What I Should Have Asked My Agent

Getting an agent was a tiring, emotionally draining process. I wanted to make the right move for my career, but how was I supposed to do that? I did some research and went through all of the steps you’re supposed to. I looked over the contract my agent sent me and asked a lot of questions. That was good, but now that I’ve had some time to develop relationships with other authors at different stages of their careers and heard the stories—good and bad—I realize that I’d missed some major points. I’m fortunate that I lucked into a good agent whom I trust, but if I could do it all over again, I would tell myself to ask the following questions before signing just to make sure we were on the same page.

  • How does your agent-to-be handle non-compete and option clauses? If she doesn’t tell you straight off the bat that she will do everything in her power to fight them or change the language so that it is less restrictive on you, you might want to look elsewhere.
  • How does your agent-to-be handle rights? Not only do you want to make sure you can get your rights back if your publisher folds, she also should know how to handle digital, foreign, movie, and merchandizing rights. If she works with another agent or lawyer in those negotiations, who is that person?
  • What if you want to be a hybrid author? For many writers, a clear delineation between traditional and indie publication doesn’t make sense for their careers. They do both. How does your agent-to-be feel about you working on indie projects? Would she want a cut of an indie book that she does not represent? Is she supportive of you going solo for part of your career?
  • Can you break up with your agent if you need to? No one wants to think about an agent/author relationship going south, but sometimes it happens. Read the clauses of your contract dealing with separation very carefully. If you have any doubts about your ability to understand contract language, get a lawyer. You do not want to wind up stuck in a contractual relationship that’s soured.
  • What is your agent-to-be’s style, and what do you want from her? I think this is one of the most important questions to ask yourself. Some agents will do serious, line-by -line developmental edits. Others would rather you work with critique partners to get your manuscript in shape so they can focus on selling. Some are very friendly with clients while others keep clients at a more professional distance. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should be working with someone whose style fits yours.

Don’t feel ashamed about asking your prospective agent lots of questions openly. You’re doing what you need to in order to help protect the health of your career. Be polite, but also be informed.

And when in doubt, talk to your friends. There’s a good chance that someone in your chapter or in your personal network of authors knows someone else who is represented by a particular agent. Be discrete and gracious, but make sure to get the answers you need before signing.