Two Questions We Might Ask and Why

Sometimes writers feel the need to switch literary agents. When an author approaches me after working with another agent, I always ask why. Most are reticent to let me know. I understand and respect that. We don’t want to gossip or speak poorly of an agent, particularly when that person was instrumental in helping us get our start. However, a new agent needs to know what went wrong. Here’s why:

  • We need to know if and where your past work was marketed. If we don’t, we run the risk of re-marketing your work to the same houses and editors. They keep records and will know if we try to approach them again with the same project. Re-marketing is not only a waste of time but an embarrassment. If you don’t know where your last agent sent your work, discuss this with the new agent and decide on a plan.
  • We need to know why your last relationship didn’t work for you. When I talk to an author switching agents, I use this question to learn what that author wants in the new relationship. If I don’t understand this, I can’t meet or exceed expectations. I also realize that every agent has clients who are rabid fans of said agent. Just because a writer and an agent aren’t a good match doesn’t have to reflect poorly on either. It happens. One author’s mismatch doesn’t affect my opinion of the other agent. And even if it did, who cares?

Another note: what an author shares with an agent, even an agent she’s merely interviewing, stays with that agent. We are like doctors and lawyers in that we don’t divulge information. Besides, I don’t have time to spread negative comments about other people. I’m too busy representing clients!

Your turn:

What do you think you need to ask a new agent?

What would you expect an agent you are interviewing to ask you?

39 Responses to Two Questions We Might Ask and Why

  1. N.D. Cole August 3, 2017 at 3:50 am #

    Question 1: I would ask the agent: Do you believe in the message of faith my Christian book is presenting? Are you fine with using Jesus’ name?

    Question 2: I would expect an agent to ask: how will we market this book to local, national, and international markets. Can everyone relate to this book?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 5:25 am #

      Those are both great questions, N.D.! As for our agency, the answer to your first question is plain on our web site. Also, the books that the agent has represented and her current author list should answer that question. If you’re still unsure, of course it’s wise to ask.

      The second question shows you would be the agent’s partner, which is wonderful!

      • N.D. Cole August 4, 2017 at 5:49 am #

        Yes, your agency does have this straight forward and plain on your website. That’s very helpful and is a definite plus for me. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I know that you’re probably very busy, so that says a lot about who you are. May the Lord continue to bless you and your agency. The best is yet to come!

  2. Melissa Henderson August 3, 2017 at 5:28 am #

    I would like to ask these questions to an agent. 1. How involved are you with your clients? How often do you keep in touch with your clients? Are you easily accessible if the client has a question or concern? 2. I would expect an agent to ask about my hopes for the book(s). I would also like an agent to want to know about my life story so that person can better determine if we are a good fit to work together.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 5:51 am #

      Melissa, those are great questions! I let each author be my guide. Some love lots of contact. Others prefer less. I try to adapt to each author’s desires and needs. My email goes into my phone so I can answer quickly if I’m away from my desk. I try to respond rapidly and answer questions as soon as possible.

      I always ask the author about her background and goals. We absolutely need to know a little about each other to see if we’re a good fit.

      • N.D. Cole August 4, 2017 at 5:43 am #

        Tamela,

        I simply love the answer you provided here. This shows that you’re deeply involved with the author and the entire process. This is especially helpful for new authors. The approach you have is something that I’m sure your clients really appreciate and have come to love about your personality.

  3. Kristine Brown August 3, 2017 at 5:34 am #

    I enjoyed reading this, Tamela. It’s something I hadn’t considered before, but I love the idea of being prepared with questions when starting a new potential partnership, much like a job interview. I would think setting expectations in the beginning would be key. I’ll be following to see other suggested questions.

  4. Jeanine Lunsford August 3, 2017 at 5:42 am #

    I would want my potential agent to know what my goals are as a writer, and I would want to know what my potential agent’s goals are for me as an author.
    If the agent’s goals for me are compatible with my own personal goals, there is good material for establishing a strong foundation that a solid relationship can be built upon.

    Relationship is key … strong relationships that can tough out the ups and downs that are sure to come, are never built upon faulty foundations.

  5. Damon J. Gray August 3, 2017 at 5:49 am #

    I suspect an agent will have a plethora of questions for me regarding platform building that is underway.

