've been talking a bit about questions clients ask of agents...

Would you be upset if a potential client signed up with you WITHOUT asking any questions? I've done my research, I know which agents I want, and if one of them asks me to be a client, I'd sign immediately (unless I had other agents waiting--of course I'd contact them first and withdraw consideration). Anyway, if an agent offers a contract, I don't really think I'm going to ask that many questions. Would that actually put you off a bit?

In fact I have had a couple of clients sign without asking any questions and it didn’t concern me at all.

BookEnds has a very public profile. With the blog, the Web site, membership in RWA, AAR, and MWA, and attendance at close to 20 conferences a year, it’s not hard to meet one of us personally or find out a lot about us by asking around. Therefore, if you’ve done your research and know what you want, feel free to sign. I only have one question that I’d ask you: While you might know the agent’s reputation, do you know whether or not you’d work well together?

Remember, the true goal when finding an agent is not just to find someone reputable, but to find someone who you feel can really work the best for you and your career, and as all agents can attest to, what is right for one author might not be right for another. And that’s why I would encourage you to ask at least some questions, to get a feel for whether or not you think the relationship is one that would work.

Let’s ask the readers, though. For those of you who signed without asking questions, what sort of knowledge did you have of the agent to make the decision comfortable for you? And for others, what suggestions do you have for trying to figure out if the relationship is right?



Kerry Allen said...

Let's assume most people aren't going to get multiple offers. Most people will choose Agent A over remaining unagented and virtually invisible to publishers.

If you did your homework before you queried (as opposed to hitting on every agent in business), you should have already weeded out the scam artists (fee chargers who have never sold a book, etc.) and the legitimate agents who turn you off (some avoid the "I'll get back to you if I feel like it" agents, while I personally didn't care for the "I expect my clients to arrange their lives around my demands" guy), so Agent A should be a safe enough choice.

Only in the rare case of multiple offers can one afford to get picky about getting along smashingly.

Chris Redding said...

I think that if you do your research and have met the person. Met them, then there is no reason to ask questions.
I get see Jessica once a year.
And have for probably the last fivr or so. We've chatted even when I haven't pitched.
If she took me on, I wouldn't have to ask questions.
But I haven't had the chance to meet that many other agents on that regular a basis.
I'd be on the phone for awhile if it were someone else.

Julie Weathers said...

I've had two agencies. The first one represented a suspense about some ruthless owners killing champion cutting horses for insurance money. We had a long phone conversation before I signed and they asked me, among other things, if I had anything else in the works. I suspect they were far more interested in the historical fiction I was working on than DANCING HORSES due to some later incidents.

The second agent repped THERE'S A MOOSE ON THE LOOSE, a children's book. I dearly loved her and we got along very well. She simply couldn't find a home for the book. It wasn't for lack of trying and, given the chance again, I would sign with her in a New York Minute.

With both I had conversations. Even with a careful search for an agent there are simply some things a person can only find out by asking. The agents also asked me questions. I would hope a prospective agent would want to know if I am a one-trick pony or if we can, hopefully, look forward to a long relationship.

I'm a horse trader so I'm used to picking up feet, checking teeth, feeling a horse, checking under the tail, etc. to make sure I know what I'm buying.

I'm not going to be checking an agent's teeth, but I would like to know what they expect of me and what I can expect of them. I also want some kind of connection with them. I wouldn't get along well with an agent who told me not to call them and they will not be calling me. I want them to have the best product I can give them and the only way to do that is through communication. I'm not going to be calling them to chat and I don't expect them to call and just shoot the bull, but I do expect communication.

Of course, I'm getting older so I may not be as picky as I once was. I guess we'll see when the prom gets closer.

Bernita said...

My first question would be "Do you mind if I cry right now?"|

Julie Weathers said...

"My first question would be "Do you mind if I cry right now?"|"

Phffft, that's when you put them on hold for a moment and scream loud enough to bring the SWAT team.

I kid. I probably wouldn't bother to put them on hold.

kris said...

"Only in the rare case of multiple offers can one afford to get picky about getting along smashingly."

I've said it before and I'll say it again - you could have a dozen offers of representation and still not have found the right agent for you.

But it is difficult to know if you're making the right choice, in large part because it can be hard to know what you, individually, will need from an agent if you've never worked with one before. I would suggest looking at the kind of relationships you have with other people you trust with things that are important to you - child care provider, financial planner, whatever. Do you want all the details from these people, or is a broad overview all you require? When you need to talk, do you prefer in person, phone, or email? How often do you want to touch base with them? Taking a look at those relationships can give you a clue as to what factors to consider when looking for your agent.


