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THE CALL or, What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation


403_question markGiven the nature of this blog and my general advocacy of doing research and making informed decisions about literary agents,  I've long wanted to do a post on  THE CALL, THE E-MAIL or, What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation.  I can't speak from experience yet, but I can give you the list of questions I've been creating for myself.  And we can discuss! 

A couple notes about the questions before I continue.  Depending on the agent, I might already know some of the answers and therefore wouldn't bother asking those questions.  I also expect a lot of these questions would run together and be cross-answered naturally, so while it seems like a lot of questions, I don't think I'd have to ask them all word for word.  At the bottom, I'm listing out the posts that helped me develop my list.


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?

Are you an editorial agent?  If so, to what extent?  What are you thinking in terms of revision?  How collaborative are you?

Will I be working solely with you, or will there be times I'll work with an associate or assistant?  If so, please elaborate.

How many clients do you have?  Are you confident you have enough time and energy to add another client to your roster?  If it's not already full, how many clients do you wish to have on your list eventually?

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?

Will you work with me on career planning and marketing?  Do you work with a publicist?

How much of my genre do you handle?  What's your approximate success rate?

What happens if you can't sell this manuscript?  What if you don't like my future projects and ideas? 

Would you still support and represent me if at some point I wrote outside of my current 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 know it varies, but what is the expected turn-around time for an editor during the submission process?  How long will you allow a project to languish before you'll nudge?

How open are you with information during the submission process?  Will you keep me updated as rejections and offers come in?  Will I know exactly who you're submitting to at all times?  Are you willing to share the rejections with me?

What is your preferred method of communication?  How often are you in contact with your clients?  How soon can I expect an answer to any given e-mail?  How about a revision or new project?

What are your business hours?  When do you prefer to be contacted?

Do you have a verbal or written contract?  What do the terms and agreements include?  What is the duration of the contract?  If it's written, would you be willing to go through it word-for-word with me if I felt that was necessary?

Are there any situations where you'd make decisions on my behalf? 

If for some reason we need to part ways, how will this be handled?  Are there any stipulations I should be aware of?  For what reasons would you terminate a client?

If a situation should arise where you are no longer able to represent my work, do you have a plan for me?  Or will I need to seek new representation on my own?  What if I'm in the middle of the submission process?  How would I proceed?

How are subsidiary rights handled within your agency?  Would you say your agency is strong in subright sales?  Do you see potential for my project in this regard?

What are your commission rates?  Are they the standard 15% domestic and 20% foreign/film?

What is your procedure for processing and disbursing client funds?  How soon will I receive my share when payments are received?  Do you keep different bank accounts for author funds and agency revenue?  Will I receive a 1099 at the end of each year?  Will I have full fiscal disclosure upon request? 

Will you be billing me for any submission costs (supplies, etc)?  If so, what should I expect?  How will those costs be charged to me?

How long have you been an agent?  What do you love about it?  Dislike about it?

Generally, what do you expect of your clients in a given year?  What do you feel makes for an ideal agent-author relationship?

What are a few of your recent sales? 

What if another client and I approached you with a similar idea?  How would you move forward in that situation?

Would you allow me to contact a couple of your clients?  Specifically, one you've sold at least one project for and one you you've yet to sell for?  What about publishers you've worked with?

Do you belong to any organizations?  The AAR?  Are you listed on Publisher's Marketplace?  If so, do you report the majority of your deals to them?

What questions do you have for me?


Here are the posts that helped me develop my list:

"Preparing for THE CALL" at Writers Musings.

"What Can I Expect of My Agent" at Editorial Ass.

"How to Interview a Literary Agent" at Writing for Children and Teens.

"Getting THE CALL" at Rants and Ramblings of a Literary Agent.

"Questions to Ask an Agent" at Rants and Ramblings of a Literary Agent.

"Before You Hire a Literary Agent" by Michael Hyatt.

"Questions to Ask a Potential Literary Agent" at Squidoo.

"Questions to Ask Literary Agents" at Quill Driver Books (reprinted from the AAR).


