Compiled originally by Shirley Parenteau

"Agents are like lovers. One person's dream is another person's nightmare."

Nink ran a survey a few years ago asking members to respond with advice that could be compiled into a guide for interviewing prospective agents. Each answer sprang from a member's personal experience. And each is as true today as it was then.

From the good:

  • "My career development is almost as important to her as it is to me."
  • "She changed my life and my career for the better!"
  • "I went with the agent who seemed to believe in me and appreciate my work most."

To the bad:

  • "I did not know my manuscript had been accepted till I received a check."
  • "I found out toward the end that only editors from one house would deal with her."
  • "I believe my agent sees her job as convincing me to accept any offer, rather than convincing the publisher to improve the offer."
  • "I should have asked my former agent what she meant by 'publisher loyalty'. It meant she worked for them."

To the incompetent:

  • One member's former agent sent her signed contract to the wrong publishing house.
  • Another failed to follow up on an editorial contact made by the author.
  • Another agent failed to tell her client about a new project her editor wanted her to contribute to.
  • Yet another let a manuscript languish during an office move, making the author miss a verbal commitment to her editor.
  • And another was so slow to negotiate that the author lost a sale.

To the criminal:

  • Several members were shocked by embezzlement, bounced checks and bankruptcy.
  • A few saw their agent go through a mid-life crisis or bum-out.
  • One, after learning that her late agent had embezzled money from her, had to threaten court action to receive repayment plus interest. However, commissions would continue to be paid to the estate.

Finding A New Dance Partner

A multi-published author can approach agent-hunting differently than an unpublished author. Instead of a query letter, a published author can pick up the phone or send an e-mail directly to the agent. Some things about agent-hunting, though, are the same for everyone. If you're on the hunt, take plenty of time to research a number of agents. Talk with past and current clients of prospective agents. And of course, you'll want to interview your top prospects.

Below is a list of interview questions compiled by Ninc members. It's best to choose a few of these questions that are most important to you, rather than throwing the entire list at a prospective agent.

Office Procedure

  • Who answers the phone? How?
  • What day/time are you open to phone calls?
  • Do you mind phone calls (occasionally)?
  • Are you willing to accept e-mail queries and submissions?
  • Do you send copies/reports of rejections/acceptances?
  • Who will handle my work?
  • Do you submit only to publishers who accept multiple submissions?
  • Do you work with packagers?
  • Turnaround time? How soon will you get back to me on a manuscript?
  • How quickly will you deal with contracts when they arrive?
  • If I sell back a book in the future, will you return your commission to the publisher?
  • Will you accept a lower percentage fee? What about reducing your commission from 15% to 10% after a certain amount of sales/point in my career?
  • Are royalty monies placed in an escrow account? What happens in the event of agent's retirement/disability/death?
  • Will you agree to split payment, to an open-ended contract?
  • How are legal services provided for the agency?
  • Will you send my manuscript to more than one publisher?
  • How do you handle the new all-encompassing electronic rights clause?
  • What expenses do you cover?
  • What charges/expenses are passed on to me?
  • Commissions for sub-agents for foreign/electronic; movie/TV rights?
  • What if we do not suit? How is the contract terminated?

Other Clients

  • How many authors are on your client list?
  • Do you have writers in other categories? Mainstream? Nonfiction?
  • Who are your clients?
  • Are any of your clients "superstars"?
  • How much competition will I have on your client list from others writing in my genre?
  • How much time will you have for me?
  • Have you negotiated six-figure contracts?
  • What is the highest advance you obtained last year? Ever? In what genre?

Business Contacts

  • Tell me about your working relationship with publishers and editors, i.e., Who? How long? How many sales?
  • Are there any editors/houses you won't work with, or where your relationship might affect negotiations?
  • What avenues do you have open concerning the sales of subsidiary rights, especially foreign rights?
  • What co-agents do you work with on film and foreign rights ?
  • How aggressive are you with foreign sales?
  • Do you attend the Frankfurt conference?
  • What professional associations do you belong to? Are you a member of Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR)?
  • What connections do you have with book clubs like Literary Guild, Book-of-the-Month Club, etc.?
  • How many clients do you have with (specific publisher)?
  • What special contract advantages have you been able to negotiate?

Working Style

  • What genres do you handle?
  • If I want to branch into new genres, will that be okay with you?
  • What is your plan for marketing these works?
  • How long do you hold a manuscript before forwarding to an editor?
  • What are you (as agent) going to seek in the publisher's contract?
  • What are your follow-up procedures on submission?
  • Do you submit author's manuscripts individually or send work in batches under one cover letter?
  • Are you willing to buck the system/publisher on my behalf?
  • Will you work for long-range goals, not just a quick deal?
  • I like direct contact with editors about copy, not money. Is that a problem for you?
  • Will you interfere with my relationship with my editor?
  • Do you read the proposals you send out?
  • Do you offer editorial input?
  • Whose opinion prevails in the event of a dispute?
  • If I write something that I love and you hate, will you send it out--or a least discuss it with me?
  • Will you try to sell whatever I write?
  • How many times will you send out a manuscript?
  • Will you stick with a promising project even if it doesn't make an immediate sale?
  • What role, if any, will you take in promoting my book?
  • Will you--within reason--always be available to discuss my concerns?
  • Do you check your author's numbers, i.e. print runs?
  • Will you manage my career personally or will I be handed off to an associate or assistant?

Career Guidance

  • What can you specifically tell me about career goals and strategies?
  • How much input will you have with my career strategies?
  • Do you work with your authors to develop a career, not let things drift?
  • How would you help me develop my career?
  • What can you do for my career that isn't already being done?
  • Are you enthusiastic about my work?
  • Do you have ideas for just how it can best be placed?
  • What is your vision for me as a client?
  • Where do you see me in two years! Five? Ten? What can you do to speed the process?
  • Where do you see my books fitting in the business?
  • How do you feel about author promotion?


  • Do you plan to retire soon? What happens to clients if you do?
  • Are you interested in handling a midlist author?
  • What books and authors do you like to read?
  • Do you really love (my genre)?
  • How well do you know my genre?
  • Are you a writer yourself! Are you an editor?
  • Do you go to writers' conferences?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What do you, as an agent see as future trends?