Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Questions to Ask Before Signing with an Agent

If you didn’t pick up on it yesterday, I want to remind you today: You are hiring an agent. This person works for you and you pay her. Therefore she should be the person you feel the most comfortable with and who you trust with your money and your work.

So what can you ask and how should you interview an agent. That’s up to you. While I definitely suggest you take the time to talk with each interested agent on the phone, it’s also perfectly acceptable to email your questions. This way she can either reply via email, or has the questions in front of her during your phone call and you won’t feel like you’re peppering her with a million different questions.

The first place to go for questions is The Association of Artists’ Representatives. They have a good list of questions that will get you started. Not every question needs to be asked, but this will give you an idea of what is important to you.

And the rest is personal. What do you want in an agent? What’s important to you? Are you an email or phone person? Do you need hand-holding or editing or are you a loner? Do you need someone with a strong personality who can put you in your place or are you afraid of overly aggressive people?

Here’s a list of the questions I think are most important when interviewing an agent. But you are the only person who can decide what’s important to you.

* How does your agency handle subsidiary rights, including film and foreign rights? (Most agencies use co-agents for this. As long as an agency has experience and contacts in this area you are in good hands.)

* Who in your agency will actually be handling my work? Will the other staff members be familiar with my work and the status of my business at your agency? Will you oversee or at least keep me apprised of the work that your agency is doing on my behalf?

* Do you issue an agent-author agreement? May I review the language of the agency clause that appears in contracts you negotiate for your clients?

* How do you keep your clients informed of your activities on their behalf?

* Do you consult with your clients on any and all offers?

* What are your commission rates? What are your procedures and time-frames for processing and disbursing client funds? Do you keep different bank accounts separating author funds from agency revenue? What are your policies about charging clients for expenses incurred by your agency?

* When you issue 1099 tax forms at the end of each year, do you also furnish clients upon request with a detailed account of their financial activity, such as gross income, commissions and other deductions, and net income, for the past year?

* How do you handle submissions? Will you stop submitting my work after a certain time or number of rejections?

* Do you want to represent just this book or are you interested in my other work?

* Do you place a minimum time requirement on our relationship? Can either of us terminate the agreement at any time?

* How would our relationship be terminated if I’m not happy?

* If we part company, what happens to any outstanding subsidiary rights?

* How do you help your clients with career planning?

* How frequently do you update your clients or keep them informed of the work you’re doing? How do you prefer me to communicate with you?

So, what questions have you asked or would you ask any potential agents?



Anonymous said...

Another interesting post. I love your blog, but couldn't you please activate full RSS feeds?


Laura K. Curtis said...

That's pretty comprehensive, but I don't really know what this means:

Do you issue an agent-author agreement? May I review the language of the agency clause that appears in contracts you negotiate for your clients?

In a post some time in the future, would you consider explaining some of the legalese associated with agents and agencies?

Nadia said...


I think you should ask for it because some agencies demand that you give them commissions for the books they sold, even for the rights they didn't sell.

For example, Agent Jane sold your book WONDERFUL DEBUT to Avon, World English rights. You and Agent Jane decide to go separate ways or Agent Jane dies or something. So Agent Jane is no longer your agent.

You hire a new agent, Susan. Agent Susan sells WONDERFUL DEBUT's Korean, Spanish and movie rights. So you give Agent Susan her 20% for selling those right on your behalf.

But if you had some sort of clause that forces you to pay Agent Jane forever, then Agent Jane, too, gets her 20% on the Korean, Spanish and movie rights money. So you end up paying 40% commission.

Refer to Kristin Nelson's old post on this topic.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


That is a concern, but not necessarily a reason for an author-agent agreement.


Give me a few weeks and I'll do a post on the pros/cons of an author-agent agreement and some things you should look out for and/or expect.


I think Laura and Angelle brought up some good points. If there are any questions on this list you'd like me to expand upon please let me know and I will do a separate post on each.


Kimber Li said...

Excellent! I've saved them for just in case. Thanks.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Thanks, Jessica!

Jolie Mathis said...

One question I'd be sure to ask is whether the agent intends to offer editorial recommendations on your proposals/ideas. Some authors appreciate and welcome input and suggested revisions to make the proposal the strongest it can be, and some don't want anyone's mitts on their project but their own. I really (really!) appreciate my agent's comments and suggestions.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


You ask and you shall receive. The feeds are activated. We are in the process of doing some major blog tweaking and appreciate all the feedback and requests.


Tyhitia Green said...

Thanks for the great info., Jessica

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend talking to a couple of the agent's clients before making the final decision.

Here's a question I wish I'd asked my agent: "How quickly do you respond to emails/phone calls?"

(Turns out that my agent is veerrrryyyy sloooowwww to respond.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jessica! Very helpful, and I'm taking copious notes.

What I'd like to know from some of the agented authors is how many of you had multiple agents to interview and how many of you married your only date?

What if you have only one agent offer and the agent seems OK but you've no one else to compare her answers to? Best case, of course, is that you have lots of agent interest, but what if you've got a competently written book that's receiving nice, personal rejections from agents but agents just aren't clamoring at the door?

If only one respectable agent out of 30 shows interest and she's #29 on your priority list of who you'd like to represent you, what do you do? When, if ever, is an "OK fit" good enough?

kris said...

Other questions I felt it was important to ask:

At what point do you prefer to see new projects?

What drew you to this book? What do you see as its strengths?

Why do you represent books in this genre? (I once heard an agent admit in a panel discussion that she had started handling a type of book she'd previously avoided, just because it was suddenly hot. Eeek!)

Would you have a problem with me continuing to place my work in contests and/or meet with editors on my own at conferences?

And, for Anonymous who asked "If only one respectable agent out of 30 shows interest and she's #29 on your priority list of who you'd like to represent you, what do you do?" My answer would be, that with ANY offer of representation, it all boils down to yes or no - right for you or wrong for you. Multiple offers are very flattering and create a wonderful dilemma, but here's the thing: you could have a dozen agents vying to work with you, and they could all, every one of them, be wrong for you.

The number of agents is irrelevant. All that matters is whether this is the right fit.
Don't settle. Hold out for what's right for you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. I'm printing this post and the last one out and sticking them right in the front of my Agent binder.

Anonymous said...

Wow... a lot of information and daunting for a novice. I'm glad there are nice agents like you out there! There is a person in the industry that I'm in who publishes information like this to make his own job easier and to make his clients happier. I hope it's working for you.

Anonymous said...

That was quick. :-) Thanks, much appreciated! It's so much easier just to read everything in Google reader (and then pop in when you want to comment, of course).