Six Questions for a Literary Agent

1.  What should a client expect from you as an agent?

  • That I will work hard.
  • That I will keep on top of the ever changing marketplace.
  • That I will maintain my integrity as a businessman of honor and honesty.
  • That I will protect your interests.
  • That I will tell you the truth, about the industry, about your writing, about your ideas.
  • That I will respond to your concerns and questions as soon as possible.

2.  What would you expect from a client of yours?

  • Work hard.
  • Measure expectations against reality.
  • Attempt to understand the publishing process. Then trust the process.
  • Develop a thick skin.
  • Learn patience. Things take time in this industry.

3.  What will you NOT do for a client?

  • I won’t lend you money.
  • I won’t lie or cheat for you.
  • I won’t write your book for you.

4.  In today’s marketplace, how difficult is it for a writer to succeed without an agent? Do you think every writer needs an agent?

The answer depends on your expectations as a writer. If you are confident you understand the variations within the industry, have business acumen, have negotiation skills, understand book contracts, have strong relationships with editors, etc. then you have a chance to succeed without an agent.

However, the industry is a labyrinth of nuances. If you try to go it alone you might regret signing that document or partnering with the wrong publisher. At least once or twice a year an author comes to me with a tale of woe regarding a contract they signed and the trouble they are now experiencing. They want to know if I can rescue them from the disaster.

I once asked a potential client why they thought they needed me as their agent. He replied, “If I were to represent myself, I would represent a fool.”

5.  What is a newbie’s chance of getting you as an agent? What are you looking for?

Blow me away with an amazing novel or develop a great platform accompanied by a great idea that will make a publisher’s eyes water. Then you’ve got a fighting chance.

6.  What should a writer send you for your consideration of them as a client?

PLEASE follow the guidelines on our web site. They are there for a reason. Break those guidelines with impunity and all you’ll do is annoy us. Would you work with someone who annoys you? (Just remember they are guidelines, not rules.)


A version of above six questions and answers were originally posted by Rebecca Barlow Jordan, one of my clients, for her blog in 2010.

20 Responses to Six Questions for a Literary Agent

  1. Judith Robl February 26, 2018 at 5:12 am #

    Love this reality check. Thank you, Steve.

  2. Vanessa Burton February 26, 2018 at 6:20 am #

    Love the expectation and integrity that a client and an agent work hard together!

  3. Katie Powner February 26, 2018 at 6:58 am #

    Question number 7 should be “Are you a dog person or a cat person?” Because that’s important to know about someone you’re going to work closely with. 🙂

    • Steve Laube February 26, 2018 at 10:42 am #


      Thanks for the political bomb you laid on me. Any answer will alienate at least 1/3 of the population which is divided into pro-cat, pro-dog, and who cares? factions. 🙂

      I had a wonderful beagle as a young teen. Loved that little lady.

      Now? We have a cat. Our previous family cat was with us for well over a decade. Our current kitty is not sure she is a cat. She will often run like a bunny rabbit, bouncing on all fours across the lawn. She will play fetch…sort of. And has a fascination with fire (likes to charge the fireplace when embers fly up.) She once burned her paw by putting it In. The. Fire.

      So I guess you could say I am a cat person…who likes dogs.

      • Katie Powner February 27, 2018 at 8:36 am #

        Haha, and then there are those of us who just want a miniature pig named Peppy who wears little sweaters and hats.

  4. Damon J. Gray February 26, 2018 at 8:09 am #

    RE: #3 – People have seriously asked you to lend them money???

    • Steve Laube February 26, 2018 at 10:43 am #


      Yes. It has happened.

  5. Carol Ashby February 26, 2018 at 8:56 am #

    The amazing novel part…if my friends and family are amazed at the quality of my writing and at my ever completing a novel at all, is that amazing enough? Will signed affidavits from some of them attesting to how amazed they were help?

    • Steve Laube February 26, 2018 at 10:45 am #


      I know you are joking. For our readers, the truth is that the agent is the sole person who determines if a manuscript is amazing. Having endorsements from your mom or sister or pastor won’t necessarily help…unless one of them is a famous person or author!

      Dare I say it?
      “It depends.”

  6. Joseph Bentz February 26, 2018 at 9:45 am #

    You won’t lend me money?!!

    • Steve Laube February 26, 2018 at 10:47 am #


      Especially not to you.
      I might buy your lunch…but loan you money? HAHA.

      In case the rest of you are wondering…Joe and I have known each other for at least 20 years. He is a client and a friend.

      But I still won’t lend him money.

  7. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D February 26, 2018 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks, Steve. I actually did forward your blog to a writing friend. I appreciate your willingness to tell newbies about the publishing world!

  8. Joey Rudder February 26, 2018 at 11:06 am #

    I sincerely appreciate this post, Steve. Thank you. It really helps to understand what’s involved in this type of business relationship; both needing to work hard as top priority.

    Like so many others, I hope to have that fighting chance to work with you. (If it happens, I promise I will work very hard and never ask you for money! 😉 )

    Thanks again!

  9. Lori February 26, 2018 at 12:58 pm #

    I have to ask or I will lie awake night wondering. ” a great idea that will make a publisher’s eyes water. ” Did you really mean “eyes water,” or did you mean “mouth water”? This is very important, because I need to know if I should attempt to make you cry or make you salivate at the thought of representing me.

    • Steve Laube February 26, 2018 at 1:01 pm #


      Try not to worry about it.

      Simply write something marvelous.

      However, if you make me cry AND drool I might not be too excited about representing the work. 🙂

      Picturing me weeping OR drooling is not the dignified look I was going for.

      • Carol Ashby February 26, 2018 at 1:06 pm #

        So, does that mean including a couple of Kleenex in the envelope with the proposal or tucked between the pages at the emotional climax scenes in the full manuscript won’t tilt you toward representing someone?

  10. Norma Brumbaugh February 26, 2018 at 3:21 pm #

    Always nice to know what you’re aiming at. This is confirmation. Thanks.

  11. Dianna Rott February 27, 2018 at 6:09 am #

    Thanks for this ‘newbie’ information. I have been writing and journaling for many years. I have just recently started looking into the publishing process. There certainly is a lot to learn! I’m wondering what will prove to be more difficult, getting published or adopting and raising six children? I’m thinking if I survived the latter, I can move forward to the former. HA!!!!!

  12. Lori Altebaumer February 27, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    Thank you for sharing. The more I learn and understand about the publishing industry, the more convinced I am that when my novel becomes published (I intentionally did not say if), it will be with an agent or not at all. There are too many moving parts in publication to master and pour all of my effort into writing the best I can. I am reminded of the old saying, “a jack of a trades and master of none.” Let me become a master at writing and let the agents become the master of publication.

    I actually look forward to the day when I have an agent that I can lean on for their wisdom and experience to tell me “yes, no, or step away from the computer!”

  13. Claire O'Sullivan March 1, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

    Hi Steve –

    Love it … I had to giggle at number three, especially that you won’t lend me money or write my book.

    Oh, by the way, can you lend me money (ha ha!)? I can’t believe someone would ask in reality. Still funny.

    Reminds me of the person who sent you a blank manuscript titled, ‘Memoires of an Amnesiac.’ I laughed for quite some time on that, and never forgot the joke someone pulled which wasted your time. But, you have to admit that was humorous…

    There is no way I could find my way through the maze. I don’t know North, South, East or West (maybe left at the mom and pop store, we’re at the big Redwood a piece off the main road), and my husband says I can’t find my way out of a paper bag…

    tsk. But I digress. ‘Will work with Agent for Help in Publishing.’


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