Do’s, Don’ts and Questions to Ask When A Literary Agent Calls

So last week I announced some really exciting news. And in case you missed it, I am thrilled to say that I am officially represented by Rachel Ekstrom Courage at Folio Literary Management. Being a published author is something I have been working toward for years, and now I am one big step forward!

I’ve written a few blogs in the past on the querying process, and now I can start writing about what happens next! But first, let’s talk about the one thing every querying author wants: The Call.

 

No, not that one…

It’s when an agent loves your manuscript so much that they are desperate to represent you and start pitching your novel to publishers. Whether you get one offer or multiple, I hope these do’s, don’ts and questions will help you determine if it’s really the right fit.

Do’s

  • Celebrate! This is the MOST important step as so many writers forget to actually be proud of themselves. It’s a HUGE deal, so pop that bottle of champagne and whip out those brownies… Or however you celebrate.

 

  • Make sure you are in a quiet space and a good mindset for the call. If you get an email from the agent to set up a time to talk, don’t try to schedule it during a break at work or in a loud area. Give yourself plenty of time to get centered before your call. If you don’t get an email heads up and they just call you, don’t be afraid to tell them if it’s not a good time/location and request a call back.

 

  • Expect them to ask you a lot of questions too! They want to get to know if you’d be a good fit as well, so be prepared to discuss your novel and yourself.

 

  • Refresh your research. Hopefully you did plenty when you began querying, but it could be weeks if not months later! So check out their Publisher’s Marketplace page for new deals, their blogs for insight into their process, and social media for personality and latest announcements!

 

  • After they’ve made an offer, email any other agents who still have your manuscript to let them know and give them a deadline to get back to you. Be clear with the day; ten days to two weeks is a normal amount of time.

Don’ts

 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As authors we are so used to the agents having all the power, so it can be a little intimidating. But most of them are anticipating and beyond happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

  • Don’t make the decision right away. There is nothing wrong with – in fact most agents will encourage you to – taking time to think things over and consider your options.

 

  • Don’t post on social media until it’s official. It’s to tempting to start posting good news or even hints right away. But to protect yourself and the process, it’s better to wait until that contract is signed!

Questions to Ask

So before I got the call, I scoured the Internet for ideas, feedback and tips on how to behave and what to ask. I did this before I even started querying my first novel. Overly optimistic, maybe. But it felt much better to be prepared for when the time came.

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It took me hours and a thousand different website to come up with list I was comfortable with, so in the interest of saving you all some time, here’s the questions I compiled plus how to know if their answer is the right one.

What did you like about my manuscript? What attracted you to the story?

This is where you get to sit back and enjoy. Soak it in! There’s really no right or wrong answer here, but a certain amount of passion/confidence is nice to hear.

Do you feel that it’s ready for submission or do you think it needs further revisions?

Rarely are you going to have an agent tell you your manuscript is 100% ready as is. It might happen, but just preparing you now that it’s unlikely. But revisions can mean slightly tweaking one scene or deleting an entire character or subplot.

So follow up question: Are the revisions small tweaks or major changes?

Remember that if you don’t like or are uncomfortable with any of the changes suggested, you can push back. But you may hear their suggestions and be able to instantly see how they could improve your story.

I also like to ask how involved they are in the editing process. That’s an important benefit for some authors who want a more teamwork-like approach while others want agents to focus on the business side instead. Personal preference on this one.

How often would you update me on submission status?

Every person has a different method and expectations when it comes to communication. For example, I’m a little bit needy, so responsiveness and open lines of communication are really important to me.

For the most part, once a month is pretty standard. You want to be sure they will communicate with any concrete updates (including rejections).

Which publishing houses does you believe would be a good fit?

Now not every book is going to sell to The Big Five. But you want your agent to at least try, right? If their list is entirely small presses or imprints that you could submit to on your own, you may want to raise that point.

How many editors do you plan to pitch in the first round of submissions? How many rounds will we go through?

From what I have read, six editors at once is pretty standard. Any less than three at time may be a bit concerning. One at a time is a BAD answer. Typically agents will also go through 2-3 rounds before stepping back to discuss next steps. Which leads to the next question… 

What happens if the manuscript doesn’t sell?

No one wants to think about this scenario, but it’s important to discuss. If you’ve gone through several rounds of submissions, and there are no bites… Do we revise and then try again? Do we set it aside for a while and start on the next project? Do I get kicked to the curb?

That last one is rare, but if they say that your agreement will end if your manuscript doesn’t sell within a certain time frame, it may be worrisome.

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Will you represent just this manuscript or future projects as well? What about projects that fall within other genres?

Most writers aren’t going to just write one book and then stop. It’s a lifelong passion, and more books will obviously be written as a result. So I want an agent who is in it for the long haul, throughout my career.

I also want to experiment a little with genre – evidenced by my current YA fantasy WIP – so double checking to see if the offering agent would represent cross-genre is important. If they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. There may be another agent at their agency who will or they may be open to you querying that particular project elsewhere. But those are good follow up questions to ask.

How does your agency handle subsidiary rights, including film and foreign rights?

When I asked this question, my agent threw out a bunch of details and information that I didn’t understand whatsoever. I don’t know much about this… That’s the agent’s job after all! But she took the time to explain it all to me, and I was instantly confident in her capabilities to take care of any additional rights.

As long as they have a professional and positive response to this, it’s a good sign.

Do you issue an agent-author agreement?

IF SO: Take the time needed to review the contract. You can even ask a lawyer to take a look too! And don’t be afraid to ask questions that may arise.

IF NOT: Some people see that as a red flag. That’s not necessarily true, but you do need to ask and confirm the logistics. Here’s a few things to ask:

  • Do you place a minimum time requirement on our relationship?
  • If either of us wants to part ways, how would termination work?
  • If we part company, what happens to any outstanding subsidiary rights?
  • What happens if you retire or transfer to another agency?

How many non-agent support staff are at your agency?

I didn’t think about this right off the bat, but it ended up being a key differentiator for me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with smaller agencies. Nothing!! But it means that they are having to handle every tiny detail. Some agencies have support staff – whether editorial, administrate, legal, etc – and it could help free up some time for your agent to just focus on selling your book.

What does your ideal client look like? What can I do to help you sell this book and secure the best deal possible?

Now this is the one question on this list that the agent may not see coming. But it says a lot about you if you’re willing to hear from the agent on how you could best work together. And their response will tell you a lot about them too.

If they say, “Well, I’d want you to stay off social media and not bother me until I contact you,” then I’d be concerned.

But if they come back with a list of actionable items you can work on and an attitude that sounds like a positive relationship, you’re off to a great start.

Can I chat with a current client?

It’s basically like asking for a reference in a job interview. Current clients will be able to give you insight into the agent’s process, communication style, and success. Plus you may even make a writing friend!

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Finally getting an offer from an agent is a tricky situation – writing is such an emotional situation but you have to remember that it’s a business decision. So those are the best tips and tricks to manage it with grace, enthusiasm and professionalism. I hope it helps when each of you finally get The Call!

Did I miss something? Have a exciting or interesting experience with an agent call? Share in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “Do’s, Don’ts and Questions to Ask When A Literary Agent Calls

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