Serious Talk with your Potential Agent

What are some of the things you should ask when an agent has called to offer you representation? Here goes, in no particular order:

1) Would you go over your contract terms with me? Even though you will be reading the agency contract before signing, this is your chance to learn the main points you can expect to see.  Ask questions now. After you review the contract, don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications in writing.

2) Will you or another agent be handling my work? This is important when signing with an agency that has more than one agent. The Steve Laube Agency does not reassign authors. Once you sign with one of us, you remain with that agent, although our President, Steve Laube, is quite involved and offers invaluable advice and oversight to his agents.

3) What plans do you have for presenting my work to publishers? While presenting your manuscript for maximum effect is the agent’s job, now is the time to share your hopes and dreams. Those may be anything from “I just want to get published,” to, “ACME is my dream publisher,” to, “I feel my next contract should take me to a higher level of status and money.” What will the agent do to help you achieve your dream?

4) May I share with you my financial expectations and needs? I’ll work just as hard for the author buying a big screen TV or a beach trip with her royalties as I will for the author who needs every penny to pay the light bill. However, financial considerations will affect the author choosing between several offers. You’ll be talking a lot with your agent about money. Start with an honest discussion now. Steve told me of one author who said he wouldn’t take a contract for anything less than $100,000….which was too bad since the project was likely going to sell for about $8,000. Steve ended up not taking that client since he would be unable to meet that author’s expectations.

5) What are your office hours? I don’t believe I’ve seen office hours stated on anyone’s web site and while this question seems rudimentary, it’s important because most authors and agents don’t want or need to be on call 24/7, particularly since publishers’ offices aren’t open around the clock. Plus, you owe your family and yourself some off time.

However, this information will give you a guideline about the best times to telephone your agent and when you may expect to hear back on emails. If the agent says his schedule is flexible, I recommend using email, which is less obtrusive than the telephone, during off hours and confining telephone calls to 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday in his time zone. Over time you and your agent may develop a relationship where you call each other every Sunday at 10 PM, and that’s fine. But start out treating your agent with respect to boundaries as you would any other business person.

6) As a general rule, how long does it take you to respond to emails and missed telephone calls during your standard office hours? A major complaint I hear from authors is that their agents don’t communicate with them. By getting an idea of how the agent works in this area, you can avoid misunderstanding.

7) How hands-on are you regarding proposals? When you listen to the agent’s answer, take into consideration your needs. If you expect an agent to double as your editor, say so now. If you already have established relationships with your editors and send proposals to them on your own and bring the agent in at contract time, tell the agent now. Most writers fall between these two situations. Now is a good time to find out what both of you should expect.

All will not be revealed during even a lengthy telephone conversation and you’ll still need to learn about each other and grow in your working relationship. But if you feel uncomfortable or less than excited after the conversation, give the agent a chance to clarify any fine points. Then, if you still feel unsure, don’t rush to sign a contract. Better not to act than to find you need to part ways years later, which will be much more painful.

But most of the time, the big call leads to even bigger possibilities — and a warm, lasting relationship both of you will cherish.

Your turn:

What questions did I miss?
Can you add to my ideas?

18 Responses to Serious Talk with your Potential Agent

  1. Nancy B. Kennedy December 13, 2012 at 5:01 am #

    Wow! Now there is something to aspire to… not just blurting out “YESSS!” when an agent calls to offer representation. More often, I think it goes something like this:

  2. Diana Harkness December 13, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    Great post. However, I don’t want to talk on the telephone. Too much is lost that way. Send an email, please. When my attorney calls I often have to ask him to repeat things three or four times because by the time they amble from my ears to my brain where they are translated into a concept I can understand, he’s moved on to some other topic. This is someone I have known for years and an area of law with which I am familiar. I have no familiarity with agency and publisher contracts. Please use email for these important matters and allow me to do the same.

  3. Jackie Layton December 13, 2012 at 5:38 am #

    I’d love to have an agent call me. I’ve spent so much time writing and learning the craft that I rarely allow myself to
    imagine the day I’ll get “the call.”

    Like Diana, I’d probably need an email because I’m not sure how much of the conversation will stick.

