Advice for Writers: What to Ask a Literary Agent

So, you’ve written an amazing book and now a literary agent wants to talk to you about it. The first step is to allow yourself a moment to get caught up in the excitement (you earned this!). You’ve made it past the first (pretty major) hurdle.

But pretty soon you’ll actually have to think about the logistics of it all. Now it’s time for you to make some decisions, because it’s equally important for you to be excited about working with the agent you choose, and, inevitably, with big decision making comes some pretty big questions. There’s no need to pepper your prospective agent with every question that comes to mind, but it is a two way relationship — so it’s important that you walk away from your first meeting with the full picture.

Here are some important things we think you’ll want to know the answer to after leaving a meeting with an agent:

How many other clients do you represent?

This will help you get a good gauge of their history and experience in the industry. But it’s also important because you’ll want an idea of how much head space and literal time they’ll actually be able to dedicate to you.

How do you communicate with your authors?

Communication is key between an agent and an author. If an agent’s communication style – or how frequently they like to update clients – doesn’t work well for you, that is an important area to consider. Whether you appreciate a long bout of silence to be able to work on things independently, or you want to be updated on every little detail, your agent is usually the one initiating those communications, so figure out what their style is.

What is your ideal client?

This might sound a bit strange, but it can help you further decide if you are a right fit. If an agent describes their ideal client as someone who is quite the opposite to you or shows that they’re expecting something that you can’t deliver, you might consider looking elsewhere. It’s a partnership at the end of the day, so you want both personalities and work ethics to mesh well together.

What publishers do you have in mind for my book?

This is a great way to understand their dreams for your book. Are they going for gold and submitting to the big publishing houses? Or do they think it will fit nicely with an independent publisher? If their goals don’t align with yours — keeping in mind that they do have the expertise on how to handle a title — then you might feel more comfortable finding an agent who’s on the exact same page as you.

How much work do I need to do on my book before submission to publishers?

Perhaps, you should also ask yourself, first, how much work you are willing to do on your book. You may be pretty over the writing process by the time an agent notices your work, so if the agent you’re looking at needs you to do a load of edits that you just don’t have the heart for, that’s something you’d want to know up front. Equally important, is what kind of edits the agent has in mind. If they’re asking for a total rewrite, then perhaps they just don’t quite understand the book and aren’t a good fit.

What’s your international approach?

Does the agency have a foreign rights department? How does it deal with translation rights? Your publishing deal shouldn’t (and usually won’t) just be in the country of your residence. You want as many people to have access to your book as possible, and the best way to do that is to have a solid foreign rights deal. Your agent is the one who will negotiate all of that for you when you get a publishing contract, so you’ll want to know what to expect when the time comes.

What happens if my book doesn’t sell?

It’s important not to get too caught up in the dream of your book selling for millions and debuting at #1 (though, we’d never tell you not to). Sometimes, no matter how well-written a book is or how perfectly paced the plot is, publishers just don’t bite. Make sure you’re clear about what plan B is with an agent in case the first title they sign you for doesn’t lift off.

Why my book? 

Alright, time to soak up some praise. Obviously you were contacted by the agent because they liked your submission. But the specifics of why are equally important and can help you decide between multiple agents, if that’s the case. Asking why an agent liked your book is also a great test to see if they’re on the same page about what your book is about or what it’s ultimately saying. You wouldn’t want someone trying to sell your story if they don’t properly understand the core of it.


As always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN with any questions you think are essential for a meeting with a literary agent!