    On the flip side, my initial question is much the same as Melissa’s. Are you looking for a book or a long-term relationship? Are you representing me, or a specific manuscript?

    How do we ask questions in that arena without coming off as overly needy? I’m not, but the truth is I am looking for a long-term relationship rather than a one-off manuscript representative.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 6:01 am #

      Damon, our agency specializes in career development and management. In my opinion, a person who needs a one-off is generally an author planning to write one book and that’s it. These authors often use literary lawyers for their deals. My guess is that any lawyer charges by the hour, which is not conducive to a relationship. Another example, I might think my dentist is friendly but I don’t want to develop a bunch of cavities just to visit the office. That would be a very expensive and painful “relationship” to have.

      To contrast, I’m not acquainted with any literary agent who charges by the hour. If I’m on the phone with a client, the billing clock isn’t ticking. I can take the time to develop a relationship. I want to work with authors with long-term goals. I work with writers I’m excited about!

      In my opinion, an author asking for a long-term commitment is not at all needy. I really wouldn’t stress over asking!

  6. Brennan McPherson August 3, 2017 at 6:24 am #

    I think I would need to get to know an agent decently well before having them represent me and offer career advice. We would need to have similar views on business and a clear understanding of each others’ communication styles and expectations. (Example, if I don’t hear from the agent after sending off a proposal, should I assume they read it, and all is well, and they’re working on pitching the project? Or are they always going to give me a, “Got it, great! Will let you know when I read the proposal.”) It seems to me that breakdown in communication is the primary source of relational schisms.

    That being said. . . an agent would really have to try hard to create division for me to have a bad relationship with them. Especially if I felt it were a good fit at first.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 6:35 am #

      Good points! I always like to show that I’m working on the manuscript. You are so right that good communication is key. In fact, I’ve already written a blog oost about this and it’s in the queue to be published soon.

      • Brennan McPherson August 3, 2017 at 7:08 am #

        Look forward to reading it! 🙂

      • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 7:29 am #

        Just realized I said I’ve written a blog “oost” instead of a post. I’m apparently also a trendsetter!

  7. Melissa Ferguson August 3, 2017 at 6:43 am #

    Great post!!
    When agents reputations precede them, and their own clients rave about them for being consistently kind, present, Christ-centered, and successful in the industry, I have a hard time thinking up questions to ask–especially considering an agent’s website and blog cover just about any topic I could dream up. But then, I think that’s a good problem.

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 3, 2017 at 6:48 am #

    Well, no one asked this, so I guess it’s up to me.

    “What’s your sign?”

    • Carol Ashby August 3, 2017 at 7:09 am #

      I know you’re joking, but I have my answer ready when I’m asked that The cross.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 3, 2017 at 9:02 am #

      Carol and Tamela, great reply!

      Though night now I am Crapicorn, really having hard dime dealing with Cancer. 😀

      Littl gallows humour never hurt any. Pls pardon dypos, bit of not well at moment.

  9. CJ Myerly August 3, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    Great post. I love your insight, Tamela. I’m learning so much following this blog. Like the others have said, I’d want to build a relationship for the long haul.

    All of you have been so transparent that I think coming up with questions would be difficult. Your blog posts answer most of mine, but as I send queries and proposals, I’d ask the agent questions to get a feel for them personally. Just as all authors aren’t the same, all agents aren’t the same.

    I expect to be asked questions about platform building and marketing.

  10. Carol Ashby August 3, 2017 at 7:21 am #

    I would never have predicted the level of international sales of my two novels with openly Christian themes and characters embracing faith in Jesus as a key plot element. Because of that, I’d ask agents about their approach to penetrating the international market.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 7:33 am #

      Great question, Carol. Each author and novel would need a different approach so the agent’s advice should be specific to your work.

  11. Rebekah Love Dorris August 3, 2017 at 7:39 am #

    I’d ask:

    1. How should I balance between writing and designing gigs for regular income and uncompensated book labor that may take years to pay?

    2. How soon/frequently do you expect me to produce a new book? As a mother of 8, that could be a deal breaker! 🙂

    Great post! God bless 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 8:24 am #

      Rebekah, I have every kind of writer on my list — from homeschooling moms of several children to new empty nesters to mature mothers of the faith so no worries with any of your questions! Those answers would be tailored to you, though.

