Agent Search: When, How and What Questions Should I Ask?

OMG…I need an agent!  How many of you out there have had that thought?  Well, it’s where I currently am.  Beginning next month, I’ll be kicking off an intensive agent search.  I figured since I’m currently scouring the internet to figure out how to find my perfect match, I might as well share some of the information I come across with you, our faithful readers.  Hopefully you’ll also comment and share additional info with me as well!  I’m open to all the help I can get!

So let’s start with the title of the blog.  When, How and What Questions?

When do you need an agent?

This answer is different for everyone.  I know, don’t you just hate getting vague answers?  But it’s true.  No one’s situation is exactly the same as anyone else’s, so…well…it all depends.

First and foremost, you need to have a completed and polished manuscript, and preferably several ideas for additional books.  Agents generally like to sign clients who intend to build a career out of writing, whether it’s one book every twelve to eighteen months, or eight books a year (yikes!).  So get that manuscript finished and polished before setting out on your own agent search.

Things that could play into your decision to NOT search for an agent :   

  • You’re targeting category (Harlequin line such as Desire or SuperRomance) only.
  • You’re targeting digital only. 
  • You’re targeting a small press.
  • You’re targeting a small selection of NY publishers. (very small)

(NOTE: I’m not saying that if you are doing the above then you don’t need an agent, just that these are situations people sometimes have in which they don’t always pursue an agent.)

I’m sure there are other reasons a person may choose not to pursue an agent, but the above list are the top ones that came to mind.  Additionally, below are some specific reasons you might want an agent (other than you have a completely manuscript!):

  • Agents can potentially help get you read by an editor faster (in this way, editors know the manuscript has already made it past a first reader-the agent).
  • Agents can give you editorial direction before the manuscript ever sees the editor’s desk.
  • Agents can help you brainstorm ideas for your next book(s) to hopefully stand an even better chance once they are sent off to publishers as well.
  • Agents can get you more money (sometimes).
  • Agents can help protect you in contracts.
  • Agents can get you specifics in contracts you may never think of on your own.
  • Agents have excellent knowledge of the market, who’s looking for what, which editors like what kind of stories/what kind of voice, etc.

So what’s the answer?  I can only tell you my situation and why I’m now in an agent search when I’ve only “sort of” done one in the past.   Before now I’ve strictly written category length manuscripts targeting Harlequin.  I previously did a couple small agent searches, but what I discovered was there isn’t a huge selection of agents out there looking to represent someone only writing category.  With that understanding, and the fact that I was more than happy to do without rejections for a while, I put the agent search on hold until I finished my single title manuscript.

So that’s the when for me.  Now how do you implement your agent search?

What a lot of people don’t always initially realize is that you’re looking for a teammate for your publishing journey.  You won’t be working for an agent (in fact, they’ll be working for you), and you don’t have to take the first one who’ll have you.  You need to figure out if the agent would be a good person on your team to help get your career where you’d like to take it.  So this all means….DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!!

There are many ways to research agents and come to a decision of which ones you might work well with.  Some suggestions are:

  • Read their blogs.
  • Follow them on twitter.
  • Talk to existing clients.
  • Talk to past clients.
  • Get on their agency website and see if the agency works in a way that would fit your vision for career. 
  • See what books the agent/agency has sold lately.
  • Look for interviews done online on the agents.
  • Listen to workshops from RWA conferences that the agents participated in.
  • Go to conferences and go to workshops to listen to the agents in person.
  • Talk to agents at conferences.  You don’t have to be trying to pitch, just talk to them.  Find out something about them and see if they feel like someone you could work with.
  • Look them up on Agent Query and Preditors and Editors
  • Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace ( ).
  • And again…no doubt there are many, many more ways to research your dream agent.

In addition to the above, here are some awesome websites where you can find loads and loads of information:

Once you’ve got a list of agents you’d like to query, I would suggest creating three lists.  High, medium and low, depending on which you initially felt you would like to have representing you.  Then start with your high list and start sending out queries.  Send 5-10 at a time.  When one rejection comes back, take the next agent from your list and send a query out to them.  And on and on until you find your dream agent.  The key thing is to get your work out there and keep getting it out there.  Hopefully you’ll get plenty of requests as opposed to rejections, but if you feel your work and you are ready for an agent, then keep sending out those queries!


