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Top 5 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent

One of the most important decisions an author makes is choosing a literary agent.

In that decision, you are choosing who will be the person to stand before publishers on your behalf, to represent the entirety of your book and your brand, and to walk with you through the life of your book…

The best agent will be your biggest advocate, your best sounding board, your go-to advisor, and your harshest critic (in the best way; we all need a key harsh critic!).

The best agent will be your right hand through all parts of the publishing process, beyond just the contract phase.

The best agent has the chops to sell your book to a publisher–and then help you sell it again to the consumer.

The best agent has the chops to sell your book to a publisher, and then sell it again to the consumer. Click To Tweet

New and aspiring authors often ask me who the best literary agents are and how to get in with them. There are a ton of awesome professionals out there–men and women whom I respect so much, and who know all the ins and outs of the publishing landscape.

Choosing an agent is a personal decision, and so much is based on personality match, priorities, niche, and more. A agent that will rock with one author might not be the best fit for another. With that in mind, you have to shop around. Get to know agents and their agencies, their personal missions and their specialties.

As you network, there are a few key questions to ask. These are questions that will get you to the true heart and purpose of the agent, and help you decide if he/she is equipped to be the best advocate and representative for you.

1. What about my manuscript and my brand excites you and makes you want to represent me?

Get a peek at their time investment in reading/researching you thus far, as well as what makes them excited.

2. What’s the biggest hurdle I have to overcome to get a publisher excited about my manuscript?

Learn their level of expertise in publishers’ preferences, as well as their ability to critique you well.

3. Who are the top five editors you’re going to send my book to with whom you have relationships?

It’s all about relationships! Dig into whom they’re connected to and where their relationships lie.

4. What other books have you represented in my niche/space, and where are they published?

Assess their level of experience and the fruits of their work within your space and specialty.

5. What’s the greatest benefit you’re going to bring to the table as my agent?

Understand their strengths–and their own definition of what makes an awesome agent.

An agent will always stand by you in the contract phase because that’s the most basic part of their job. Too many agents fall away after that and are not very involved. I encourage authors to ask their agents about what level of involvement than can expect after that preliminary contract work is done.

Ideally, an agent stays in the game through each step of the process as an advocate and an advisor. They’re meant to be more than just a logistical piece of the puzzle. They’re a key team player.

  • Contract phase. An agent stands beside you and represents you in the contract phase. They present your book to publishers and get you the best possible deal.
  • Editorial phase. An agent acts as another set of eyes on your work and a cheerleader as you write. They are to advocate for you to the editor.
  • Book cover & title process. An agent brings to the table a well-informed perspective of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Marketing phase. An agent is an advocate and a guide during marketing, ensuring that you use your resources and time effectively and get the best possible care from the publisher.

At the end of it all, an agent has immense power to persuade and advise. The best agents are not necessarily the ones who have been in the business for a long time or sold the “best” books to the “best” publishers; they’re the ones who carry experience in your niche and a passion for your project.

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  • Anita

    Thank you for the advice–as someone who is seeking an agent, these suggestions seem a little counterintuitive. Perhaps that’s because I’m sure I’d be too busy doing the happy dance to have an agent tell me they’re interested to actually consider whether or not they would be the best fit ;).

    • Anita, thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad it sparked some thought for you. Yes, they might be counterintuitive, but I think strong questions on both sides will lead to a great match. If you’re an author with something to say, you want to find the right agent that is going to be your biggest champion.

    • Anita, thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad it sparked some thought for you. Yes, they might be counterintuitive, but I think strong questions on both sides will lead to a great match. If you’re an author with something to say, you want to find the right agent that is going to be your biggest champion.

  • Anita

    Thank you for the advice–as someone who is seeking an agent, these suggestions seem a little counterintuitive. Perhaps that’s because I’m sure I’d be too busy doing the happy dance to have an agent tell me they’re interested to actually consider whether or not they would be the best fit ;).

  • Laurie Kehoe

    But how do you get an agent to choose you? That is really the question. Of 50 queries I sent half said it wasn’t for them and the other just never responded. I finally signed with Tate Publishing

  • Fabulous question list!!

  • Stephen Matthews

    Great questions, number 3 thumbs up!