If you have been working in the publishing arena for any notable amount of time, you probably understand the important role literary agents can play in the success or failure of your career as an author. Whether you are takings steps to approach an agent or struggling with a flood of agents interested in representing you and your book, this isn’t the sort of decision you can afford to take lightly.
One of the biggest mistakes authors make is not asking enough questions before signing a contract with a literary agent. Authors are often thrilled at the prospect of finding representation that they make this abrupt decision without knowing if the agent is an ideal match – if his/her plan for your manuscript matches your goals or if his/her management style fits your needs.
Literary agents are no different from prospective candidates seeking an employment opportunity. You cannot hire them or contract their services before carrying out a thorough investigation to ensure they are the right fit for your project. How can you be sure if this particular agent is right for you? Here are some questions you should ask a literary agent before you make a decision:
- How long have you been working in the industry?
There is no proper training or certification for literary agents. If you want to determine the skill level and competency of a given literary agent, all you can truly go on is their experience. Established literary agents are more likely to give you the results you want. The experience a literary agent has in the publishing arena will speak volumes about what they can actually do for you.
That doesn’t mean you should completely write off agents that are only starting out in the industry. In fact, new agents are often thirsty for manuscripts and are therefore more likely to give you more of their time than their experienced peers. If you choose to work with a new agent, however, your best bet would be to find one that’s been working at an established firm.
- What experience do you have in this book genre?
As a new author you are encouraged to restrict your search for a literary agent to individuals that have experience in your specific genre. Why? Different genres require different approaches when it comes to marketing manuscripts. An agent that spends his days dealing with romance novels will struggle to find publishers for a thriller. You do not want your agent to utilize your book for gaining experience within your genre. The best agent for your particular needs will already have experience in your genre and know everything there is to know about selling your manuscript.
- What is your plan for this project?
You need to figure out what your agent has in mind for your book. Take the time to understand their approach to bringing your book to your desired audience. This includes their strategy for selling secondary rights such as film, audio and electric. The more detailed the plan the better.
- What are your commission rates?
Most literary agents work on commission and you should try to find one that’s most affordable for your budget. This is far more difficult than you might imagine, especially if you have never used the services of an agent before. Any literary agent that tries to charge you more than 15% of domestic sales may be unreasonable. The right agent will not try to squeeze money out of you at the very start. Marketing fees, editorial charges and the like may be signs of dishonesty – keep searching.
- What role will you play in my ongoing career?
Every agent has a different approach in building an author’s career. Find out the role the agent intends to play in your overall career. Are they only interested in negotiating aggressively on your behalf when legal matters come into play or do they plan to work with you every step of the way? Will they even go so far as to critique your work and advise you on your career path? Make sure you gain a clear picture of every objective.
Ultimately you need to understand the extent to which you can depend on the literary agents being vetted. Treat your interview with a prospective agent like an employer scrutinizing a potential employee. Do not leave the table until you have a clear understanding of your agent’s role, their competency and experience in the field and what they will do for you.