by Tamela Hancock Murray
What are some of the things you should ask when an agent has called to offer you representation? Here goes, in no particular order:
1) Would you go over your contract terms with me? Even though you will be reading the agency contract before signing, this is your chance to learn the main points you can expect to see. Ask questions now. After you review the contract, don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications in writing.
2) Will you or another agent be handling my work? This is important when signing with an agency that has more than one agent. The Steve Laube Agency does not reassign authors. Once you sign with one of us, you remain with that agent, although our President, Steve Laube, is quite involved and offers invaluable advice and oversight to his agents.
3) What plans do you have for presenting my work to publishers? While presenting your manuscript for maximum effect is the agent’s job, now is the time to share your hopes and dreams. Those may be anything from “I just want to get published,” to, “ACME is my dream publisher,” to, “I feel my next contract should take me to a higher level of status and money.” What will the agent do to help you achieve your dream?
4) May I share with you my financial expectations and needs? I’ll work just as hard for the author buying a big screen TV or a beach trip with her royalties as I will for the author who needs every penny to pay the light bill. However, financial considerations will affect the author choosing between several offers. You’ll be talking a lot with your agent about money. Start with an honest discussion now. Steve told me of one author who said he wouldn’t take a contract for anything less than $100,000….which was too bad since the project was likely going to sell for about $8,000. Steve ended up not taking that client since he would be unable to meet that author’s expectations.
5) What are your office hours? I don’t believe I’ve seen office hours stated on anyone’s web site and while this question seems rudimentary, it’s important because most authors and agents don’t want or need to be on call 24/7, particularly since publishers’ offices aren’t open around the clock. Plus, you owe your family and yourself some off time.
However, this information will give you a guideline about the best times to telephone your agent and when you may expect to hear back on emails. If the agent says his schedule is flexible, I recommend using email, which is less obtrusive than the telephone, during off hours and confining telephone calls to 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday in his time zone. Over time you and your agent may develop a relationship where you call each other every Sunday at 10 PM, and that’s fine. But start out treating your agent with respect to boundaries as you would any other business person.
6) As a general rule, how long does it take you to respond to emails and missed telephone calls during your standard office hours? A major complaint I hear from authors is that their agents don’t communicate with them. By getting an idea of how the agent works in this area, you can avoid misunderstanding.
7) How hands-on are you regarding proposals? When you listen to the agent’s answer, take into consideration your needs. If you expect an agent to double as your editor, say so now. If you already have established relationships with your editors and send proposals to them on your own and bring the agent in at contract time, tell the agent now. Most writers fall between these two situations. Now is a good time to find out what both of you should expect.
All will not be revealed during even a lengthy telephone conversation and you’ll still need to learn about each other and grow in your working relationship. But if you feel uncomfortable or less than excited after the conversation, give the agent a chance to clarify any fine points. Then, if you still feel unsure, don’t rush to sign a contract. Better not to act than to find you need to part ways years later, which will be much more painful.
But most of the time, the big call leads to even bigger possibilities — and a warm, lasting relationship both of you will cherish.
What questions did I miss?
Can you add to my ideas?