QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Guest Post: Beyond the Basic Questions for “The Agent Call”

Writers who want to take the path of traditional publishing all dream of that magic phone call when an agent offers to take them on as a client. It’s the first of many magical moments en route to seeing your book on a shelf in an actual bookstore.

For me, that phone call happened less than two years ago, and COMPULSION, the first book in my YA Southern Gothic romance trilogy came out from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse on October 28th.

The two years between “the call” and publication have been a steep learning curve, and there isn’t nearly as much written about any aspect of that period as there is about the process of learning to write a book or craft an effective query letter. Even the questions authors suggest you ask during “the call” don’t go far enough. I have constantly come across terms and issues that are unfamiliar and that I have no idea how to handle.

Having come through these two years, I’d like to share what I’ve gleaned and put that knowledge in the form of additional questions to consider asking a prospective agent. Some of these are questions that I asked myself, some are questions I’ve since heard were asked by other authors, and some are questions that, having gone through the process, I believe would have helped me to manage expectations, smoothed communication, and resulted in less uncertainty on my part.

The Basic Questions

These are the defaults. You’ll find them suggested by almost every author, and you must force yourself to be your own advocate and ask them when the call actually happens. Not all agents will feel comfortable giving you details, and you will want to factor how they respond and communicate in general into your own decision process.

•    What do you like best about my manuscript?

•    What do you like the least?

•    How much editorial feedback do you like to provide?

•    Do you think the manuscript ready to submit to publishers, or does it need revisions before submission?

•    How extensive are the revisions you envision, and specifically what kind of changes are we talking about?

•    Did you have particular editors in mind for submission as you read?

•    What publishing houses do you think would be a good fit and why?

•    Where do you see this book positioned on a publisher’s list? Lead title, mid-list, etc.

•    What authors or books do you think are comparable and where do you see this positioned in a bookstore or categorized on Amazon?

•    Who do you see buying this book at a bookstore or online? How would you describe those people as a category?

•    How many editors do you envision sending it to in the first round of submissions?

•    What does your standard submission packet include and what is your submission process

•    How many rounds of submission are you willing to do before you consider a project “dead”?

•    Are you interested in representing only this project or do you want to represent future work with a career perspective?

•    Is there any work of mine, genre, age range, etc., that you would not be able to handle?

•    What sort of a path would you like to see with my career? How many books per year, what type of books, etc.?

•    Do you use a written agent-client contract?

•    How does your agency handle digital rights, foreign rights, and other subsidiary potentials?

•    How often do you provide updates on submission status?

•    Do you send copies of the editor’s responses?

•    Do you prefer to correspond by email or phone, and how often do you like to touch base verbally?

•    What sorts of things do you want to hear from me about and at what stage would you want to be involved in a new project?

•    What would be your ideal client relationship?

•    What is your standard agency royalty percentage?

•    How, and how often, is money distributed by your agency?

•    What would happen if you decided to leave the agency? Would I be able to stay with you, or would I be assigned another agent?

•    What are your standard termination provisions if either of us decide the relationship isn’t working?

Beyond the Basics

Initially, I thought the above was more than comprehensive. But there’s a great deal to working with an agent beyond the initial submission, and listening to author friends and meeting other authors since I embarked on the publication process, I have discovered that managing expectations for all concerned would have been much easier with additional information up front. The answers we get up front should provide us with a basic foundation of information. Without that, it’s too easy to spend time floundering and wishing for knowledge.

To that end, here are some additional things you might ask your agent and consider:

•    How involved do you expect to be in the editorial process once the book is purchased by a publisher? Do you ask for updates and gauge satisfaction from both author and agent?

•    How would you handle editorial differences of opinion between an editor and author?

•    How would you handle differences of opinion on titles or covers, etc?

•    How and when do you explain the various stages of the publication process or do you leave that to a publisher?

•    How would you handle a request for help if I need additional information, education, or intervention in the publishing process?

•    What do you see as the agent’s role when it comes to marketing or publicity decisions, mine or those of the publisher, and to changes or shifts in marketing or publicity plans for the book?

•    How do you handle foreign and subsidiary rights?

•    What do you see as your role, if any, if the publisher retains subsidiary rights, and what do you see as your role or process for checking/advocating for those rights?

•    If the book sells as part of a multi-book contract, what role do you expect to play in the editorial process for subsequent books?

•    How far in advance of the contractual submission deadline do you want/expect/need to receive subsequent contracted manuscripts?

•    At what point do you want to consider additional work to be submitted for “option” books or outside of an initial contract?

•    What sort of timeline do you envision needing before getting back to me when I submit future projects for potential submission?

•    How would you envision handling the situation if I love a project that you did not feel was salable or that you couldn’t market enthusiastically?


Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She fell in love with words and never stopped delighting in them. She's the author of COMPULSION, book one in the Southern Gothic trilogy from Simon and Schuster, Simon Pulse. COMPULSION is an RT Book Reviews ‘Top Pick’ Fall 2014 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Bookstores Alliance, and a Goodreads Best Book of the Month and YA Best Book of the Month, described by Booklist as a “compelling mystery about feuding families and buried secrets, not to mention a steamy romance.” Publishers Weekly calls it an “impressive start to the Heirs of Watson Island series.”

Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers site, the free monthly First Five Pages Workshop and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site devoted to encouraging literacy and all things YA Series by creating an intersection of different fandoms.


K. L. Hallam said...

Wow, I find it hard to believe I'll be able to ask even one or two of those questions with an agent hanging on the line. Great list for help. Thanks!

DRC said...

I never thought about these questions. I'm in the market for an agent at the moment and these are very helpful should I get 'the call' - if I'm not too flustered to actually remember them...lol :)

Taffy said...

Thank you for this great post! I hope to be able to ask a few of these questions some day. They made me think outside the little box I was in. Thank you!

Traci Kenworth said...

These are some great questions, Martina!! Very helpful!!