What do you think?  Do you want to discuss any of the questions?  Add your own?  Talk about your own experience with THE CALL?  Please do!  Also, if you're interested in writing a guest post about your experience interviewing one or more literary agents before hiring one, please e-mail me. 


lotusgirl said...

What a wonderful list. I was just making my own because I'm going to be sending out queries this week. I actually gave you a shout out on my blog today because your blog has helped me so much in my agent search. *bows and scrapes at your illustrious feet*

Laura Pauling said...

This is terrific. Goes well with your list of agents! Could you imagine if someone had a list of like 200 questions to ask an agent? funny.

Kristin said...

Great list! Thanks so much. I hope to use some of them!

Jill Wheeler said...

Yay! I'm going to add this to my own personal list, which I hope to actually need someday!

Joanne said...

Great idea, and great list, very thorough! It seems a good idea to be prepared like this for when the call comes, keeping the call business and informative at the same time. Thanks for sharing.

Heather said...

Great list of questions! I think a lot of people are so excited about the idea of being offered representation that they forget the agent might not actually be a match for them.

Unknown said...

Definitely bookmarking. Your posts are always so great.

Casey Something said...

Thanks everyone! I think this is a really important step in hiring an agent that a lot aspiring authors underestimate.

Marsha Sigman said...

I'm going to print this out. I had a few of them but some I had never even thought of asking! I sincerely hope I get a chance to.

Elana Johnson said...

We did a couple of posts on this on the QT blog too. I had this huge list every time an agent called. Yeah, I never used any of them. Basically we talked, just like you and I might talk on the phone. I did ask some questions, but my agent told me most of what I wanted to know without me asking. But it's always best to be prepared for these things. Nerves, ya know?

Hilary Wagner said...

Casey, excellent post!

The only thing I would add is contacting an agent's clients that have NOT sold yet. Is the agent still taking their calls, responding to emails, etc? I know a few people with agents who haven't sold yet and now that they've been with the agent for a while, they are having trouble getting their agent to respond to them in any manner. It breaks my heart to hear that because I know how hard they worked to get their agents, so one more thing to be consider before signing.

xoxo -- Hilary

Janet Johnson said...

Great post! I've never even thought of most of that list. Good I'm learning now . . . before I query.

Casey Something said...

Thanks for sharing, Elana! That's probably how it goes for a lot of writers.

Mainly, I think it's important to be aware of the business side of things. Too many writers get caught up in the "dream" part of getting an agent and forget the same person they're trusting to make their dreams come true could hurt and hinder them.

Even reading these questions can be an eye-opener for some writers.

If you feel like sharing the links for the QT posts, please do!

Casey Something said...

I've got that in the third to last question, Hilary, but I'm so glad you expanded on it. I have/had friends in the same situation. It's so sad! It's like being in limbo, too. Do they leave their agent? Give it more time? Rough stuff.

K. M. Walton said...

Wow, Casey, you are truly one of the writer's best resources!!! Seriously.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Wow you are thorough! I got the (in my case) email and freaked out!! It was wonderful and exciting and scary all at the same time. I"m so glad it wasn't a call so I had time to collect myself before then and research because I wasn't as prepared as you are. Best of luck!! Let's hope you get to use the list soon.

Heather Kelly said...

Casey--When this title popped into my blogroll, I thought for a moment that you had gotten THE CALL. Oh dear. I was so excited for a moment. I know that day will come!

But, your list is excellent.

Thermocline said...

Ah someday...

Thanks for this list, Casey!

Jenna Wallace said...

This is a great list Casey! Thanks for this.

Unknown said...

Casey - awesome post. I just bookmarked it and can't wait to use it! :)

Terra said...

This blog is fascinating, and I like the list of questions to ask an agent upon getting "the call."

Yat-Yee said...

you provide such great resources. Thank you. Hope you get the call very soon!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Your questions are great. I'm going to print them out and keep them handy in case I ever the call. I'd be at work and nervous, so it'd feel comforting to be able to pull it out.

kathrynjankowski said...

I've seen many lists like these, and yours tops them all! Thanks for putting it together.

Rebecca Gomez said...

Wow. That is a LIST!

Do you keep these questions posted somewhere handy so you can refer to them when the time comes? Or all the all in your brain and you're just confident that you'll remember to ask?

