You get an email. AN AGENT WANTS TO TALK ON THE PHONE. Or, even more flail inducing: you get a call AND OMG IT'S AN AGENT.
COMMENCE FLAILING. (Though if they call you out of the blue, do so silently!)
And then they offer you representation! Congratulations, you have an offer. What do you do? What do you ASK?
Hopefully the agent has sent an email beforehand so you can schedule a call and prepare, but if they haven't and call you out of the blue, I hope you can get to a computer quickly and pull up this page. There are a lot of questions you can potentially ask an agent, and several that you absolutely must/should ask, if they don't bring it up first.
Pick a time when you have at least an hour to talk, in a private place where you have access to either a computer and/or where you can have a print out of questions to ask/can take notes.
A public service announcement/disclaimer: if you suffer anxiety/hate the phone, the agent call is a case where you are just going to have to suck it up. I know that sounds insensitive, but it's a feature of the industry/system. An agent will want to talk to you on the phone to get a sense of your personality, let you get a sense of theirs, and have a fluid, comprehensive conversation about your book, why they are offering, and how you can work together. I'm not the biggest fan of the phone, either, but you have to talk to your agent sometimes--the initial offer, when you get a book deal, etc. These are all good calls! No need to be nervous.
But know that you are going to feel like a huge dork on the call/super awkward, and the agent probably feels that way too. Believe it or not, they are nervous. What are you like? Will they like you? Are they the only agent offering? The first? The fifth? They love your book but WILL YOU CHOOSE THEM?
Typically, the agent will tell you they loved your book, and will tell you why. They may tell you some of the editorial ideas they have and what they would want to work with you on before going on submission. They may talk about a submission plan and where they see placing your book (if they don't, you can ask, by the way). They'll likely tell you all about their agency and how they work, and what they can offer. They may ask about other projects you're working on and ideas you have. And they'll let you ask questions.
This is where it's important for you to be prepared. In the next chapter, you'll find a comprehensive list of questions to ask on The Call. Pick & choose the ones that are most relevant to you and have the list handy when you talk. I also recommend reading the Agents & Fit chapter to get a sense of specific and additional questions to ask.
Fun/funny fact: sometimes you'll get really far into a call and the agent won't have offered, and you'll have to ask. And the agent will laugh and go "oh, yes! Did I not say so before?" This has happened to me and friends of mine. See above, re: agents are people too, and may be just as nervous as you!
Beyond the many questions you can ask, there are two things you SHOULD ask/do as due diligence when you get an offer:
1) Ask for a boilerplate/standard agency agreement for your review. Don't wait until you accept to review the contract! Reviewing their standard agreement can be essential in helping you decide between agents, and also in possibly spotting a schmagent.
2) Ask for contact info for some of the agent's clients, including clients who both have and have not sold a book. I know this sounds terrifying, especially if you're an introvert/have anxiety, and I will fully admit that I didn't really do this. The first time, I knew I was basically my agent's first YA client--there wasn't anyone to talk to (this will come up with newer agents, btw) and with my current agent, I knew her leading YA client was/is super famous and I just didn't want to bother them. I felt I didn't need to speak to her clients to make a decision. But I have been the client reference for several people since, on behalf of my agent. I LOVE talking to prospective clients about what it's like to work with my agent, so having been on the other side I can say: ask the agent for that info, and don't hesitate to reach out! Happy clients love sharing, and hopefully the agent has happy clients.
You can also do your own legwork. Agents of course are likely to connect you with happy clients, and not connect you with unhappy ones, should they have any. An author friend whose gumption I admire did her own research on an offering agent's clients and cold-contacted them, including former clients. (Yes, you can do that!) It can be just as illuminating to hear from former clients, and it's nice and heartening when you hear only good things--because amicable splits happen.
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#HowToAuthor: Agents & SubmissionNon-Fiction
Advice for writing book-shaped things and getting them traditionally published. This series will cover everything from querying to agent fit, to building a platform and marketing yourself.