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June 13, 2012

A couple of months ago, my friend and fellow Avalon author, Jane McBride Choate, wrote a guest post advising writers how to proceed after they receive “the call”.  That post was so well-received that we’ve invited Jane to come back. So, here she is … this time with advice about how to make sure you have the right agent before you sign that contact.

                                          INTERVIEWING AN AGENT


by Jane McBride Choate

            Many writers are so excited at the idea of getting an agent that they fail to remember that an agent works for them.  You, the writer, are a small business person.  Interview an agent as you would any employee. 

            Do your due diligence.  Ask around among your writer friends about an agent’s reputation.  Find writers who write in the same genre as you do and ask who represents them.  Most writers want to help others and will be happy to share information.  Understand, however, that a professional writer will not share specifics of his contract.  Don’t put him on the spot by asking for particulars.  It’s awkward for the other writer and marks you as an amateur.

          Following are a list of questions you should ask a prospective agent:  You may think of more on your own.

  1. How long have you worked as an agent?  Don’t be put off if an agent is just starting off.  In many cases, new agents are the best match for new writers.  Just because they are beginning in their career as an agent doesn’t mean they are new to the publishing business.  Many agents are former editors or publishing house employees who know the business and how it operates.  In addition, they will probably have contacts. New agents are frequently hungry for clients and will give you the time and attention that a more established agent can not.   On the other hand, nothing beats experience.  Interview prospective agents with an eye to where you are in your career and what your needs are. 
  2. How do you prefer to communicate with your clients?  By email?  Phone?  How often do you keep in contact with your clients?  Do you consult with your clients on any and all offers?  Agents cannot always return an author’s calls or emails immediately, but your agent should certainly respond within a few days.  If you make repeated calls or other contact and do not receive a reply, that may be a warning sign that all is not right in your relationship.
  3. Are you a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)?  This is critical.  Be wary of anyone who represents him or herself as a literary agent who is not a member of AAR. 
  4. What are your commission rates? Standrad rates are now 15 percent for domestic sales with 20 percernt for foreign sales. Some big name writers use literary lawyers because it’s less expensive for them to pay an hourly rate than a 15 percent commission. Obviously that will not work for the rest of us. What are your accounting practices? This includes procedures and time frames for processing and disbursing client funds. Do you keep difrerent bank accounts separating author funds from agency revenue?
  5. What are your policies about charging clients for expenses incurred by your agency?  Postage and copying fees are standard.  Run, don’t walk, from any agent who charges a “reading fee.”  This is nearly always a scam.
  6. Do you have an agent-author agreement?  May I look at the language of the agency clause that appears in contracts you negotiate for your clients?
  7. Do you have associates or subagents inHollywood?  What about overseas?  Do you have specialists at your agency who handle movie and television rights?  In the current market of multi-media projects, it is essential to have an agent or contact who can handle these specialized markets.  Who knows how far your book may go?
  8. If  we should decide to end our agreement, what is your policy about handling any unsold subsidiary rights in my work?  Most authors change agents three or more times for a variety of reasons.   Knowing how unsold rights are handled is essential
  9. In the event of disability or death, what, if any provisions exist for my continued representation?
  10. Who,  in your agency, will be representing my work?  Will other agency members be familiar with my work?  Will you, personally, oversee and keep me apprised of the work that your agency is doing on my behalf?  After all your effort in deciding upon an agent, in interviewing one, you want to be certain that you will be represented by that person or, at the very least, that the person who is working with you is someone with whom you feel comfortable.

            Understand that most agents will not bother answering your questions unless they have decided to represent you.  Do your homework and make an informed decision.   

Thanks, Jane. I know a lot of writers who are anxious to put your advice into practice. By the way, Dear Readers, Jane is a multi-pulbished (27 books!) author. Here’s a link to her Amazon Author page :

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2012 1:41 PM

    Good advice. We writers are so happy to get an agent we tend to eagerly agree to anything.
    I do have an agent and I´m happy with her, but I must confess I did not ask all these questions.
    As they say better safe than sorry and if the agent is genuine, she will not be offended by your questions.

    • June 13, 2012 2:14 PM

      Thanks for stopping by, Carmen. I agree. Sometimes writers tend to act like eager little puppies, too anxious for approval. We are a needy lot.

  2. June 13, 2012 3:40 PM

    I think as writers we often tend to see agents as all-powerful with our destiny in their hands, when in reality, as Jane said, they are working for us. As such, we need to ask intelligent questions, and also to make sure writer and agent are a good fit.

    I still remember author Jennifer Weiner speaking at the Friends of Library luncheon in Doylestown a couple of years back. She had a terrific title for her first book, one that eventually became a best-seller: “Good in Bed.”

    But her agent wanted to title it, “Big Fat Girl.” As Jennifer asked: “If you went into a book store and saw both titles, which book would you buy?”

    She made a gutsy move and dropped her agent shortly thereafter. As they say, the rest is history.

    A terrific post with a wealth of great information.

  3. June 14, 2012 5:27 AM

    Excellent post! Timely for me as I pitch a new book. Often you dont see advice on “what next” after that call.

  4. June 16, 2012 10:21 AM

    Thanks for the helpful advice, Jane. I’ve had two agents in the past, but I wished I’d read your blog first before signing on.

    • June 17, 2012 9:33 AM

      Thanks for your input, Sydell. Your books seem to be doing well. You must have done something right.

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