Yes…I’m asking that for me as well as for you (i.e. I’ll take all the help here I can get).  If seeking out an agent, you must be prepared for “The Call”.  And if you get that call, you want to be prepared to not only sound and act professionally, but also, get the information you need to make your decision.

Before coming up with your list of questions, again do research.  There are blog posts and lists already out there to help you out.  But you also have to figure out what you want out of an agent.  Someone to help you edit?  Brainstorm?  No editing?  Someone who easily stays in contact or someone who goes away and doesn’t bother you for weeks on end?  An email person or a phone person?   A “bull-dog” or someone less aggressive.  These are all important things each individual has to figure out for themselves before ever considering signing with anyone, and unfortunately, no one else can best tell you what would work for you. 

Here are a couple places I’ve found as a good start for questions:

And here’s the list I’ve begun.  (NOTE: A large portion of these came from our very one Ruby, Shea Berkley – Thanks Shea!)

  • How long have you been in business as an agent?  What other positions have your held?
  • How many people do you represent?
  • What are the last few titles you’ve sold?
  • How does your agency work?   Will I be working solely with you, or will others be familiar with my work, as well?
  • Can I review your author-agent contract?
  • What is your approach on editorial input?
  • How do you keep your clients informed of your activities on their behalf?
  • Do you prefer phone or email…or are you okay with both?
  • How often do you check in with your clients?
  • Do you consult with your clients on where/when to send out their work?  Do you let clients know when their work has been submitted?
  • How do you handle submissions? Will you stop submitting my work after a certain time or number of rejections?
  • Do you send clients rejection letters?
  • Do you consult with your clients on all offers regarding their work?
  • What are your commissions for a) basic sales to US publishers; b) foreign sales; c) movie and television; d) audio and multimedia?
  • What is the time frame for distributing funds to clients?  Do you keep separate bank accounts for client and agency revenue?
  • Do you charge fees?
  • When you issue 1099 tax forms at the end of each year, do you give details of all financial activity, such as gross income, commissions, deductions and net income?
  • How do you see our relationship being terminated if either of us is not happy?
  • If we part ways, what is your policy on handling the unsold rights to any of my published work?
  • What do you expect of me as your client?
  • What did you love about my book?  My writing?  What makes you want to work with me?
  • How close to submission do you see my book?  Will there be a lot of editing and rewriting first?
  • How do you help your clients with career planning?

Yes, that’s probably far too many questions to throw at an agent the first time you speak with them, but I’m hopeful many of them could easily be covered in a phone conversation. 

So how about you?  Got any great websites to add to my research list, or additional questions I should consider asking?  In appreciation of any and all the help I can get, I’ll be giving away a $20 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter today!

72 responses to “Agent Search: When, How and What Questions Should I Ask?”

  1. Cate Rowan says:

    Terrific lists, Kim, especially the list of questions for after someone’s been offered representation!

    In my experience, some of the most important stuff is communication with your agent. Before you sign a contract, be very sure the two of you are clear about how long it should take for her/him to return a call or an email, and have a frank enough conversation that you get a good idea about personalities and whether you’re likely to be a good match. Don’t be too awed to ask the important questions or to think about the things that will matter to you. Everyone’s different–so what’s crucial to YOU?

    And of course, don’t leap into anything. Be sure it feels like the right decision to you–and not out of desperation. (If you’ve received one offer, the chances are terrific that you can get others!)

    Also, once you get an offer, *before* you say yes, contact the other agents who have your work and let them know. It’s one of the few times writers have leverage! You may end up with more than one offer if you just give the other agents a chance–and having a choice is a nice position to be in. 🙂

    • Kim Law says:

      Great suggestions, Cate! Being comfortable enough with an agent is so important to me. I’ve met several at conference and could often tell either I would or would not get along well with them, so I’m hoping that’ll be easy to do over the phone, as well.

      And yeah, one of my biggest fears is getting an offer and not feeling comforatble after talking to then, and knowing I’ll have to say no. A couple years ago I would have asked myself the questions “what if no one else wants me? what if this is my only chance?”, but after hearing Ruby stories and just being around the writing community longer, I now understand what you just said…if one wants you, chances are you can find another. I still have a fear about having to do say thanks, but no thanks, but if it happens, I now know I can do it!

