In my April 2010 release, My Own Personal Soap Opera, soap opera head writer Frankie McNally rarely has to deal with actors' agents. But as writers, we all interact with agents regularly.
(And how was that for slipping a mention of my next book in with the topic of this post? LOL!)
When I first started writing seriously, I queried agents left and right, scrupulously researching which agents would be best for me. For any aspiring authors on this blog, here's a quick rundown of the kind of research you might find valuable (I did):
- Read Publishers Lunch, the weekly round-up of deals produced by Publishers Marketplace, noting the agents representing works that are in the same genre and of the same tone as yours. Consider subscribing to Publishers Marketplace so you can search their deals database.
- Use websites like AgentQuery.com to look for more information on agents, whose names you cull from Publishers Lunch. Also use AgentQuery to look up other agents.
- Plunk the name of agents you're thinking of querying into the search engine of amazon. It pulls up any searchable book where an author has acknowledged his/her agent and gives you a more comprehensive view of that agent's work.
- Go to the agency's website, looking at who handles subsidiary rights, whether the agent is a member of AAR (not essential, but a good indicator), and the like.
- Use various writing email loops to pose the question: "Anyone here know anything about Agent X? Write me privately."
Once I had a list of good agents to pursue, I pounded the cyber pavement with my queries. (By the way, if an agent didn't accept electronic queries, I would think twice about querying him or her because I knew that electronic communication was important to me. It's fast and convenient.)
And then, finally, of course, I waited, my list of "agent questions" at the ready should I be fortunate enough to receive "the call" from one of these exotic creatures.
I was lucky enough to get that call more than once. And I'm extremely happy with my current agent (shout out to Holly Root!) because we're on the same page (groan -writing pun) on virtually everything.
That wasn't the case for my previous agents. Yes, I had more than one. It took me awhile to figure out that a good agent/client relationship is like a marriage as much as a business arrangement. You have to be in sync with each other. You have to respect and trust each other. You have to have the same vision and the same affection for the projects you're handling together. Your agent has to have a working style with which you're comfortable.
A good agent isn't necessarily the best agent for you, if this "marriage" isn't working out.
I had the usual list of questions to ask agents when I interviewed them:
- How do you handle submissions?
- How many editors/houses do you submit to?
- How do you notify authors of editor reactions?
- Do you have a contract? What is it like?
As I became more business-savvy, I started adding to my list of questions, and I discovered that the more I could quantify, the clearer picture I could draw of that agency's work. So here are some questions I wish I'd known to ask at the outset of my career:
- How many clients do you handle?
- About how many sales do you make in a year?
- How many times do you interact with authors in a month?
- Do you notify your clients when you're going away (a small thing, but it means a lot to me--there's nothing like being all excited about a project, writing your agent, and getting an automated "out of office" reply telling you she'll be away for a week or more)?
- Do you have a cap on any copying and mailing expenses the author might be responsible for? If not, may I insert one in the contract?
- How many submissions do you generally do before having the ole "book funeral?"
When I began writing, I would have been too timid to ask those questions. Agents were great. I was small. Now I know that it's better to find these things out right away, to make sure the marriage of author and agent can work smoothly.
For you agented authors--what kinds of research or questions were most useful for you in your agent search? And for unagented authors--what would you like to know about an agent but have been afraid to ask?