Do You Like the Agent’s Style?

Last week, we looked at some questions to ask an agent when you get THE CALL, questions pertaining to your work, the submission process, and the agent’s experience. Today, I’ve put together questions that will help you determine the agent’s style. This way, you’ll get a better sense of whether or not the two of you will play nice together in the sandbox. If not, best you don’t go down that path, or you might end up with sand in your eyes or a broken shovel.

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.

Agent’s Style:

Are you an editorial agent? If so, to what extent? What are you thinking in terms of revisions? How collaborative are you? Not all agents will edit your work before they send it out. Some will take it as it is and hope for the best. Trust me. I’ve seen this happen. Talk about narrowing your chances, right? Some agents will get very involved in the revision process, while others will make a few suggestions and move on. You need to understand what kind of agent you want and what this agent is willing to do. I should add that agents who don’t edit may have strengths in marketing or other areas that may be more important to you in the end. You need to decide.

Will I be working solely with you, or will there be times I’ll work with an associate or assistant? If so, please elaborate. This is important to know, because you may have selected this agent for her talent not the strengths and weaknesses of someone you don’t know, like her assistant. However, this extra hand could help you. If your agent is super busy, she may not have as much time to offer you, but her assistant might be able to give you and your manuscript the extra attention you need.

Will you help me with career planning and marketing? Do you work with a publicist? What plans do you have for marketing my work? Some agents are great editorial agents but not as strong with marketing. Some do a little of both. And a few agents excel in both areas. If you’re lost when it comes to how you’re going to market your book once it’s sold (yes, you’ll have to do most of that yourself), then you might want to consider an agent with this type of background. At the very least, she’ll be able to guide you in the right direction. And if she doesn’t edit your manuscript, you can always hire a freelance editor. That’s what we’re here for. ☺

Do you help your clients as they develop new ideas? This is a little different than an agent who might edit your work. Here, you want to know if she’ll help you brainstorm or if she’ll go over your plot outline with you BEFORE you write the novel. This could save you both some trouble down the line, because it would help you get on the right track before you invest too much time into the story. Plus, it’ll give her a chance to tell you if a story or theme has been done to death, so you can rethink the direction you want to take with your novel.

What is your preferred method of communication? How quickly do you respond to client questions? How often do you check in with clients with a submission status? How soon can I expect an answer to any given e-mail? When you receive a manuscript from a client, how long does it typically take for you to respond to the client? This is important for obvious reasons. You want to know how responsive the agent will be and how well she communicates with her clients.

What if I decide to write something in a genre you don’t normally represent? Would you represent that book as well? If not, how would you feel about referring me to another agent? Would you continue to represent my original genre while the other agent represented my new genre? If you’re even contemplating writing in more than one genre, you need an answer to this before you decide on an agent. Some agents will represent both genres, so there’s no need to worry. But, for those who don’t, you need to know how this will be handled, and how YOU’d like this handled. Some agents will give those projects to someone else in their agency and continue to work with you on material in your original genre. Some will be okay with you finding another agent for the new genre. Some will feel threatened by this though. At that point, if you find an agent who represents both genres, will you still stay with your original agent? What will happen if you don’t? (This can get messy, so it’s best if you know what could happen before you sign anything.) Another reason to ask these questions is to get a feel for the agent. Does she believe writers should write in more than one genre? What if she doesn’t? How will that affect your relationship with her, especially once you are ready to branch out into another genre?

When you submit a manuscript to an editor, what is your expected turnaround time for the editor to respond? Do you nudge and when? This will tell you how patient and how aggressive your agent will be. You want an agent who will nudge if the editor has had the manuscript for six months or longer (depending on the publisher’s normal turnaround time), especially if another editor shows interest in your book. However, you don’t want an agent who’s too “in your face” and constantly hounding the editors.

How do you prefer to send out a manuscript? Exclusively or simultaneously? Should be an easy answer, right? You want to the agent to say that she’ll submit it simultaneously. Otherwise, you could be waiting years before the right editor reads your work.

How are clients notified of responses from editors? And how timely is the notification? Some agents will treat each client as individuals when it comes to responses. If she thinks you’re sensitive, she might not give you all the details when it comes to the rejections. That’s not to say she shouldn’t at least tell you which house rejected and when, but she might not explain why the editor passed (if she even knows the reason—not all editors give an explanation). However, if she believes you have a thick skin, she might copy and paste the rejection so you can see what the editor said. What would you prefer? Will the agent accommodate you?

What do you expect from your clients? Name your top three expectations. Or tell me what you think makes a good relationship with a client. In asking the questions above, you’ve, hopefully, discussed with the agent what your expectations are of her. Now, it’s time to learn what she’d expect of you. Make sure you’re on the same page.

Will you consult with me before closing deals? For the most part, I believe agents will discuss all deals with their client before agreeing to anything. However, it would make you feel better to know that’s her practice. Wouldn’t you hate to find out the hard way that she doesn’t consult with her clients first?

Next week, we’ll look at questions to help determine the agent’s policies.

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 style?

Lynnette Labelle

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