  2. Shoshana Brown says:

    Thanks for a great post, Kim, and good luck with the agent search. Another website I find really helpful is:

    There are discussions about a huge number of agencies. People post things from average query response times to info about sales records to what it’s like to work with the agency in question.

  3. EXCELLENT post, Kim!!! I am all for having an agent. They are worth their weight, I tell ya. Good luck, Ruby Sis! I’ll be clicking my heels for you!

    • Kim Law says:

      Thanks, Darynda! I’m both excited and terrified to get out there. Ready to see what happens next, but so not ready for rejections. No matter that I know it’s all subjective and personal tastes, it’s still so frustrating sometimes.

  4. Great post, Kim. I think I shall soon be on the hunt as well so this is timely. I’m thinking about all those questions and my mind is whirling. After the New Year is soon enough for actual querying; too much going on right now to jump into something I find rather scary.

    I’ll be printing this out, however. Good luck on your hunt.

    • Kim Law says:

      Yes, next year is soon enough. I had intended to start this month, but decided I didn’t want rejections for Christmas! I got one on the 24th a couple years ago and I didn’t appreciate it at all. Last year I got one (that really was tough to take) on Dec 31. Though I stil have some revisions out to an editor and I could still get a rejection this month, I decided to lower the odds and not worry about it for another month.

      Good luck to you when you get out there on your search, too!

  5. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me, either. I’m still (or again) seeking an agent after another rejection. It arrived in my e-mail while I was at work tonight … and of course I had to open it right away. It could have been good news, after all.

    Imagine my unhappiness when it was “sorry, it’s not right for me.”

    I wish I was ready to use the last portion of your post instead. 😉

  6. […] Lucky for me, my friends at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood wrote a blog post about just that topic today: the agent hunt. […]

  7. Excellent list of questions, Kim (and Shea!). Two places frequented were Miss Snark’s blog and Agent Query. Oh, and yes, Holly Lisle’s site is amazing, too. She’s so generous with sharing publishing info. It’s funny that we now share the same agent.

    Good luck in your search, Kim!

  8. Vivi Andrews says:

    Great post, Kim. I’ve been putting off the agent hunt, but I have a feeling it might be time later this year, depending how things shake out in the next six months.

  9. Hi Kim: I’m submitting to agents now, so I truly appreciate this post!

    I find Casey McCormick’s blog at extremely helpful. She has loads of info on agents. They are listed in the sidebars by agent name & agency. The focus of the blog is children’s literature, but many agencies who represent a wide variety of writers are listed.

  10. Kat Cantrell says:

    Hi Kim, great post!! I’m starting the search next year and I’m amazed at all the information available out there. It’s almost too much, you know? LOL

    One question my friend who just signed with an agent asked that I would have never thought of is “Where do you think you’ll submit my manuscript? (what publishers/editors) You have a question in your list that’s similar but it’s a yes/no question, where as this one lets you know if you’re both on the same page regarding the sale. The agent may be thinking a digital publisher for example and you want to publish with a NY house. I thought it was worth mentioning. 🙂

  11. Rita Henuber says:

    This is a very important topic. One near to my heart. In 2009 I started my agent search. I researched until my eyes bled. The first six months of the year my contact script changed three times. You have an excellent list. I’ve made comments on your list from what I learned.
    How long have you been in business as an agent? What other positions have your held?
    How many people do you represent?
    What are the last few titles you’ve sold?
    How does your agency work? Will I be working solely with you, or will others be familiar with my work, as well?
    Can I review your author-agent contract?
    What is your approach on editorial input?
    How do you keep your clients informed of your activities on their behalf?
    Do you prefer phone or email…or are you okay with both?
    How often do you check in with your clients?
    Do you consult with your clients on where/when to send out their work? Do you let clients know when their work has been submitted?
    How do you handle submissions? Will you stop submitting my work after a certain time or number of rejections?
    Do you send clients rejection letters?
    Do you consult with your clients on all offers regarding their work?
    What are your commissions for a) basic sales to US publishers; b) foreign sales; c) movie and television; d) audio and multimedia?
    What is the time frame for distributing funds to clients? Do you keep separate bank accounts for client and agency revenue?
    Do you charge fees?
    When you issue 1099 tax forms at the end of each year, do you give details of all financial activity, such as gross income, commissions, deductions and net income?
    How do you see our relationship being terminated if either of us is not happy?
    If we part ways, what is your policy on handling the unsold rights to any of my published work?
    What do you expect of me as your client? THIS SHOULD BE THE SECOND QUESTION
    What did you love about my book? My writing? What makes you want to work with me?
    How close to submission do you see my book? Will there be a lot of editing and rewriting first?
    How do you help your clients with career planning?

