(which we rarely do, because only one place delivers out here in the boondocks and it's not very good), I make my husband call. So you can imagine my terror when I realized, early in the querying process, that at some point I might be expected to-- *gasp!*-- have an actual conversation with a living, breathing agent.
This prospect did not make me happy.
Defense mechanism: Research the hell out of it. And when it came time, I had a great list of questions next to the phone, which was very helpful when an agent said, "Hello, is this Kate?" and my brain went "uh.... uhh.... uhhhh..." There are several excellent lists already posted around the internet, including:
- Let the Words Flow
- Literary Rambles (Casey McCormick's blog was an ENORMOUS help to me during querying)
- Book Ends
- Hannah Moskowitz's guest post for Kathleen Ortiz
1) How is your contract different from those at other agencies? I don't know a huge amount about contracts, so this was an interesting way to approach the issue. What the agent chooses to highlight can also be enlightening-- does s/he mention foreign sales? Publicity? Does the agency use subagents to deal with subsidiary rights or do they keep them in house?
2) What do you think my comp titles would be? Most agents I talked to volunteered it on their own, but the answer is fascinating. Not only is it flattering to hear yourself compared to pros, but an agent who compares you to a title you can't stand might have a very different view of your work or your career.
3) Where do you see this book going? Some agents aren't comfortable giving you their entire potential sub list, which is understandable-- if you go elsewhere, they don't want to show the competition their cards. But they should at least be able to suggest authors with similar career tracks. And on a related note--
4) Do you expect me to write within only one genre? If you're writing YA and picture books, or romance and mystery, you'll obviously need to address this. But more specifically, I also got a wide variety of answers when I asked if a YA author can write both contemporary and paranormal.
5) How do you feel about internships/group blogs/online forums? Everyone was pretty pro-YA Highway, but I got extremely varied responses regarding internships with rival agencies. (No, I don't have an internship, but might like to in the future.) And if an agent has specific expectations for your behavior online, better to know it upfront.
6) What questions do you have for me? Interesting to see what kind of research an agent has already done on you, and how interested they are in your life, opinions, etc. What level of interest you'd like will obviously vary, but if the agent doesn't have any questions for you, that might be a red flag.
7) Take notes. I know, that's not a question. But seriously. It's just like going to the doctor for a diagnosis. All you hear is "pregnant!" or "cancer!" and the details disappear. Same thing here. "Offer!" = braindead. So write it down.
8) What revisions would you like to see? I'd argue this is the most important question of all. If an agent wants you to completely rewrite your book, they may have a point (really, sometimes total rewrites are necessary)... or they may be a horrible match for you. And as squeamish as I am about phone calls? A breakup call is the worst nightmare I can imagine.