Okay, you’ve agonized over never-ending query revisions, tweaked your opening pages until you have the lines memorized, and, er, ‘celebrated’ each form rejection with a glass of wine (rejection is a step forward, it’s okay!) and the happy moment has finally arrived – an agent wants to represent you!
You’ll probably be over the moon with this information – pssh, Neil Armstrong may have stood on the moon, but you feel like you’re soaring over it! Well, stop. At least for a few minutes. Be serious and pay attention while you talk it over with the agent. You could be embarking up on one of the most important professional relationships of your life.
A quick Google search will find lists of questions that a writer should ask a potential agent before signing. Some of the key ones are:
What do you think of my work? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript? Do you think it will stand out in the marketplace? How ready is it?
Would you still support and represent me if at some point I wrote outside of my current genre?
Do you represent clients book by book or on a career basis? Are you confident that we have a great chance of making a career-long match?
How many clients do you have?
How many sales have you made?
What is your experience with this particular book genre?
Do you have a plan for submission in mind already? Which houses/editors do think will be a good fit for this project? How many editors do you plan to submit to initially, and how many do you plan to submit to overall if it does not sell as soon as hoped?
I think I asked most of the questions during my first phone call with my now-agent, although some of them just came up as part of our conversation without me having to ask. It’s important to have a phone chat with your agent – get a feel for him/her as a person, see if you share similar visions for the book, even to see if you enjoy the conversation and feel relaxed talking with him or her. If you feel awkward and uncomfortable, you might want to consider if it’s caused by more than just nervousness and evaluate whether you’ll be able to cultivate a successful working relationship with this person. Talking about your writing can feel quite personal, especially since your agent will be giving you critiques of the book. You’ll probably have a tough skin after all the query rejections it took to get to this point, but that’s definitely something to keep forever. I haven’t got there yet, but I assume book reviews can be as bad, if not worse, than query rejections.
I didn’t sign with my agent after our first phone call. She had some changes that she wanted to see (reworking some of the ending, rounding out a couple of characters) and we agreed that I would work on these and send the revisions back to her so we could see how we worked together. I believe this is called ‘unagented revisions.’
I was a little worried at first that this was just another possible rejection that would come out of a revise and resubmit, but she told me that she was almost certain she’d like the changes, she just wanted to see how we worked together, if we still had a similar vision for the book, and if we agreed on the changes in the end. She also asked me to stop querying for now and to let her know if any other agents requested the manuscript so she would have time to respond. I felt comfortable that this was more-or-less a sure thing, and I liked the idea of testing out our agent/author compatibility. I was also so excited that I had no life for a couple of weeks while I madly worked on the revisions every night after work in order to get them done quickly.
Once I sent them in, and she had time to review the changes, we talked on the phone again and agreed that it was time to sign the contract! We discussed the contents of the contract over the phone, and then I read it over and signed after it arrived to me in the mail. It’s worth noting here that I still had to do more revisions before we were going to start the first round of submissions. I love that my agent gets involved in the editorial side, but I’m not sure if they are all interested in that. Maybe that is a question you might want to ask a prospective agent, too.
Regarding questions to ask an agent, some of the information out there advises that you shouldn’t ‘overdo it’. I’m not quite sure what this means, because in this kind of situation, I feel like there probably isn’t such thing as a dumb question. Also, while you need to be professional, I think you should still to be yourself during interactions with your agent. How else will you know if you’ll be happy working together? In between status updates and discussions of revisions and future projects, my agent and I have talked about topics like food and wedding flowers and industry news, and I enjoy this. I think it’s important to be comfortable with your agent. After all, hopefully you’ll be working with your agent for a long time.