    MOST important thing is listen to your lizard brain instinct. If the agent doesn’t feel like a good fit…They probably aren’t. Nothing wrong with you or them… they aren’t right. The most difficult thing I had to do was tell an agent they weren’t for me. I was a gooey puddle thinking what had I done saying no to a brilliant agent. Ugg! Still gives me the shivers, but I’m VERY happy where I am.

    • Kim Law says:

      THANKS RITA!!!! I very much appreciate your feedback. I’m hoping a lot of those things fall out over the course of a conversation and I don’t just have to pepper someone with questions. Sounds like it worked that way for you somewhat.

      And yeah…that question you said should be first will be. It occurred to me at the end of typing this up(way too late last night) that I hadn’t added that in, and I just was too lazy to double check the order of everything at that point.

      Love the feedback, though. Thanks bunches!

      • Rita Henuber says:

        Piff on the order you listed. All those questions are important, but that one, for me, is the most important. This post was a lot of work. I wish every person getting ready to query would read this and take it very seriously. Querying is the first step into the business part of writing. If I’d had something like this my querying would have been much easier.
        For all the people reading and not commenting I’m saying thank you.

        • Kim Law says:

          Well thanks!

          And I think it’s a good thing to point out that when I last queried some agents, I didn’t have near this amount of information…nor felt the need to have this amount of information. I think that speaks volumes on whether I was ready to actually get an agent or not 🙂

          • Kim, you nailed it with that statement. Anyone serious about getting an agent is going to take the time to read this. Awesome. I’m taking notes, because with my current wip I think I’m ready to search for an agent.

            Good luck to you in your search.

  12. Laurie Kellogg says:

    As Rita mentioned, the question about how many authors an agent represents is one most are reluctant to reveal. The more important question that I think most will answer is how many authors do they represent in your specific genre. One of the scenarios you want to avoid is having an agent who is trying to sell your snarky Romantic Suspense at the same time she’s trying to three other authors’ snarky Romantic Suspense manuscripts.

    I also think it’s vital that your agent have a personality that you click with. You’re going to working with this person for many years and you need to feel comfortable talking to them.

    Additionally, you need someone who is OUTWARDLY enthusiastic about your work. If they don’t seem revved up about your manuscript when they’re talking to you, how are they going to summon up the enthusiasm to sell it to an editor?

    I loved Shea’s question, “What specifically do you love about my work?” That’s a great way to find out just how much they REALLY like it.

  13. liz talley says:

    Very nice list for people looking for representation. I dont’ have an agent, but eventually I will likely look for one. Currently, I’m too busy to think about another direction in my writing, but I do want to have the opportunity to branch out ot ST. I’ll likely need a good agent at that point. I’ll dig through the archives for this post when I’m ready. You’ve really done your homework. You get an A+

  14. Great post, Kim. From my perspective, the most important question is the one about what they love about your work. And what I’ve learned is, it’s not only what they say, but how they say it. Do you prefer someone who wants to be involved in all aspects of your career and life? Do you need a hand-holder? Or do you want someone who keeps her distance in a business “friendship” way? Given that an agent has the skills, the contacts, and the professional abilities you need, I’ve found personality to be so important. You have to trust that person with your career, and conflicts that arise because of personal style are the worst. It sounds like common sense, but finding someone you connect with personally, for me, proved harder than anything, and it’s why I’m on the hunt again. Thanks for the help!

    • Kim Law says:

      Yes, Annie. A lot of what you said has me so nervous. I’ve known several people to have to go through the process of cutting ties and finding someone new for those exact reasons. I really don’t want to be one of those people!! I go with my gut a lot, so I’m hoping it helps me out with this one, too!

