photo by Grevel

After weeks (months? years?) of querying agents and getting nothing in return but radio silence, someone has requested your manuscript and followed up with an excited call or email offering representation. So now what? I think the best way to answer this question is to use the knowledge I have from being on this side of the fence and put myself in an author’s shoes. What would I do?

First things first. After taking my husband out for dinner to celebrate the fact that, no, I am not crazy for doing this thing called writing, I would ask myself, Is this agent the best representative for my book?

The easiest way to gauge that would be to get on the phone with the agent and talk.

After thanking them for loving the book, I’d ask them if they thought it needing editing before going out to editors and if so, what that would involve. (Warning bells would go off if they told me it was perfect and we didn’t need to change a thing. I am a big believer in revision.)

I’d also ask them if they had an idea of what editors to submit to. (Again, warning bells would go off if they didn’t.  Knowing who to submit to is at the very core of what we agents do, day in and day out, and having a sense of editors’ tastes and interests is crucial.  If I am not writing a submission list in the margins of a ms I am considering, then I am probably not the agent for the book.)

Questions to ask:

  • Is this agent the best representative for my book?
  • Does this agent have suggested edits?
  • Does this agent have ideas about where they would submit my story?
  • Do I have a natural rapport with this agent?
  • Is she easy to talk to? Does she listen?
  • Are we on the same page?
  • Do her clients paint a healthy agent-author picture?

After our call I would reflect on how the conversation went.  Do I have a natural rapport with this agent?  Is she easy to talk to? Are we on the same page? Does she listen? This is a more organic gut feeling than any specific question can answer, but I do think it’s crucial. (This kind of thinking goes both ways, too. Switching to the other side of the fence for a moment, I’ve been in a beauty contest with an author and felt less enthusiastic about representation after the conversation, and thus happy that we had the chance to see if we clicked before deciding to move forward.)

And while it only takes one, if I were in the position of having several offers of representation, I would really take my time and talk to everyone and also ask the agent if they were comfortable having me talk to a few of their clients. This last piece of advice is a tricky, as I know other agents who would be taken aback by this. But if I was really on the fence, trying to decide between two people, I would want to know from the authors who worked with the agents in question what it was really like on an everyday basis; and if those agents said that they were, for example, hands on editors, or involved in publicity efforts, that they weren’t just telling me what I wanted to hear.

And, just to wrap up, in a comment from my last post, a reader asked, How do you know if an agent is reputable or not?

An agent that has a list of published books and good relationships with editors is certainly reputable.  And I think doing your due diligence and asking questions like the ones above, especially if you are concerned about reputation, will make the answer obvious.

Is that helpful?  I know on my end, finding that book that I just have to work on is one of the best feelings ever, so I will leave you with a happy little anecdote of mine.  I recently signed an author, who sent me his book days before I was leaving for our first EVER family vacation in Jamaica.  I told him I would read it when I got back in town, but I happened to dip into in the day before we left, and much to my husband’s chagrin, rather than sipping rum punches with him on a beach, I spent the first half of our trip so totally absorbed in this book that I could do little else.  I called the author upon landing and did anything but play it cool, and begged him to let me work with him. I also took him to lunch and gave him all my editorial notes and my thoughts on the submission list. I would have been devastated if he hadn’t signed with me, but in the end he did and I really believe it was my enthusiasm that won him over.  That’s the kind of stuff you can’t fake.  I am not saying that every agent offering representation will respond this way. I happen to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I do believe you should feel the love.

Anybody out there reading this have other advice on the topic? I’d love to know what has worked for you. Also, please feel free to ask any other agent-related questions in the comments below and I’ll be glad to consider for future posts.

About Elisabeth Weed

Elisabeth Weed formed Weed Literary LLC in 2007. Prior to that, she worked as a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Kneerim and Williams and Trident Media Group. Weed Literary is hands-on in every stage of the publishing process, from developing proposals, to submitting books to the all of the major houses and negotiating contracts with those houses, to involvement in marketing and publicity of books, as well as in the selling of foreign and film rights.