Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Agents: Finding, Switching, and the Fine Art of Communications

You’ve finally finished that awesome YA or Middle-grade novel and your writing group has helped you polish it to a fine sheen. You are ready to shop for an agent! You pretty much know how to write a great query letter, but you’re not exactly sure what questions you'd ask, if and when you “got the call.”

Having been through the hugely exciting process of getting that call, and signing on, as well as the nervy experience of switching to an agent who is much better-suited to my work and communications style, along the way I’ve asked a few right… and wrong questions. I’ve also intuited the right questions, but was afraid to ask them. Which, dear writers, is a no-no. Ask away when you get that call! It’s your special time to figure out whether this person is someone you can really work with… or not. True, it’s business but don’t discount your gut feeling. Intuition counts for a lot. As a result of my experience, I’ve put together a list of crucial questions to ask your prospective agent:

*Do you edit and revise manuscripts? If so, how many passes? Will you be the person editing my material?

*What do you like best about my work? Do you have a few publishers in mind that you would send this manuscript to? How do you see my platform going forward?

*Do you work as an agent part time or fulltime? How soon after you create a submission list will you send out my manuscript? (In other words, do you send stuff out in a timely fashion? All agents are super-busy, but waiting months and months for something to be read or shopped is not cool).

*How do you prefer to communicate, and how often? By email? Phone? IM? Will I get periodic updates? Every month or so, or only when my work is sold? Is it okay to call with a question? (Or will you bite my face off?)

*Do you welcome suggestions of editors to send to? Will you show me your submission list? How many editors might you send to at one time?

*Are you open to talking strategy? What about discussing a manuscript that we have different ideas about? (A good agent is one who listens to your ideas regarding a project, and shares his or hers and then negotiates. But don't forget, you are choosing a person based on their expertise, so you should trust them. If your gut is telling you that this person is too inexperienced or busy or has tastes that do not match yours, do not sign a contract out of sheer excitement).

What about switching agents? The question list is basically the same. Plus, questions that inevitably came up with your agent, who, for whatever reason, didn’t work out. Best to part on amicable terms if possible, and move on. There are many great agents out there, and there is one well suited to your writing, your personality and your communications style. Be bold, and level-headed. Take the steps you need to insure a happy, smooth work relationship. You won’t regret it.

Happy hunting!


  1. These are all the right questions to ask a potential agent, I think.

    When I shopped for my current agent, I asked many of these. What impressed me the most was when he said "we'll work on this together until we make it irresistible to publishers, and readers! We will make it hit the target."

    He did, too. Got the proposal right, sold it, it's getting published early in 2011.

    I've had previous agents who were great on the sale, but then disappeared. I let them disappear from my life, too.

  2. All very useful. Will send my beginning writing buddies here!