Anonymous said...

I knew a lot about my agent before I signed with her, so I didn't have many questions. What I wanted to know most, was what she expected from me and what working with her would be like.

Of course it also helped that I pitched her at a conference, and got to see her "in action" at several workshops, and we talked on the phone when she call to offer me representation. I felt that we clicked, I loved her energy, so I didn't need much more than that to say "sign me up!"

Anonymous said...

I still say ask all the questions in the world and it won't matter. They manner in which people (writers and agents alike) give lively/positive/fawning answers on the phone when they're trying to nab you and the manner in which they conduct themselves on a day to day basis once you are their client can be VERY different.

You don't really know until you're in it, if it's going to work out. I'm on my second agent, this one is a keeper.

Laura K. Curtis said...

I don't think I asked any questions when Jessica called. I do distinctly remember her asking if I had any, but between the blog, having seen her speak at a couple of conferences, and having met with her at a pitch session, I really didn't have any questions left.

Now, I have to get off the blog and call Jessica to ask her some questions.

Anonymous said...

Julie--this is off topic, but I wanted to tell you that There's a Moose on the Loose! was a favorite of both my kids when they were little! I used to have the thing memorized, in fact--there's a moose on the loose and a bad-tempered goose, and a pig who is big....right? What a pleasure to run across you and let you know how much we enjoyed your (now very tattered) book. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, anonymous, they can give you any answer they want. But I look at it like calling different daycares. You can tell by their answers or how they conduct themselves (or by their sales) how they operate. What they are really like.

I also think you can tell over the phone if their personality meshes well with yours. Especially if you are interviewing more than one agent...if only one agent is promising you the moon, then maybe be suspect of their intentions and promises.

Absolute Writer is a great place to find discussion about individual agents. There are many resources online nowadays to use in order to learn more about agents and how they conduct business.

Kate Douglas said...

BookEnds was brand new when I signed with Jessica. I had queried her on the recommendation of a fellow writer I admired tremendously (and still do!)but I knew nothing about her or her agency. When she called to offer representation, I felt we did well together over the phone, but the clincher for me was the contract she sent. I read it and it made sense--my gut reaction was that any agency with a contract as straightforward as theirs had to be someone I could trust. FWIW, Jessica wasn't able to sell that first manuscript so many years ago, but she's more than redeemed herself! :-)

Angie Fox said...

I also did my research and knew a lot about Jessica before querying. So, I didn't have any questions about her public profile. Still, when you get that call from an agent, it's a good idea to have a conversation about how you'd like to work together. Those are the kind of questions I asked.

For example, the manuscript I'd sent was a paranormal, but I also want to write mysteries. So we talked about that. We talked about things specific to The Accidental Demon Slayer, and that series too. Basically, even if you know you're going to say "yes, yes, yes!" why not take the time to talk about how you'd work together?

Christie Craig said...

Great post, Jessica.

I think the key to finding the right agent is to do the research. Research what is realistic in an agent/author relationship. Then realize that no matter what is realistic, agents come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer one service and another wouldn’t think of offering that service. I personally think the best agent is the one whose services reflect the needs of the client. But every agent will have their own limits and methods of doing business.

And it’s so true, what makes this all that much harder, is most of us won’t know what services we will need or what we will want until we get to the place where we need and want it. I’ve had two agents, and I have been in this business for 20 years, but I’m still learning how things work. That’s why it’s so important to have an agent with whom your personality meshes. You need to find one that you feel is your champion and understands what you want in the business.

And yes, agents can give you any answer they want when you question them. But by asking questions, both of the agent and of people who know her/him, you can figure out a little bit of how they operate and about how they come off. This is a business, however, whether you want it to be or not, personalities come into play. And if your agent’s personality isn’t compatible with yours, or vise versa, then it won’t make a good mix.

When I signed with Kim, I had several recommendations. Even then I really didn’t know her, but I felt comfortable talking to her. She didn’t scare me and I scare easily. Though I may have scared her. (smile) We still had to learn each others’ personalities…and she’s promised me that as soon as she’s figured me out that she will let me know because I’m still trying to do that myself.

But seriously, while we all know how desperate many authors feel about finding an agent, and how easy it is to jump at the first opportunity you get to sign with any agent, it is wise to think before you leap. An agent/author relationship is a marriage. And saying yes, just because you feel desperate, may not be wise.


