Jun

13

2013

Really, You Don’t Have to Ask

by Tamela Hancock Murray

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Over the years I’ve seen lists of questions you’re supposed to ask an agent before signing a contract. Some of the questions are excellent. But I believe if you ask others, at least at the stage when the agent is discussing the possibility of representation, you may have not done the right research ahead of time. I culled these questions from a number of lists on the Internet. Most of these questions appeared on more than one list.

Can you give me a list of authors from whom I may ask for references? A quick trip to most agents’ web sites will tell you about the authors they represent. The Steve Laube Agency site lists all our authors. I’m always glad when authors talk to one another, and I often find new writers based on the recommendations of current clients. But in my view, asking for a list of references is off-putting unless you want to talk to another client before making your decision. If you are unsure of that agency, don’t send them your proposal until you know you’d be thrilled to work with them.

Who do you represent? See Question One. There are exceptions. Some agencies prefer not to make their client lists public and when speaking to them, this question makes sense. But if their client list is already on their web site, your question might give the wrong impression.

How many people work at your agency? Is there any agency web site that doesn’t answer this question with both pictures and agent bios?

How long have you been in business? The reputable agents I know have easily accessible bios. If you ask me this question, I’ll think you haven’t bothered to read my bio, available all over the internet. I’m pretty sure I have said I’ve been a literary agent since 2001 in every single professional bio I’ve ever submitted to any blog, web site, conference brochure, or listing, at least since 2001.

Do you have an electronic presence? Granted, some agents are more active online than others, but this is something you should know well before you start talking seriously about an agency contract. As for myself, well, you’re reading this blog. And I have a personal Facebook page  plus a business Facebook page where I post primarily updates of interest to writers. I have over 16,000 Twitter followers. If you haven’t already, feel free to connect with me on both Facebook and Twitter.

These questions are good ones when asked at the very first stages of considering an agent. But the answers can be found so easily on your own that to ask them after you’ve gone through the submissions process shows the agent you didn’t do any homework. She may wonder why you chose her.

Your turn:
What information do you wish was more accessible online?
What are you embarrassed to ask an agent?
Can you think of some other good questions to ask an agent when discussing representation?

11 Responses to “Really, You Don’t Have to Ask”

  1. Marci Seither June 13, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    How long should an author wait to hear back from an agent after they have talked about possible representation? If the agent isn’t interested do they let the author know why they don’t think it would be a good fit for their agency or is it the author’s responsibility to let the agent know they are pursuing other options and move on? What is a reasonable amount of time?
    Thanks so much!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray June 13, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

      Marci, by the time I am talking with a potential client on the telephone, I am usually ready to offer representation and will let the author know my timeline and plans.

      If an author feels it’s time to move on, I recommend a polite email letting the agent know you’d still like to work with her, but you feel you need to start querying other agents if you don’t hear from her in five business days. Of course, this is just a guideline; authors must use their own judgment as to what is best for them.

      As for what feedback you will receive from an agent, I can make no promises. For me, the amount of information shared varies from author to author. I don’t share anything unless I think the author will truly benefit. Sometimes an agent may have reasons but to share them won’t be helpful. For example, “The story just didn’t grab me,” may be the reason, but would not be helpful to the author. On the other hand, “You would be wise to take steps now to build your platform,” if applicable, could be helpful advice to share.

  2. J.D. Maloy June 13, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    What a fantastic topic!

    I will query an agent that I want to work with. Not just because I want to get represented, and I feel there is a difference. If I’m querying agent X I already know their client list (if posted), their royalty fees (if posted) what publishers they work with and so forth. I’ve done my homework on such details. For example, I see that this agency represents or represented Julie Carobini. While the list doesn’t say exactly who represents her, I’m guessing (oh dear) that it’s Tamela since Ms. Garobini writes romance.

    After all, the agent author relationship is, well, a relationship and I would like agent X to be someone that will help make the “work” a bit more enjoyable. This may be the sanguine in me but, hey, it’s who I am. :)

    If contacted by an agent, it means that the agent is interested in the STORY. Yahoo!
    This is where I would begin:
    Is there an area(s) in the story that you feel needs to be reworked? Plot, character arch etc…
    In what areas do you feel need to be tightened to get the story and proposal ready for a pub house?

    Based on the answers, I will either move forward or not. If we clash on a potential revision of a subplot or arch of a secondary character then that agent might not be the best for the story.

    What I appreciate is how agents are being a bit more personal on their online presence. That way I can see if they are someone I would want to be in daily or weekly communication with. There’s a balance of professionalism and friendship (again, that’s the people person in me talking) so I see no harm in asking, “If you could see any concert and go backstage who would it be?”

    All the other details “who, when, where, why and how” of the business side have either been explained in the agency’s website or will be written in the contract and talked about future discussions.

    I may be in lala land, but this is a good reminder that we (authors) need to our homework when it comes to querying. Thank you, Tamela!

    • Steve Laube June 13, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      J.D.
      Actually I represented Julie for her books with Bethany House and B&H Publishing. Each one of us represent a rather diverse clientele. I say that I represent everything from the sweet romance to the systematic theology. And the same goes for Tamela and Karen. We may have areas where we have special expertise, but we represent all types of books.

      As for your questions? They are good ones, but they are really editorial questions. Not every agent is going to provide editorial input…at least not to the extent you may be looking for.

      Most writers want an agent “who gets it”…one who understands the story or topic and understands what the author is trying to do.

  3. J.D. Maloy June 13, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Steve, thanks for the clarifying about Ms. Garobini. I appreciate the diversity of authors your agency represents.

    I wonder then if agents ask for any revising from an author before proposing to editors? Even if an agent “gets it” and “understands” the story, won’t they have suggestions? From what I’ve read that’s most likely the case.

    • Steve Laube June 13, 2013 at 10:51 am #

      It depends on a case-by-case basis. I once told a potential client he had to cut his book in half before I could try to sell it. He agreed. He did the work. And we sold it (now published under the title of CHURCH ZERO by Peyton Jones)

      Other times the book is close enough that my meddling with it might ruin it and would prefer letting the publisher put their imprint on the editorial process.

      It is a gut feeling each agent has to whether something is ready to shop to publishers or if it needs a tweak here and there.

  4. J.D. Maloy June 13, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    “Case by case” and “It is a gut feeling my each agent as to whether something is ready to shop to publishers or if it needs a tweak here and there.”

    Got it! Thank you for clarifying. The agent/editor area is more clear.

    P.S In a business that’s so subjective, it’s reassuring to know that if an agent “gets it” they will go with their “gut” even if tweaking needs to be made.

    Phew and :)

  5. Andrea Cox June 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Hi Tamela! Great point about doing your homework beforehand. If we don’t, we end up looking pretty stupid.

    I wish more agents would include a sample or two of the style of query letters and synopses. I found a great example on your website in the form of an explanation for the terms and guidelines to submit, but several agent sites I’ve been on don’t provide any hints for new authors. Sure, you can find them elsewhere online, but I find it helpful to know what guidelines the agent I’m considering has for submissions to their specific agency.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  6. Elva Cobb Martin June 14, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Tamela,
    I am enjoying all your blogs and the agency blogs.
    Elva Cobb Martin
    Anderson, SC

  7. angela June 15, 2013 at 6:24 am #

    I know a writer is supposed to query one novel at a time, however, how does one go about getting a two book contract even though it’s not a series? For example, now I’m ready for an agent, however, I have one complete manuscript—revised four times, line edited by author Elizabeth Elasmi in a novel building class. I have another manuscript, second draft, first fifty pages and synopsis complete.

    This seems like a silly question.

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