Last week, we looked at questions that would help you determine the literary agent’s style. Today, we’re going to take a peek at the agent’s policies. You don’t want any surprises here, so it’s best to ask before you sign with an agent.
Note: This is just a guide to help you determine the right questions to ask. You don’t have to ask all of these questions, only the ones that work for your situation. And, like last week, I referred to agents as females, but that doesn’t mean male agents aren’t worthy or don’t exist. ☺
What happens if you can’t sell this manuscript? What if you don’t like my future projects and ideas? Will your manuscript be forever dead, not allowed to seek a home elsewhere if this agent doesn’t sell it? Find out what your options will be if this should happen to you. And how easy is it to end the contract if the agent doesn’t like your future projects? It should be as easy as giving written notice, but that’s not always the case. Make sure you’re not signing away your soul. 😉
Do you have a verbal or written contract? What do the terms and agreements include? What is the duration of the contract? I don’t know about you, but I’d be nervous with just a verbal contract. That could just be me. You do what works for you.
Are there any situations where you’d make decisions on my behalf? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You just need to know when this could happen and whether or not you agree with this policy.
If a situation should arise where you are no longer able to represent my work, do you have a plan for me? Or will I need to seek new representation on my own? What if I’m in the middle of the submission process? How would I proceed? This is such a big deal. It happened to a friend of mine. The agent was going through a divorce and decided to close her business, but she planned on joining another agency, so she wanted to keep her clients. I don’t know all the details, but there would’ve been some waiting involved before the agent started her new job, which meant the client had to wait, her manuscript sitting on the agent’s computer until SHE was ready to move on it. My friend had the option to find another agent but not for this story, because the original agent had already started to submit it. Ugh. Very complicated and messy.
If for some reason we need to part ways, how will this be handled? Are there any stipulations I should be aware of? For what reasons would you terminate a client? If this doesn’t end up being a good fit for you, it’s best that you end the relationship, but you need to know how to do this. Better to know if there’d be any snags before you sign with the agent than when you want to fire her.
What happens to the unsold rights after the contract is terminated? Does the agent retain control, or do they revert back to the author? If the agent retains control, you can’t sell this book to a publisher without giving the original agent her cut, even if a second agent sold it (in which case, you’d owe both agents their percentage).
What would happen if you switched agencies? Most of the time, agents give their clients the option of following them or staying with someone else within the original agency. But is that how this agent would proceed?
How are subsidiary rights handled within your agency? Would you say your agency is strong in subright sales? Do you see potential for my project in this regard? You can make a lot of money off the sale of your subsidiary rights, so you need to know how this is handled.
What are your commission rates? Are they the standard 15% domestic and 20% foreign/film? If the agent charges more for this, and certainly if she charges a reading fee… RUN.
What if another client and I approached you with a similar idea? How would you move forward in that situation? Always good to know the agent would handle this, because, in a sense, you and the other author would be competing against each other.
When you receive money for me, how quickly do you pay out my share? Will you issue a 1099 tax form at the end of the year? How do I get my money if something happens to you? You need to know how your money will be handled.
If my work goes out of print, but is then picked up by another house, how does this work for you? Will the agent expect a cut or would she consider this a dead deal and allow you to move on?
How are fees for submission charged to a client? What kinds of charges should a client expect to pay? And how is it accounted for? Would the fees be withdrawn from royalties? An agent should never charge a reading or editing fee. Sometimes, they’ll charge for photocopies, faxes, postage, and other “costs of doing business” items, but not all agents charge for these. If yours does, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean she’s doing anything wrong. No worries.
Note: In order to put this list together, I combined several other lists that I came across over the years. Unfortunately, some of those links no longer work, but I’ll give credit to those that do:
Can you think of other questions to ask pertaining to the agent’s policies?