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...


Thanks for this :-)

Jay said...

Really excellent list. I can't wait until I have an opportunity to ask some of these questions.

Heather Zundel said...

Casey, you're my hero. Seriously.

(and how is that research paper going? After giving input on books, I've become really interested in what it is you are working on). :)

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent and thorough list, Casey! I hope to use it soon!

Ceci Miller said...

Super list! Suggest moving these two to the top: (1) How long have you been working as an agent? What do you love and hate about it? and (2) What are a few of your recent sales?
My other fave is (3) How many clients do you currently represent? and What would you consider a full client roster? Your blog's doing a great service.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this informative post! I'm glad to have discovered your blog, and I am definitely a new follower!

I hope to be asking these questions of an agent very soon :) But we shall see.

Rachel Heston Davis
Up and Writing

Lisa Nowak said...

What great questions. I would never have thought of some of these.

Caitlin Whitaker said...

Awesome, AWESOME post!

Diana Fox said...

I think this list will be a very useful resource for writers! However, as an agent, I will say that I'm not sure I'd be willing to disclose my entire potential submission list for a project before an author had signed with me. I would probably mention houses and imprints, but not specific editors, because what's to stop the author from taking the list of editors I developed and passing it to another agent upon signing with that agent instead?

I'm always more than happy to be generous and pay it forward when it comes to revision suggestions and the like--indeed, I think it's important for an author and agent to be on the same page about their vision for a project if they're going to work together successfully--but when it comes to a submission list with specific editor names, that's part of the knowledge I get paid for and how I make my living. I wouldn't be comfortable being asked to give it away for free. As always, other agents may feel differently, but I hope you'll take into consideration that many may also share my position on this particular matter.

Casey Something said...

Hi Diana! Thanks so much for chiming in. I was hoping an agent or two might respond and give their take on the questions.

What you're saying is completely understandable. I wouldn't be put off if an agent wasn't willing to give editor names before signing. My interest is in making sure the agent does have a plan for submission and already has specific editors in mind. I want to feel confident that the agent knows what they're doing and knows where the project might sell.

Brenda Sturgis said...


This is SO MUCH appreciated. Questions I never would have thought to ask.

Brenda Sturgis

Unknown said...

Uh, wow! I got linked to this post last night, and that's a really comprehensive list of questions! I've heard of some of these questions, but not all. Will be referring to this again!

Carrie said...

Just reread this, Casey, and like everybody else said, you are a writer's best friend! Thank you for taking the time to compile this list for us!

One thing not on this list, but something I think about A LOT is, what do you expect out of your writers once it comes time to promote a published book?

Maria Cisneros Toth Blog said...

Wow! Awesome list...thanks for taking the time to put this all together! :-)

Laura Pauling said...

Great list. I do think questions about epublishing need to be asked. Especially if the book doesn't sell - would they self publish together or would the agent be comfortable with the author epubbing on their own or what they think about it. Better to know those things up front.

Casey McCormick said...

Absolutely, Laura! When I wrote these questions, e-books weren't the hot topic they are now. E-books and e-book rights matter a lot to an author's career these days, so I absolutely think writers and agents need to discuss the various possibilities and how they'd be handled.

K. L. Hallam said...

This post is a MAJOR bookmark--Standing out above all others. Thank you!

Kim Van Sickler said...

Just referred to this post, hoping that my recent full manuscript requests morph into a reason for me to interview a agents. Thanks for being so forward-thinking!

Ericka @ Creative Liar said...

I'll be receiving "the call" this evening so I'm glad I found this post. Thank you!

Casey McCormick said...

Congrats on the offer, Ericka! I hope your talk went really well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'll be talking with an agent Monday and these questions will be helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sharing of such information we will pass it on to our readers.

Jen Knox said...

Thank you for this, Casey. I just happened on your blog after being contacted by an agent. She read a short story, and would like to talk based off that, which completely caught me off-guard. This post has helped me greatly to prepare.

Casey McCormick said...

I'm so glad, Jen. Best of luck!

Unknown said...

This is great. Thank you so much for the detail. I feel like I'm ready to start building my own list. :)

Darshana said...

Thanks this is a great list!