Anonymous said...

I am one of those who didn't ask many questions when my agent, Jacky, offered representation. It was kind of cool because I certainly knew a lot about her when I'd queried her -- there was no question about her qualifications -- and then after she'd looked at the proposal, she emailed on a Friday to say that she was considering offering representation and promised to be in touch on the following Monday. That was perfect because it gave me time to think very seriously about her and some other people who'd expressed interest over the weekend. By Monday I knew that if she offered I wanted to go with her -- the only information I needed at that point was to see how I felt about her personally when I "met her" on the phone -- and that was the best part of all, of course, because when I spoke with her I knew she shared my vision for the book and she knew exactly what I was trying to achieve with it. That was great, but also I really liked that she was so natural and straightforward. I knew she would be perfect for me within the first 5 minutes of our conversation. And plus as I recall, she answered all my questions even before I could ask them -- contract stuff, publisher stuff and all that.

Bill Peschel said...

I think part of the problem with asking questions, if you're seeking your first agent, is that you don't know what will come up, how you will interact with your agent, after the first book is signed.

Nowadays, newbie writers are aware that the Intertubes can give you a lot of information about some agents and their reptuations, but the dealings you may have after the first contract signing are pretty much a closed book.

It seems the most important part of the relationship -- how you get along -- can only be experienced, not questioned. You can't very well ask, "Are you not going to give me the information I need?" "Are you not going to tell me who you sent the manuscript to?" "Are you going to resent my suggestions about the cover?" "Are you not going to call me when you promised?"

Geeze, this is starting to sound like dating.

Unknown said...

The first time I spoke to my agent we discussed revisions and every single one of her suggestions was so spot on I felt a little silly for having not thought of it in the first place.:) The fact that she connected with my work so perfectly, was reason enough for me to sign with her. Over a year later, I'm still a happy camper.:)

whimper1823 said...

I want to thank all of you for such valuable information. I don't see any comments directed toward people like me who would probably become babbling idiots.

Agent: Hi, This is Dave from such and such, I would like to offer you representation.

Me: Hmmmphen Gloob.

Agent: Excuse me?

Me: Sigh, Ischtechenary schlumunchen.

Agent: Can you put your dad on little boy?

Me: Thizzle Meeeasssso.

Unknown said...

Myself, as far as how I search for agents, I do tend to do my research, and have been fortunate enough to meet several of the agents I have on my "top list" at conferences, so I have a general idea of what they're like.

So the kinds of questions I would ask would be off the wall stuff, like whether they preferred Star Wars or Star Trek, or what kind of candy bars they liked.

That is, of course, if I could speak at all. :)

Karen Duvall said...

Hey, whisper:

Agent: Hi, This is Dave from such and such, I would like to offer you representation.

Me: Hmmmphen Gloob.

Agent: Excuse me?

Me: Sigh, Ischtechenary schlumunchen.

This is priceless! Thanks for a much-needed laugh today.

Anonymous said...

This is a good question, and one I have been thinking a lot about lately.

I, like most people, deal with lots of professionals. I have an accountant, a lawyer, multiple doctors, a dentist etc.

I am very astute about finding really good quality people. And what I mean by that, is that they are really, really good at what they do. I tend to deal with them for very long periods of time, and it grieves me when for some reason I have to replace them.

What is also absolutely fundamental to me, is that they at least seem like people who know how to lead a decent life. And lastly, and I know this might seem a bit sad here, but I have to like them.

At this stage of my life, I have no need of an agent. I hope this changes. But what I will be looking for when I do need an agent is not just a professional, but a likable person.

Anonymous said...

"You don't really know until you're in it, if it's going to work out. I'm on my second agent, this one is a keeper."

I totally agree. Writers can get all the answers they need by phone, but when the actual marriage "work" begins, you'll learn if it's for the long term or if a divorce is in the near future.

Anonymous said...

Met my agent at a conference. Met 3 others there, too. In the journal I kept I had notes about how well she and I connected - moreso than I did with the others - how well she "got" my work (based on her questions to me). So, when she offered, I accepted immediately, because I knew she was the one. It has been as great of a fit as I thought it would be.

Julie Weathers said...

Anon 10:39;

I wish I could take credit for that, really I do, but my Moose was written a few years before that and never saw the light of day. Sheesh, publishers.

At least now I know I had a great title.

Wonder if there's any market for title writers?

Julie Weathers said...

