Essential questions to ask before signing with a literary agent

Wait! Don't sign that contract.

Wait! Don't sign that contract: Questions to ask before signing with a literary agent
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“How do you keep clients informed about activities performed on their behalf?”

Some love email. Some prefer phone. Some want to report one time a month. Some only check in if there’s work out on submission.

 

“How does your agency contract work? What are the terms? What happens if we decide to part ways or if we don’t sell anything?”

Contracts should be clear, even if you’re not a lawyer. Make sure anything you don’t understand is well explained before you consider signing.

 

“Should I expect to edit and revise with you prior to sending work out? Are you open to chatting through new ideas?”

Not all agents choose to do the same level of work prior to sending it out. If you want an editorial agent, find out in advance what they’re willing (and able!) to do.

 

“What questions do you have for me?”

This one is vital. Ask it at the very end.

 

I get it. It’s so tempting to just say – holler, really – “YES, YES, YES!” the moment any literary agent expresses an ounce of interest in you and your work. That’s normal. So go ahead and feel good about it. For about nine seconds. Then put on your Serious Business Hat and ask that interested agent some hard-but-necessary questions, and be prepared to walk away if the answers don’t resonate with you.

I walked away from an agency offer three different times, and while it hurt – think cement block dropped on my head from a second-story window – hindsight always showed that it was the best choice.

Diver has it exactly right, saying: “The right agent – someone with experience, who really knows their field and loves your work – can really kickstart your career and set you on the right path. The wrong agent may hold you back.”

Do yourself a favor. Take the time to find the RIGHT literary partner. Sure, it might take longer than just finding someone. But an author/agent relationship is like a marriage – you don’t just marry a “someone,” right? Put in the same level of time, energy, and attention here, and the rewards might prove equally worthwhile.

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Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books and a frequent contributor to The Writer. Visit him at RyanGVanCleave.com & OnlyPictureBooks.com.

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