Questions to ask a literary agent before sealing the deal

Jitterbugging in Negro juke joint, Saturday evening, outside Clarksdale, Mississippi (LOC)

(Part of a blog series: How to catch the eye of a literary agent)

Let’s imagine you’re at that turning point in your writing life: You’re expecting a phone call from a literary agent. The email he sent earlier in the week made it clear that he’s interested in taking you on as a client.

What can you do to make sure you’re doing that happy dance after you finish the call?

Ask questions, the experts say. But not just any questions.

Kimiko Nakamura of Dee Mura Literary says in her recent Writer’s Digest article,

To gauge your flexibility, we’ll ask you some questions, and we also expect you to show that you’re thoughtful and savvy by asking a few of your own. This conversation is the final step in making the leap from wish list to client list.¹

Throughout her article, Nakamura makes it clear that agents take into account everything you communicate. “What agents won’t tell you is that every email and conversation with us is a testing ground.”

So it goes with the questions you ask as you’re on the way to sealing the deal. Agents will be listening for your level of professionalism, your personality, and the passion you have for writing.

Questions You Should Ask

Nakamura’s article gives four basic questions to ask an interested agent:

  • What kind of revisions do you foresee?
  • Who do you see as a potential audience for my work?
  • Do you have experience selling in my genre?
  • Do you have specific publishers in mind for my book?

AgentQuery.com is a resource that should be in every writer’s toolbox. Here is a sampling of questions from their article, When Agents Offer Representation:

  • First, a recommendation: You should definitely ask questions—during the second-half of the conversation. But for the first-half, we recommend letting the agent drive the conversation.
  • What do you like best about my project?
  • Do you feel that my project is ready for submission to publishers, or will you require revisions before submission?
  • If you think it needs revisions, are they small tweaks, or do you want a major plot or character development change?
  • Which publishing houses do you believe would be a good fit for my book?
  • How many editors do you plan to pitch in the first round of submissions? 
  • How often will you update me regarding the status of my submissions?
  • Are you interested in representing only this project, or all my future books?
  • Do you use an agent-client written agreement?
  • Do you handle the sale of subsidiary rights, like foreign, film, audio, and translation?

Agents are happy to answer your relevant questions. They want the business relationship to be clear before you sign the agreement. But they are also paying close attention to what you reveal about yourself and your writing life. Clients are relationships, and an agent wants to make sure you’ll be a good fit. (By the way, you should be having the same thought as you listen to the answers to your questions. Is this the right agent for me? More on that in an upcoming post.)

I enjoy thinking about the day when a publishing professional takes interest in my work. I hope you take the time to do that, too. It’s a healthy activity for writers. Sealing the deal with a literary agent may be a good distance down the road for you and me, but there’s no better time to prepare for that moment than now.

Write on!

(Part of a blog series: How to catch the eye of a literary agent)

¹Your Future Agent’s Wish List: How to Be On It, Writer’s Digest, October 2013 issue.

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6 thoughts on “Questions to ask a literary agent before sealing the deal

  1. Brilliant post Darla & so important for us as writers to know. “Be Prepared isn’t just the Boy Scouts Motto. My family lives & breathes it. As my daddy used to say. “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst!” What this post will help Writers to do is just that Darla. Be prepared. It’s post like this that can help writers who aren’t savvy in the business so that they have a leg up!! So thank you for sharing this with us & we will make sure to pass this along as we’re sure others will want to know!!! Excellent post!! 🙂

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    1. Your daddy’s words are perfect. I’m going to print and hang them in my office with my other writing quotes. Do you mind sharing his name with me so I can give him credit? Thanks for your great comment!

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  2. Great tips here, Darla. I think the one that I like the most is Nakamura’s reminder: “What agents won’t tell you is that every email and conversation with us is a testing ground.” The point is not just to get an agent or to get a client, but to build a strong, working relationship. I think sometimes we tend to forget that in our quest to be published. 🙂

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    1. Preparation, yes! There is so much to learn and put into practice. And my research for this series was only a dip into the amazing amount of information you’ll find in books and websites. We have no shortage of help for our writing lives, that’s for sure. People in the business want us to succeed — that’s my favorite takeaway from this series.

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