I emailed the author and said "I love your novel. How's that query process going?"
Well, the query process was going just fine thank you, and, eager to press my case, I mentioned that now during the fallow time while he waited for those other
Even by email I could hear the gnawing panic and uncertainty. What the hell to ask? As a writer, with a real live agent on the hook, you really don't want to ask something so stupid they reconsider. As a writer, a woodland creature through and through, you are certain that EVERY question, up to and including "what is the commission rate?" is stupid.
Well, let's ease your fears. Here's a list of questions to ask a prospective agent. None of them are stupid***
1. Have you read the book all the way through?
Now I know you think this is stupid. It's not. If an agent hasn't read the entire book before dangling a hook, you know a LOT about how they work. Of course, if the agent has sent you back the manuscript with notes, questions, comments, etc. you don't need to ask this. You know the answer.
2. What's your commission structure?
15% on domestic sales is the norm. 20% on subrights handled by the agency.
3. Is there a written author/agency agreement?
Is it negotiable? I have a written agreement. And it's not negotiable. Every client agrees to the same thing. Yes, I'll send it to you. Yes, I'll explain it to you.
4. Is the contract for a certain period of time?
In other words, at the end of a year (or whatever time period specified) is representation terminated?
5. What changes do you envision for the book?
Obviously if you've gotten notes from the agent (see #1) you know this already. If you have not, ask. Make sure the prospective agent has the same vision for the book that you do.
6. Do you have comp titles in mind?
What are they? Do you think they're correct? If not, talk to the agent about this.
7. Do you have editors in mind already?
What publishers are they with? If you're envisioning a big sale to a print publisher, and the agent is talking about a digital only publisher, you want to know that NOW.
8. What happens if you don't like other books I send you for representation?
(if #4 is for a specified period of time, you don't need to ask this.)
9. How is your agency structured?
Is it a sole proprietorship or a corporation? If the agent is abducted by aliens, what's Plan B?
10. Can I get in touch with some of your current clients?
If the answer to this is "no", run for the hills.
11. What do you do when a client wants to change genres?
Even if you think you will write dino porn forever, you'll want to ask.
12. How long does it take to reply to emails, and read new work?
(Ask that of the current clients too. I'm guessing the two answers are quite different.)
13. What does the agency do for subrights, and film rights?
14. What does the agency offer in terms of guidance on promotion and marketing?
15. How does the author get paid?
Some agencies have payments divided, and the author's portion sent directly from the publisher. Some agencies process checks and pay you directly. You should know which before you go any further.
An agent should be willing to answer each of these questions for you. She's not obligated to spend hours on them, but you should understand the answer, and if you don't, ask for more explanation.
The last, and I mean VERY last thing you want to do is sign with someone you end up not wanting to work with.
***there is only one stupid question in the world. I'll leave you to come up with what you think it is.