Chip MacGregor

June 2, 2014

What should I ask a prospective agent?


A friend wrote to say, “You’ve said several times that an author should ask a prospective agent some questions in order to get to know him (or her). I’m going to a conference in a couple months — what sort of questions should I ask?”

I’ve talked about this question a couple of times, and I think the answer keeps changing as the industry evolves. Here are some thoughts to get you started…

-How long have you been doing this?
-How many contracts have you negotiated for authors?
-Who do you represent?
-What publishing houses have you worked with in the past year?
-Which editorial personnel have you done deals with?
-How many deals have you done in the past year?
-What sort of authors and projects do you represent?
-What do you like to read? (Ask for titles.)
-Can you give me a couple book titles you sold that you loved?
-Can you give me a couple book ideas you sold that you loved?
-Do you offer editorial input to authors?
-How often will we be in touch?
-What would you say are your best skills?
-What’s unique about your agency?
-What percentage do you earn on a book deal?
-Are there any hidden fees or charges? Any up-front costs?
-Do you charge back your expenses?
-How do you handle legal or accounting issues?
-In what ways do you get involved in marketing?
-Have you ever worked in publishing or done any editing or writing?
-How do you approach career planning?
-Do you work by yourself?
-Are you full time?
-Are you a member of AAR?
-How long have you been in business?
-How many people work at your agency?
-About how many books do you contract in a year?
-Will you be handling my work, or will someone else?
-What are your expectations of me as a client?
-Can you help me if I want to self-publish?
-How do you assist hybrid authors?
-With all the changes in publishing, what do you think the future holds for agents and authors?

That will get you started. Again, I think an author needs to consider what he or she needs from an agent before interviewing prospective agents. That way you’ve got some idea of whether or not this person would meet your needs, rather than simply asking yourself, “Do I like this guy?”

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  • Sara says:

    Thanks, Chip. This list is so helpful. I printed it out! I’m planning on querying in the fall and these questions will really help me figure out what I need to ask so I don’t stumble all over myself, haha:)

  • Ron Estrada says:

    Before showing up with our list of questions, we should get to know our prospective careerbusiness partners via the magic of the internet. Every author is different, but it’s taken me about ten years of writing to get to a point where I know where I want my career to go. Hopefully, others are faster learners. We can use that newfound insight to “hang out” with agents online. After a while, you can narrow down your choices through blog posts (like example A above), and social networking (too many kitty pictures and they’re out). I understand that a lot of agents and industry pros still aren’t on the blog and social network bandwagon. But maybe that, in itself, is a clue (If that’s unfair, Chip, feel free to knock me down a peg). My point is: a writer can save himself a lot of time, walking, and beer money by narrowing his search long before stepping into a conference. Hopefully by then he’ll have most of those questions checked off the list.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Exactly. Great advice, Ron. I’m always surprised when somebody comes to me with something that is clearly not a fit for me or my company (porn, poetry, plays, etc). “Really? You didn’t think to spend five minutes checking me out online before scheduling at appointment with me?”

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