Prepare for a job interview
But, as with any job interview, this should not be a one-sided communication. It should be a reciprocal conversation, where you are finding out if you gel. Do you want to work with this literary agent? Do they want to work with you? DO NOT BE AFRAID OF ASKING THESE QUESTIONS. Any agent worth their salt will gladly answer any or all of the below. And if they can’t? Back away slowly, and say thank you but no thank you. I’ll say it again: this is a PARTNERSHIP. This is YOUR CAREER. Do not dive in at the first sign of interest or flattery. Take some time to really think about what you want from this partnership. Remember, the literary agent also wants this to be a lucrative, reciprocal relationship, or else they wouldn’t have set up the literary agent call with you in the first place.
Questions to ask on the literary agent call
I have trawled the web, as well as my own list of question that I asked when I was in the same position, and collated a comprehensive list of questions for you to ask on the literary agent call – pick and choose the ones you like best, because the call will usually only last an hour (and some of these questions could go on and on!). And, if you are in the enviable position like I was to have multiple agent calls, I recommend setting up a spreadsheet, and typing up their answers side-by-side so that you can compare and contrast.
Ultimately, only you know what you want. And you will know when you hear it. Trust your gut. The gut always knows.
- What do you like about my manuscript?
- What do you like about my writing?
- What stood out to you about my query letter, writer bio, and/or career?
- Are you interested in just this project, or my writing career?
- How many years have you been an agent?
- How did you become an agent and what do you love about it?
- Where are you based?
- How often do you like to communicate, and what is your communication style?
- Would you be open to video calls or meeting in person, as well as email and phone?
- What books have you sold recently?
- What books have you sold in my genre?
- How many people work at your agency?
- Will I be working with any other agents at your agency?
- How many non-agents work at your agency (editorial assistants, PR, legal teams etc.)
- How many clients do you represent?
- Could you share a list of your clients who I could speak to?
- Who is your favorite client? (They might balk at this, but what you are really asking is: what kinds of personalities and working styles do you prefer!)
The revision process
- What kind of changes or revisions are needed in order to take my book out on submission to editors?
- Will the revisions be small or major?
- Do you get involved with the editorial process?
- What does that process look like – will you write me an editorial letter, track changes, and so on?
- How hands-on are you?
The submission process
- When do you anticipate going out on submission with my book?
- What time of year do you usually go out on submission?
- How long does the submission process take?
- How many editors are you planning to submit to, and do you have any specific editors or houses in mind?
- What kind of publishers will you submit to? Large, small, Big 5, indies etc.
- How many submission rounds do you usually go through?
- How will frequently you be updating me on the submission status?
- Where do you see this book fitting into a publisher’s list?
- Where do you see this book sitting on bookshelves?
- Do you think this will be a tricky sell?
The fine print
- Do you handle foreign, film, or other subsidiary rights?
- How involved will you get in the PR and Marketing of my book?
- What does the literary agent contract involve?
- Any specific clauses that I should be aware of?
- What will be the immediate next steps after signing with you?
- Are you open to me writing in different genres in the future?
- When would you like to start discussing future projects?
- What will be the next steps after you sell my book?
- What happens if my book doesn’t sell?
The following information is available on Publishers Marketplace, so I would first recommend signing up for a paid-account (approx. $20 per month). However, if you can’t afford it, you can always be direct and ask the agent the following questions – just remember, they might get a little tetchy if you are too hung up on sales and money (it’s like asking what the salary is on your job interview with the hiring manager before you’ve been offered the job – a little uncouth). Realistically, a small agency or newer agent might fight harder to secure a splashier deal, while a more established agent might not have the time available to fight for you, even though they have sold a bunch of six-figure deals in the past, so take this information with a grain of salt, and remember – a big advance does not necessarily equate to success:
- What books have you sold recently and what were your sales figures?
- How many deals have you made in the past six months? Year? Five years?
- How many six-figure deals?
However you handle the literary agent call, do it with grace, honesty, and above all, do not be afraid! Literary agents are people, just like you.