A. I’m glad to help. Here are questions that should result in all the information you need to make a wise choice:
• Would we have a written contract or only a verbal agreement?
• Is there be a time limit on the agreement, or is it open-ended?
• If things don’t work out, can either of us terminate the agreement? How much notice is required?
• Would the agreement cover everything I write or only what I specify? Would you represent anything other than books?
• If I sell manuscripts like articles myself, do you still take your percentage of those sales?
• What percentage of my income would you get when you sell a book for me?
• Do you charge any fees other than your percentage of sales, such as phone calls and copying?
• I know you take that percentage of the royalties, but what about on advances or subsidiary rights?
• How are you paid your percentage? Off the top, directly from the publisher? Or would payments come to me and then I would pay you?
• Do you let your clients know what submissions you make and the results? How often would I get such reports? Would the reports come by phone, mail, e-mail?
• How do you prefer to be contacted on other issues? Phone? E-mail? Mail?
• How many clients do you already represent?
• If you decide not to represent a particular project, do you object to my circulating it myself?
• How involved do you get with clients in planning their future, picking future projects, determining marketing strategies, and the like?
• What’s your background in publishing that prepared you to be an agent? Were you ever a book editor or have you worked for a publishing company?
• How long have you been an agent?
• Do you work alone, or are there other agents in the agency?
• What happens if you quit or move to another agency? Do I go with you, or am I turned over to another agent within the agency?
• How many books have you sold in the last year? Can you give me a list of some of the titles?
• Can I also get the names of a few of your clients for references?
• Anything else you think I need to know?
These are a lot of questions; but the agent/author relationship is crucial to your success as a writer, so each one is important. Keep in mind that if an agent refuses to answer these questions, you may want to move on to someone else on your potential list. The agent/author relationship must be based on mutual compatibility and trust. If not, it is sure to fail. If you run into problems within that relationship, I encourage you to address them with the agent immediately, rather than letting them grow into an insurmountable issue.
If you don’t know where to find agents, ask your writing friends who have agents for referrals, or check out the list of agents in the Christian Writers’ Market Guide.. If a writing friend is familiar with and enthusiastic about your work, she may be willing to recommend you to her agent, but don’t push if she seems reluctant. It’s a lot to ask.
Q – Is there a way to tell—without an agent—if a book publisher is making a fair offer?
A – Book contracts can be scarey, but fortunately there are seasoned writers out there you can hire to evaluate a contract for you. I do that, and you will find a number of others listed in the market guide under “Editorial Services.” I just encourage you to read the contract yourself and look for wording or terms that you don't understand or are concerned about and ask the evaluator to address them specifically.