5 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking for an Agent

For most authors who’ve already been published, the first step in finding a publisher (aside from the writing part, of course) was finding an agent. An agent is a writer’s advocate in the publishing process—helping her to find the right publishing house and offering guidance about managing a successful writing career.

Because your agent will play such a pivotal/critical role for you as a writer, you’ll want to make sure that you do a good job of identifying the right person to represent you.

To help with that process, I’ve listed some questions that you should consider when narrowing down your list of potential agents and before signing that contract!

1. Does She Know Her Stuff—and More Important—Does She Know Your Stuff?

How familiar is the agent with books like yours? Has she successfully brokered deals for books in your category?

Most agents’ websites list the types of books they represent or are looking to represent, but you’ll want to drill down to the level of specific examples. Pick an agent and peruse her website to see what types of published books in your category are listed—that is, don’t just look to see what book categories she lists; find out what published books she can point to in your category. Your agent may have an interest in a particular type of book, but if she has yet to successfully represent those types of projects, you may want to steer clear. She may not have the expertise to evaluate a project like yours or the contacts to find the editor and house that are right for your project.

2. Will She Point You in the Right Direction?

How well suited to your project are her editorial contacts and leads? Is she able to offer useful suggestions for the houses that she thinks would be a good fit for your book?

When you speak with an agent, ask what her thoughts are on imprints that might be a good fit for your project. Then do your own research to check her suggestions. Take a look at those publishers’ websites: Can you see a book like yours fitting into their current lists? You want to know that your agent has a good sense of where your project fits into the publishing landscape.

Once you’ve signed on with an agent, she might point you in the direction of houses and editors she’s familiar with—but that aren’t well-suited to your project—if she doesn’t have the contacts or understanding of your project that would help her home in on the right match.

3. Can She Think Past Tomorrow?

Is she thinking only in terms of this one book, or is she thinking in terms of your potential career as a writer? Does she have ideas for what might lie beyond your first book deal? If you have ideas that go beyond the scope of this particular book project, is she able to engage with you about them, help you think the ideas through, or offer suggestions?

Ideally, your agent will help you manage not just this book but your career as a writer. Most of the best agents are steeped in publishing and have seen a number of projects of all shapes and sizes. They should be able to draw on that knowledge to advocate for you and your development as an author. Might she score you a two-book deal? Is she thinking about a companion workbook that could follow your initial title? Has she thought about film studios that might want to turn your novel into a movie? Raise your own ideas with her to see whether she offers constructive feedback—or simply pushback. And ask what she might see as potential future projects for you if your first book is a success.

4. Are Your Brain and Her Brain Better Than One?

Does she have ideas and opinions about what might improve your proposal to help sell the project to publishers? What about ideas for improving your book to make it more appealing to your readers?

Your agent’s value isn’t limited to her editorial contacts. Another key role for her is helping you to refine your concept and finesse how you present that concept in your book proposal. If she’s not making you better, she’s not doing her job.

If you’re struggling with some aspect of your concept or manuscript, ask potential agents for their opinions on how to handle the issue. An agent who can offer you concrete suggestions and thoughtful feedback will serve you well in the future.

5. Are You a Match Made in Heaven?

Okay, you needn’t be instant lovebirds, but you do need to pay attention to the interpersonal dynamic between you. Do you respect her opinions? Do you feel that you’ll be able to develop a good working relationship with her? Is she responsive?

If you find that you can’t stand any of her suggestions or you don’t communicate well with each other, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about whether you’d be happy working with her and having her represent you and your project.

The relationship between you and your agent is one of the most important aspects of the publishing process. Take time to consider the issues raised here, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful partnership!

Also check out the FAQs on the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) website for additional questions to ask of (or about) a potential agent: http://aaronline.org/FAQ.

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