Monday, May 08, 2017

What to ask on agent reference calls

I'm a huge fan of the blog (have been reading it since the first time I started querying, which was more than six years ago). 3 books later, I've received several offers of representation, and am thrilled! I've asked these agents questions from your blog post highlighting what to ask in this situation, including requesting to speak to the agents' clients. My question is, (1) what should I be asking the agents' clients, and how do I even approach this? (2) Do I ask my questions via email? (3)What would the subject line be?

Let's take these questions in reverse order:

(3) What would the subject line be:
You want your subject line to be clear and informative, thus "been offered rep by Janet Reid"
would be a good way to start.
You want to leave out anything like "checking references" or "is she loony tunes" here.

(2) Yes.
Do NOT NOT NOT expect to call a client on the phone.
Do NOT do this on Facebook even in a private message. Do not do this on Twitter via Direct Message.

And if you do this in a public forum, you will find the offer of representation (at least from me) withdrawn VERY quickly. Doing that indicates you're too much of a novice on social media and will probably be tone deaf.

The best way to avoid any mistake here is ask the agent how to contact her clients.

(1) What to ask.
The first thing you want to know is what she's like to work with. How long does it take her to answer your emails. How fast does she turn around manuscripts? Does she read your work at all? Is she responsive when problems surface? Is she proactive (bringing ideas or projects to the table)

Would the client recommend her?
Would the client have any tips on building a good relationship with the agent?

I'm stunned sometimes to hear writers talk about what their agents don't do. The most startling one for me is offer any kind of editorial feedback on manuscripts. Almost nothing goes to an editor unless I've read it first, even manuscripts that are second or third books in a series.  I look at myself as the second set of eyes and the nit picky fact checker. I've caught lots of things that needed to be revised out of a manuscript. And I've heard from editors that they appreciate that what they get from me is a pretty clean draft.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Very quiet here!

A helpful post and thank you, OP, for asking this question. And congrats on the offers of representation! Exciting times for you!

BTW, Janet, there is a spammer in the comments on your most recent blog post at Query Shark.

Janet Reid said...

Evil spammer!
I saw that and turned my HelloKitty flame thrower on full blast and removed it.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Alas, while I have a list of questions to ask an agent, I haven't made a list of questions to ask her clients.

Have just avoided looking stupid in front of my potential agency-siblings. Just because I wouldn't be the first doesn't mean I want to join the foot-in-mouth league.

Colin Smith said...

Janet: Evil spammer!

WAIT WAIT WAIT... *phew* ok... just making sure it wasn't MY comment. That would explain things... ;)

Opie: Huge congrats on the agent interest!! Aside from Janet's questions, what do *you* want to know? Search your feelings... do you have misgivings? Something in your gut that doesn't sit right (aside from that sardine and spam sandwich)? Use your writerly skills and come up with a tactful way to ask. :)

PS: We have a "Hello Kitty" toaster. We needed a new toaster, the kids suggested "Hello Kitty," and I shrugged and said, "Sure—why not?" :)

Boris Ryan said...

Who's to say the clients will be forthcoming with anything helpful to the prospective client? It seems after reading this and other agent blogs and twitter, writers are notorious for kissing up to agents. Will a client be truthful and say the agent isn't very friendly, diligent, or whatever applicable detraction, to someone who is a potential client? Or will they tow the party line for fear of it possibly getting back to them they badmouthed the agent?

Perhaps agents who don't give editorial feedback feel they aren't qualified to do so and leave it to those whose job is to edit.
It's useful to have an extra set of eyes look at a ms, yet, sometimes suggestions made are useless.
Off the top of my head, I remember an agent suggesting to change my MC's first name, since the name Bruce conjured an effeminate image unbefitting a hero. I countered, effeminate image, such as Bruce Lee, Bruce Willis, and (yes, this was years ago) Bruce Jenner?

I guess my point is, one man's feast is another man's poison. So, just because a client extols the virtues of an agent, doesn't guarantee a good fit for you.

Colin Smith said...

Boris: Hello--new to the comments? Welcome!

You make a good point. Most clients are not going to bad-mouth their agents. However, one client's positive could be a prospective client's negative. "She always provides detailed editorial notes" may not be good for someone who doesn't think this is an agent's job. "She checks in on me every week" may not be good for a writer who wants their agent to leave them alone to get on with writing. I don't think we should necessarily look for a critique from the client, but simply honest answers to our questions.

Gigi said...

Thanks for this. I'm not at this stage yet, but so helpful to know what to ask when I (hopefully) get there.

BJ Muntain said...

I love Janet's HelloKitty flame thrower. It creates a nice clean sterile crater where oily spammers once set up shop.

In response to Boris' comment:

When contacting an agents' clients, you're not looking for the scoop on the agent. You ask specific questions - as Janet gave - to see if the agent is right for you.

Also, you talk to more than one client. You can see from the responses - no matter how gushy or honest - the whole picture. You can read between the lines and see if you can work with the person they're talking about.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: Our Hello Kitty toaster puts a "Hello Kitty" face on your toast. :)

Brigid said...

I'm so glad OP asked about the subject line.