  15. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great collection of information, Kim!

    One of the biggest reasons I sought and hired an agent is that I hate conflict. I wanted to have an advocate – a “bad cop” if you will – in my corner should I ever need one. That peace of mind, and of course her other skills! are worth every penny to me.

    • Kim Law says:

      Yes! I want my own “bad cop”. I have to be that person too often in my normal world. I don’t want to ever have to be that person with an editor!

  16. Thanks SO much Kim! 🙂 You really provided a treasure trove.

    I wish I could give you something helpful, but I’m a bit behind you. I’ve already done some research, as I’m hoping to find an agent who handles Memoirs and Sci-Fi. (Yes, it’s a short list!) >.< I did worry about sounding like a gibbering noob if I ever did get a representation call. You've got me thinking in much more organized terms, now!
    Great comments across the board. I love hearing about people's experiences.

    • Kim Law says:

      Thanks, Angela! I’m glad there’s something useful here for you! I know I’m not the only one out there hunting, so was hopeful others could use this info, too. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Diana Layne says:

    ooh, ooh, great post, Kim! I’m definitely bookmarking this one! Thanks and good luck!

  18. Beth Langston says:

    Here is a tip to consider when you start to send out queries.

    Write your query and get feedback from a few trusted writer-friends. You don’t want a bad query to keep a good manuscript from generating interest.

    Secondly, I would actually send that shiny new query to a few agents on my mid-tier list. If there is no interest at all, it could be a query letter problem. Go back to the drawing board and revamp that query. If you do get a YES or two, that is when I would consider sending to my top-tier. [read to learn via others’ mistakes.]

    • Kim Law says:

      Oh…interesting, Beth! I had planned to get writer-friend feedback, but never thought about hitting some from the mid-tier list first. That sounds like a really great idea. Thanks!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      One more thing to keep in mind about query letters, whether they’re targeted to agents or to editors: like all things digital, these things live in the ether in perpetuity.

      I was recently (very pleasantly) surprised to find that my publisher had decided to print the first line of my query letter – “When your first lover is a sex demon, it”s all downhill from there…” – ON THE COVER OF MY BOOK. (gulp)

      If interested, I’ve posted the final version of my cover at my website.

  19. Great list, and good luck, Kim.

    One question I recommend NOT asking is, “What happens if you die?”

    Yeah, I asked my agent-to-be that question in one of our first conversations. It seemed like a valid question, but I could tell by the ensuing black silence that it didn’t go over well.

    Some of these questions will be answered when you see the agency’s contract, so you don’t necessarily need to ask all that stuff about 1099s and payment schedules. Like you said, Kim, this isn’t all for the first conversation, though it does all need to be understood before you agree to representation. In that first conversation, you may, if you like, presume that the agent will present you with a fair and industry-standard contract, and focus on the non-legal aspects of your relationship.

    Still, never say “YES!” until after you’ve read and agreed to the contract. Give the agent a preliminary, “I’m so excited about the prospect of working with you. Can you email me a contract that I can look over? I’ll also need to get in touch with the other agents who have fulls and let them know I’ve been offered representation.”

    And then when you get the contract, read it with a fine-toothed flea comb. If you don’t understand something, research it and/or ASK the agent for clarification. Some things can be changed in a contract, and if you don’t like something, then ask. A reputable agent won’t be offended by your desire to know what you’re signing, and your desire to protect yourself and your work — and if they are offended and respond badly, then you’ve caught a whiff of something you may not like down the road, and perhaps you should think twice about signing with Ms. Prissy Pants.

    I learned a great deal about the industry by asking my agent for clarification on EVERYTHING I didn’t understand in our contract. I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m crazy, but I think it’s smart to want to understand the fine print of a legal document. Honestly, it’s better that she know I’m crazily detail-oriented at the outset, then find out later and totally hate working with me.

    And if your agent doesn’t use a contract (several very reputable ones don’t), then you need to ask all those nitty gritty questions that Kim outlines.

    • Kim Law says:

      You know, I was trying to decide whether to add that question to my list, Jamie. Guess maybe I shouldn’t!

      But it hadn’t occurred to me how many of those questions would get answered in the contract. That’s great to know. And I can see myself being like you and asking all kinds of questions and the details, but yeah, better they know that particular characteristic of mine now, before we partner up together!