    Thanks for sharing this list of questions. I’d have never come up with them on my own.

  4. Connie Almony December 13, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Great questions. I’ll be adding this article to my favorites.

  5. Lisa December 13, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    Thanks for this important information!

  6. Rick Barry December 13, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Tamela (or any other agents), I assume you wouldn’t knowingly submit proposals to any publisher who is difficult to work with. That said, are there instances when two different publishers offer two different deals, and you would advise accepting the smaller financial package? If so, which extenuating considerations come into play? Thanks!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      Rick, that’s a great question, although not one that is answered well in this type of format because there are too many factors that can come into play with both the writer and the publisher. Whenever I receive two offers, which is often, I discuss both with the author, taking into account the author’s ministry, career goals, financial goals, what type of editorial relationship the writer aspires to, the publisher’s unique ministry position within CBA, and other considerations. The answer is never the same for any two authors. I know that may seem vague, but I hope I have helped at least a bit! Feel free to ask another question if I have only muddied the waters for you.

  7. Lindsay Harrel December 13, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    What great advice, Tamela! If I ever get an offer of representation, you can bet I’ll be rereading this and using it as a basis. Thanks!

  8. Robin Patchen December 13, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Great post, Tamela. I’m going to save this and pray I need to refer to it soon. :)

  9. Meghan Carver December 13, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Saving this, Tamela, to add to my growing list of questions. Thanks for such specifics.

  10. Jeanne December 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Tamela, these are excellent questions. Thanks also for giving the rationale for asking them. Maybe I’ll even get to use them one day. ;)

  11. Jan Thompson December 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Thank you! Wow. I am so new to this business that I had no idea authors can be reassigned to another agent in the same agency. It reminds me of going to a lawyer or doctor at a large practice. Ya never know who you’ll end up with :-)

  12. Chitra Soundar December 17, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    I would also ask the following:

    a) As an agent, what level of updates do you want from your author – do you want progress reports or just the finished product?

    b) As an agent, would you like a lot of say in developing the project or do y ou expect the author to show you a finished proposal.

    c) Would you be able to get access to briefs from editors on what they are looking for and suggest to the author if there are any mutually interesting topics

    d) What is your take on digital rights?

    e) Do you have reach outside the geography you are supporting – ie, if you are in N America, do you have collaborations with agents in the European zone or in Australia / NZ?

    f) Would you be helping with various prizes and help nominate my book?

  13. angchronicles December 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    This is great information and confirmation for turning down a agent, who is not part of AAR, did not return my phone call, or respond to my email to discuss the contract. Although she was completely excited about representing me, and I too was excited about having an agent, God surely showed me He has something better for me. Be careful.

  14. G.G.Paxton December 18, 2012 at 7:51 am #


    Great questions!

    I’d like to add a few more:

    Questions for an Agent:

    1- What publishers do you generally work with, and with which ones do you have the closest working relationship, or usually contact first? Which ones do you avoid? And why?

    2- Tell me some of your success stories, as well as some of your crash-and-burn stories. Do you have any interesting book or author “rescue” stories?

    3- Who do you currently represent who works in my genre? Who in my genre have you worked with in the past?

    4- What kinds of book ideas get you really fired-up, so fired-up that you can’t sleep at night?

    5- Why are you interested in my project? What do you see as its prospects? Be specific, please.

    6- Other than representing my book to the publishing industry, what other kinds of help and advice can I expect from you?

    7- How much time can I expect to have with you, say in the course of a month’s time? And in what manner and routine?

    8- How are the revolutionary changes in the publishing industry affecting your effectiveness as an agent? Where do you see these changes taking you in you personal career, and in the careers of those whom you represent?

    9- What plans are you making and putting in place to counter and grow from the ongoing changes in the publishing industry?

    10- What is your background? How long have you been working as an agent? Why did you choose to become a literary agent?

    11- What are your short-term and long-term dreams, career and otherwise?

    Finally, if all has gone well up to this point, I would ask:

    12- When and where can we meet in person?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 18, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      Chitra and G.G., you both pose excellent questions! I will see if I can address them in future blog posts. Thank you!

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