  12. Daphne Woodall August 3, 2017 at 8:21 am #

    I love the question and answer forum. It is very helpful. My husband when interviewing potential employees he always shares his faith because he wants them to know what kind of person and manager they would be working with in the pharmacy. So I would consider a faith question when vetting an agent.

    How does faith play into your role as an Agent?

    Also generally when I’ve taken positions of employment I like clarity of expectations and initially I may have lots of questions as a new author but once I gain exerience I hope to not overburden an agent with minor issues. I think communication is important and would want an agent that I can easily talk with and one that is comfortable with me as well.

    Is there an introductory period or manual (I worked in insurance) that explains our roles and relationship as well as the process of publishing a book from beginning to end?

    Other questions:

    What information can you share that would help me be a better client/author?

    Will I have a say in what publishing houses you would submit to?

    When signing with an agent is it an ongoing contract or do you have to renew the contract?

    This is what I like about the Steve Laube Agency in that you openly ask questions and we get great feedback.

    • Steve Laube August 3, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      Daphne,

      I’ll step in here to answer a couple of these questions since they relate to the overall policy/practice of the agency.

      Some agencies have a “term” agreement, meaning it covers a set period of time. Usually a year, with renewal options.

      We prefer to have an open ended agreement, or what is technically described as an “at-will” agreement. We agree to work together as long as we agree to work together. If there needs to be a termination of the agreement there are specific things described in the contract that remain in place. For example, we have shopped your book to a dozen publishers and one decides to offer a contract. But you terminate the agency agreement thinking you can cut out the agent from the deal. That would be a breach of the agency agreement. (I just talked to an agent from another agency where someone tried to pull that trick. It didn’t work…)

      Hope that makes sense.

      As to the other questions…

      Yes you can have input on which publishers see the proposal. But we might counter with our experience with said publishers.
      Two examples:
      1) You want to send it to AwesomeSauce Publishers with your book on Financial Wisdom. But we know that publisher is the exclusive publisher of Dave Ramsey and the editor has told us to not bother them with other financial book. You insist we send it to AwesomeSauce and we counter that we cannot do that. We would be annoying a good editor with a major publisher.
      That is where the client needs to trust the agent knows what they are doing.
      2) You previously published with RadicalFarms Publishing and it was a horrible experience. You don’t like their marketing team, you clashed constantly with the editorial staff, and you felt insulted by the president of the company at a booksellers event.
      You need to tell your agent that and say “Please do not send my new proposal to RadicalFarms.”
      That will save everyone from even having to deal with the issue.
      However, if you have had a wretched experience with a publisher note that staff can move to different publishers. So if you, as the author, burned a bridge by shouting and yelling at people, that story will be told by that editor at their new publishing house.

      Hope that helps.

      • Daphne Woodall August 3, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

        Thank you Steve for your response. That does answer my question and makes perfect sense.

  13. Beth Durham August 3, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    Thank you for this post Tamela.

    I’m sure if an award-winning, multi-titled author sends a proposal to a new agent it’s a little different than an unknown, un-published author who has previously been represented by another agent.

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an agent to ask why you left and for them to expect a candid answer.

    But I wonder, is there a stigma attached to an unpublished author who is seeking a new agent?

    Are these questions as important if I am seeking representation for a new work that no one has marketed?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 3, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

      No stigma. It happens. An agent who’s been in business any length of time has heard every story before. All best to you!

  14. Mark August 10, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    Tameka,

    As a new author, I am discovering that my book manuscript could easily span several genres. How does one judge what the best one to settle into? Or is it a matter of the book being able to pull from multiple genres? At present, my manuscript could settle into Christian, but has some mystery, thriller, techno themes, as well. As I am still finding my “writer’s voice” I am looking for the series to be able to be served in many markets. I know several Christians who have written this way. Larry Burkett with Illuminati and Bob Gamer with Target Down. What is your take on this and how important is it, in your estimation?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 10, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

      As long as you have a great story and aren’t targeting a line that only takes, for example, category romance, I say try it!

  15. Mark August 10, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

    Tamela,

    Apologize for misspelling your name. Spell check was not nice.

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    […] your requested fulls look professional. In other agenting issues, Tamela Hancock Murray gives us 2 questions agents might ask writers seeking a new agent and why, and Steve Laube asks whether authors should send simultaneous submissions or […]

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