      Thanks for your help!

  20. I suppose it should be an exciting time to go agent hunting, but it is scary, too. I have four stories and haven’t really pushed getting them out there. I never think they are good enough. 🙁 The one agent who asked to see it, asked for my phone number and then nothing… wonder what that was all about??

    Best of luck to you, Kim. I hope you make that perfect match.

    • Kim Law says:

      Well that doesn’t make sense. Why ask for your number, then? Weird.

      But that shouldn’t keep you from getting back out there! I hope you soon get to a point you’re confident and ready to send your stuff back out.

      Good luck, Paisley!

  21. Vivi Andrews says:

    Just saw this link on Twitter (a blog post discussing how to handle multiple agent offers):

    Isn’t it funny how you start talking about something and suddenly you are noticing that topic everywhere?

    • Kim Law says:

      Nice. Thanks! And yeah, funny. But I’m all about soaking up information at the moment. You never know when you might end up with whatever situation you just read about!

  22. Super post, Kim. Loving the feedback too. Thanks for all the great links and suggestions. Good luck finding your perfect agent. I really like conferences for meeting them and getting that personal feel.

    • Kim Law says:

      Me too, Bev. Even if you’re just sitting in on agent panels and not personally talking with them, you can pick up on so much from their personalities and the way the work.

  23. Beth Langston says:

    Here are two more questions I would recommend:

    What are your business hours? [I live on the east coast of the US and my agent lives on the west coast. The time zone difference has never been a problem, but it is something I keep in mind when we need to talk on the phone.]

    How are active projects managed when you are out of the office? [This question gives you insight into your agent’s backup plan for vacation, emergencies, etc.]

    I would suggest a slight rewording of the following question:
    How do you see our relationship being terminated if either of us is not happy?

    If either one of us decides to terminate the relationship, what process will we use?

    Also, I second Jamie’s suggestion about reviewing the agent’s contract to seek some answers to your questions about business processes.

    Lastly, I do agree with Kim’s suggestion to research. Once you start getting interest from an agent, search the internet for references to the agent. Get a feel for the agent’s likes and dislikes, how well are they selling, and what kind of person does he or she seem to be. Happy clients and unhappy clients tend to be vocal. (One or two unhappy clients are to be expected, but lots might be a red flag.) One more simple thing– my agent’s name is Kevan and she’s female. Getting “Ms.” or “Mr.” correct in your salutation is a good first impression 🙂

    • Kim Law says:

      Beth you’re fantastic with your advice. Thank you! I hadn’t thought about the out of the office question at all, but very good thing to ask about. Thanks for it all!

  24. Tina Joyce says:

    Wow, what great information, Kim! Thanks for pulling this all together for us. Clicking heels that your agent hunt goes quickly and lands you the perfect agent!

  25. Jody W. says:

    This may shock you, but one of my questions would be about what makes an agent decide she no longer wants to work with an author (ie what expectations are there of said author that are within that author’s control) and how does the agent sever the relationship with that author.

    • Kim Law says:

      Excellent question, Jody. I’ll add that to the list. Having a full understanding of what an agent expects of me would be as important as her understanding what I expect of her. Thanks!

  26. Better late than never … I finally had a chance to read this. AWESOME post, Kim!! 🙂

  27. Kim Law says:

    The winner of the $20 Amazon gift card is Arlene Hittle!!! Congratulations, Arlene!!! I’ll be contacting you soon, or you can email me at kim @

  28. Kelley Bowen says:

    I got out of bed (flu, flu and more flu at my house)to read this one-great post, Kim. This was a lot of work. I’m not quite ready for the agent search but I’ll come back to this article when I am. Thank you.

  29. Terrific post, Kim! I’d say you’re well prepared for your search, and I am clicking heels for you. When rejections come (BOOOO!!!!), reach out to friends and critique partners (and ruby sisters!). I don’t know what I would have done without mine.

    I will second what others have said about communication. I think being on the same page about that is CRITICAL. My agency has some heavy hitters for clients, but they made a commitment to me to try and respond to emails/calls within 24 hours. I don’t believe they’ve ever failed to do that (or even taken nearly as long as that), and I can’t tell you how much that has meant to me.


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