“Take These Steps Before You Sign with an Agent” by Joan Y. Edwards
Linda Andersen, a member of my PubSubbers Yahoo Group, asked me to write a blog about the steps to get an agent. She asked, “Why should a writer get an agent?” When a writer has a good, respected, dependable agent, it opens up more opportunities for the writer’s work to get published. Many publishers do not accept work from writers they do not know or were not recommended to them. However, these same publishers will accept work from agented writers.
A query is not the same as a letter that accompanies a manuscript submission. A query is only a letter giving the pitch and asking for permission to submit a manuscript to see if an agent would be interested in representing the author with publishers.
Before you query an agent, do the following:
- Make sure you have a completed quality manuscript that has been critiqued and proofed. Follow the PubSubbers plan to help you in detail. Pub Subbers, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4.
- Hollywood Script Express suggests that you give your screenplay to a friend or relative and ask them to read it in one sitting. If they can’t finish your screenplay in less than 2 hours, you probably need to trim some fat.
- Do Your Homework. Research to find out information to prove the agent/manager is the right one for you. Find three agents who meet your needs and they represent writers/illustrators in the areas where your manuscript fits.
says it’s a good idea to make a list and rank them according to which ones meet your criteria best. Here are places I recommend that you look:
- Check on the Preditors and Editors – Agents and Lawyers list to see if they have a great reputation.
- Check Scripts and Scribes Information about Agents and Managers – Podcasts and blog posts by Agents and Managers:
- Check Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. (E-book is less expensive than the paperback. You can copy and paste links and click on them.)
- Query Tracker.com has information about agents. See what they say about the agent/agency, too.
- Check my blog post: “22 Literary Agents Who Are Looking for You:” https://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/22-literary-agents-who-are-looking-for-you/
- Check the Agent’s website and current submission guidelines. Chuck Sambuchino also says, “Research the agent’s website to confirm that he is indeed still seeking “electronic queries for romance novels,” etc. Also, remember the frustratingly sad reality that the publishing industry is constantly in flux. Agents quit; they switch agencies; they suddenly stop representing fiction and move completely to nonfiction.
- Before you query the prospective agents on your preferred list, find out which authors/illustrators he represents and how many books he’s sold in the last three years and the last six months. If this information isn’t on the Agency website, ask for it.
- Follow the Guidelines. Follow the Guidelines. Follow the Guidelines.
- Write a great simple query letter. Chuck Sambuchino says that if you don’t have a good opening for your query, give the facts: “I am seeking literary representation for my 75,000-word completed thriller, titled Dead Cat Bounce.” Sambuchino says to follow opener with the pitch and a little biographical information.
Before You Sign on the Line, Ask Questions. Get answers.
- Take 3 days to consider the agent’s offer. Sarah Ockler suggests that you take a few days to think things over and prepare your questions before accepting representation from an agent. I know you’ll be so excited to get the offer. BE SMART. BE WISE. Get all the facts before you sign. Research and ask questions. Then honor your gut feeling
- What are the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of three of their signed authors/illustrators? You’ll want to ask them a few questions. As Michael Hyatt like President Reagan says to “Trust, but Verify.” He says, “If possible, talk with the agents clients on the phone. People will tell you things on a phone call that they will not put in writing.”
- What are your fees? How often will I receive my earnings? Before you sign, find out what fees they charge and how and how often you’ll receive your earnings. Sarah Ockler says that most agents take the standard 15% fee from the monies earned from your books. Publishers send your advance and royalty money to the agency; the agency sends you a check less their 15%. Are there hidden fees? If there are charges for mailing? Printing letters? Then these are probably not sure-fire agents. They might be a service similar to Writer’s Relief, a fee-based author’s submission service – not a literary agency.
- Do you have time for me? Felice Prager says to ask, “How many other clients do you represent? Do you plan on expanding or will this number stay about the same? Will you or another member of your staff be handling my work?” You want an agent that doesn’t have such a large number of clients that he doesn’t have time for you.
- What makes you the right agent for me? How do you see my career? Wendy Lawton says to ask, “What will you offer that other agencies don’t?”
- How can I tell you’ve submitted my manuscript to a publisher? Will I receive copies of the submissions? Will you let me know each time you’ve talked with a publisher? Wendy Lawton says to ask: How often will we be in contact?
- What is your preferred form of communication? Wendy Lawton says to ask: “How do you like to communicate? Email? Phone? If you like to talk on the phone and an agent prefers emails, then you might have a problem.” Remember to organize your questions so that your agent doesn’t receive 3 or 4 emails from you in one day. When a person gets overwhelmed with too many emails or too many phone calls, it hurts the communication lines.
While you are pondering all of these questions, you will probably think of others. Victoria Strauss gives many great links to posts with more questions about agents at “Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent:
- Chuck Sambuchino. “10 Submission Tips for Querying an Agent” http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/get-published-sell-my-work/10-submission-tips-for-querying-an-agent
- Felice Prager. “Ten Questions to Ask an Agent before You Sign:” http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/10-questions-to-ask-an-agent-before-you-sign
- http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/what-every-fiction-writer-should-do-before-submitting-a-book-to-an-agent “What Every Fiction Writer Should Do Before Submitting A Book to an Agent:”
- Hollywood Script Express. “How to Get a Screenplay Agent:” http://www.hollywoodscriptexpress.com/how_to_get_screenplay_agent.html
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. (E-book is less expensive than the paperback. You can copy and paste links and click on them.)
- Joan Y. Edwards. “22 Literary Agents Who Are Looking for You:” https://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/22-literary-agents-who-are-looking-for-you/
- Joan Y. Edwards. “Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Contract with a Publisher:” https://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/questions-to-ask-before-you-sign-a-contract-with-a-publisher/
- Michael Hyatt. “Before You Hire a Literary Agent:”
- Preditors and Editors – Agents and Lawyers
- Pub Subbers, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4.
- Query Tracker.com has information about agents.
- Sarah Ockler. “Literary Agent Offers: Don’t Settle:” http://sarahockler.com/2008/07/05/literary-agent-offers-dont-settle/
- Scripts and Scribes. Listing of Agents and Managers for Books and Screenplays. http://www.scriptsandscribes.com/agentsmanagers/.
- Victoria Strauss. “Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent:” http://www.victoriastrauss.com/2014/02/26/questions-to-ask-your-prospective-literary-agent/ (This has many great links to posts that will help you find more questions to ask an agent.)
- Wendy Lawton. “25 Questions to Ask Your Potential Agent:”
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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards
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