When you finally receive the call you’ve been waiting for, the one where an agent expresses an interest in representing you, play like a Boy Scout and be prepared.
First and foremost, do not be intimidated. You, the writer, provide the product that makes the agent a success. Without writers, literary agencies would become extinct.
Keep in mind that your heart and soul went into your work. Don’t sell yourself short by jumping on the first offer of representation.
Too often writers are caught off guard whey they get The Call. After querying dozens of agents and receiving about the same number of rejections, when a phone call finally comes through–a call, which in the writing business is often thought of as gold–too many authors get stars in their eyes and all logic flies right out their ears. It’s important to keep a cool head.
When you have your wits about you and are ready to respond to the offer with logical thinking, you should have a prepared list of questions ready to address. The Association of Author’s Representatives suggests 22 questions a writer might ask a potential agent. Though every writer has specific concerns, select those issues that are most important to you and what you have planned for your career.
If an agent is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives they are most likely reputable. If they are not reputable, they won’t be a member of AAR for long. This organization requires its members to abide by a Canon of Ethics, thus ensuring the writer that the agent is on the up and up.
As in any business, track records speak for themselves. You are entitled to request an agent’s list of books sold, the names of the houses and the dates. If the agent is hesitant to provide you with any of this information, proceed with caution.
Ask for the names of clients who can give referrals. If an agent hems and haws, then most likely he is hiding something. Probably complaints. Posting notes on Internet message boards are an ideal way to find out information about an agent, especially if there is anything negative floating around in cyberspace.
Request to see a copy of the agent’s contract. In the event your understanding of legal jargon is on the same level as comprehending Ancient Greek, it might be best to have a literary attorney check it over. It will cost, but in the long run, it will be worth it. You don’t want your agent jumping through loopholes and depriving you of what should be rightfully yours. You want representation that will work hard getting you the best possible deal on your book and protecting your rights at the same time.
As many hours as it took to write your book an appropriate amount of time should be spent marketing it. Inquire as to how much time will be devoted to soliciting your work and what houses will be targeted. Is there a particular editor in mind, or a house that is looking for a work similar to yours? While a prospective agent doesn’t have to furnish you with names, he can let you know he has a place or professional in mind.
Communication is important between the agent and writer. Nothing is worse than sitting at home wondering for the past six months if anything has happened with your manuscript. Find out what type of communication the agent prefers, whether phone, letter, or Email and how often he gets in touch with his clients.
Because agents are in the business to make money an author should know how much commission will be charged. The standard rate is 10-15% for domestic sales, up to 20% for foreign sales. Find out if the agent charges for long distance phone calls and postage and if these charges are reimbursed once the book is sold.
Your gut instinct can be a big help. If something doesn’t seem right, then it probably isn’t.
Writing your book is half the job, turning it over to the right person to sell it is the other half. If you would hesitate to place your child in the care of an unqualified person, then you should do the same for your other baby–your book. Surely the creation that came from the depths of your heart and soul deserves the best of care, including the best.
Francesca Vrattos is a former literary agent and former assistant to the Western Regional Vice President of Penguin Putnam Inc.