I would like to think I would be cool, calm and collected if an agent called to say they want to rep me. I would try very hard to put on my professional writer face.

However, when I won a $10,000 race horse I was screaming and jumping around like an idiot.

I would ask some serious questions after someone revived me or pulled me off the ceiling. I want the agent to tell me what I need to do to make the work better. What do they expect from me? What can I realistically expect from them? How do they want to communicate?

I've already had the agent who told me how perfect I was. Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt. I just want a no nonsense appraisal of what we need to do.

Aimlesswriter said...

Haven't signed with anyone yet, but I have a list. This list contains agents I've researched for years. Its by order of preference. These are agents I've researched, watched their sales and read other author's opinions of them.
Bookends is there and towards the top...okay, after meeting you and coming to know you through your blog you'd probably be the top now. Bumping my perpetual fav (Mr. A) out lately. When I met you and heard you speak you were very much a real person. No pretense, not a phony, not a fluff. I got the feeling you'd be a straight shooter and wouldn't sign me unless you felt you could sell the book.
However if several agents called and asked me to, could they change my mind? Hmmmm, would that I could be so lucky as to be fought over.
Going to go daydream now....

Anne-Marie said...

Thank you all for such insightful comments and advice, and thank you, Jessica, for bringing up the topic.

ORION said...

The first time my agent called it was to chat and see what I was like -- not to offer representation- (she was in the middle of reading my novel and was loving it) We hit it off right away. When she called to offer representation I asked how much communication she wanted i.e. how often I could ask her questions etc as I knew things would come up- I also asked questions about how she liked to work with authors (closely or at a distance) --
I hear about people who are hesitant to call or email their agent- or who are slightly afraid of them...I knew it didn't want that.

Julie Weathers said...


Bingo. I don't want to chat all the time with my agent. I want them to be able to work on my project and their other ones. I just want to know what their preferences are, so I know what to expect. I also want them to know what to expect from me. It needs to be a healthy, working relationship for me.

One woman admits she is afraid of her agent and they very seldom have any contact, which suits her fine.

Sorry, I don't want to be afraid of my agent. Slightly in awe, is acceptable. Afraid? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

I like Angie Fox's reply. I don't have an agent, but I have sold an unagented manuscript, and during the process I had good conversations with my editor, talking about the project and figuring out what role we could both play in it. It's not like an interview, drilling/grilling to find the right answer, but to feel out how you're going to approach this business relationship. I'd done my research, and there was really no question as to whether I was going to accept--but I got a sense of what the editor liked about the book, how he would promote it, what his vision of it was, etc. I wasn't looking for certain "correct" answers. I just wouldn't do it without a little conversation.

Anonymous said...

No, I think I agree with Anonymous here. Kristin brought up daycares, so I'll bring up schools. We've put our children in their fourth school so far and, really, it shouldn't have been this difficult. Neither my husband nor I are idiots.

However, between the smiling principals and vice-principals, the charts that show how popular the school is, the written policies on bullying and verbal policies on curriculum (later recanted), the PowerPoint presentations from teachers on what's been achieved during the year, the time pressure ("or you'll have to go on the waiting list, I'm afraid"), and the blinding need to Do The Right Thing for our children, we still screwed up. Three times. We're still waiting to see if the fourth time "takes".

Unfortunately, I'm swiftly coming to the conclusion that the proof is only in the eating, and all the whipped cream and sniffing beforehand can't preclude a lingering bad taste.

author said...

For a moment, I couldn't even remember my first conversation with my agent (the oh so amazing Jessica Faust) and then it all came back to me like remembering eating a really good piece of cheesecake.

You know you have you'll have a good relationship with an agent when:

-You're scared - and they make that okay
-You're nervous - and they make that go away
-You forget to breathe- and they remind you
-You suddenly forget how to speak and they let you sit there in silence until it all comes back you

I hadn't researched agents at all when I got the call. I didn't even know what to ask, but I found out fast. I hope I asked the right questions and I can say that it was by far the best decision I've made so far for my career. There is nothing more important than having someone you can really TRUST in your corner- I got that in spades with Jessica.

Because I have such a great relationship with my agent I can definitely see how having a bad one could cripple you as a writer. So it's best to ask all the questions you can and really pay attention to the answers. Granted there are some questions you can answer through research but here's one you can't:

What, realistically, do you imagine for my career and how would do we get there?

ASIDE: I know I didn't ask her that question. I was too busy trying not to faint!