Colin, that's magnificent. You just need a My Little Pony grill pan and you'll be all set. ;)

I don't mean it sarcastically. It makes me quite happy, that little cheerful gift of a cheeky toaster for your kids.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

Too bad other agents can't get a "Shark Seal of Approval" if they're the type with quality editorial feedback and a reasonable turn around time.

Then we could be certain we were querying the sort of supportive and collaborative agent most of us dream of.

P.S. Now, I'm trying to imagine the vetting process and the seal. Maybe with a shark eating a seal??

Unknown said...

The things I learn from this group! I never knew a Little Kitty toaster existed. And it puts Little Kiddies on your toast! I want an iron that will brand Little Kitties onto my clothes.

Boris, welcome! I have a character named Boris. (Is that writer equivalent of, "You're from Cleveland? My aunt lives there. Do you know Imelda Smelda?") You'll enjoy it here. Good people.

OP, good question. Thanks for asking and good luck.

Unknown said...

*Kitties,* not kiddies. Jeez.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: Awwwww. That's so cute!

Unknown said...

Wow, congrats to OP. I guess hard work really does pay off!
As to the questions, I would try to stick with broad open-ended questions. “What is it like to work with him,” or, “what is the best parts about working with her?” That way the author is free to hit upon advantages or disadvantages of an author that a list of more particular questions might never reveal. I would love to hear one or two responses like, “Well, I should tell you, my agent loves Bourbon, and has a terrific sense of humor,” or, “Her clients are more like a community of friends than a bunch of unknowns,” or “He arranged for my wife and I to meet our editor at this cool restaurant in New York,“ or “She suggested I attend the Podunk writer’s conference with her and we became good friends,” or, “She taught me things about marketing I never would have come up with on my own,” or, “She owns this flame thrower that she occasionally whips out to…” And, just like talking to a teen, a short answer, “she’s great,” or “I like working with her,” would also say a lot.

Jill Warner said...

This is great stuff to know! I definitely wouldn't have considered what to ask clients until the last minute.

Unknown said...

Congrats on the offers of rep, OP!! What great news after all your hard work!! And good luck with your choice! If you get the answers to Janet's questions from clients, I suspect you'll feel better equipped to choose. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the agents have different styles -- I hope that info helps clarify.

Beth Carpenter said...

When I realize all the things I did wrong in signing with an agent - asking the wrong questions, not talking to clients, etc. - I wonder how I got so lucky. Of course, I didn't ask for references from the man I married almost thirty-five years ago either, and we're still going strong. I think I have a guardian angel.

Lennon Faris said...

Great info. "Would the client recommend her?" - hopefully a client would never say 'no'!

Colin, potential Treasure Chest item?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Boris: Welcome to the Reef Community.

Sorry, completely off-topic~

I wanna see a Hello Kitty flame thrower! All google could find was a Hello Kitty chainsaw.

Colin: The things we do for our kids! Not only an image of Hello Kitty on the toaster, but also on the toast itself. Very spiffy.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When my daughter got her first car, used pink Neon, I bought her a Hello Kitty steering wheel cover. From then on it was known as the Hello Kitty Car by friends and family.

Regarding today's post, all I can say is, if I were the one being questioned I'd be very careful what I answered. Would'nt want bitchin' to become an issue with the agent I do not have and don't see getting anytime soon.

Colin Smith said...

Morgan: Are you new to the comments also? If so, hello to you too!! Make yourself at home... try the kale dip... :D

Lennon: Yes, definitely. In fact, there are a couple of articles from the last month I need to add.

Theresa said...

That question about the subject line in the email message was particularly astute, OP. And congratulations on the offers of representation. I hope you share good news with the Reef soon.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

@Colin : I've poked my nose in a few times, but usually the comment thread is done before I get around to reading the posts. Thanks for the welcome! I've heard you're queryshark-famous!

p.s. It's amazing how one can dislike kale and yet find kale-dip tasty. It's probably all the cheese.

Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations, Opie! Several offers--very happy for you. Permit 15 seconds for my "the call" daydream, then must get back to work. Must. Work. Harder.

But real quick: we've heard from Boris before. I've appreciated the "here's another perspective you may not have considered" aspect of his comments. Must. Stop. Commenting. And. Work. Harder.

Colin Smith said...

Morgan: "QueryShark-Famous"? I'm famous to my family, and the few people who read my blog and my comments (even Janet skips my comments now...), but thanks for making me feel special. You've gained a Twitter follower. :)

Which reminds me--those who are new to the comments, do you want to be added to the List of Blog Readers and their Blogs? If so, email me with your social media location of preference (see my Blogger profile for my email address), and I'll be glad to add you! :)

Colin Smith said...

Janet: Just in case you read that last comment, I really do forgive your lapse on Sunday... but ya know... too good not to milk for a while... ;)

John Davis Frain said...

Did Colin just say something?

Hm. Never mind, must've been the wind, I've got the windows open today.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Late to the party... Stopping in for the good/interesting info and the bonus of hilarity. John HA! I LOL'd.

Wondering how lame I am that it wouldn't be a priority to speak with the clients of an agent I'd queried. If I queried you, I want to work with you. Offer me rep? I'm thinking our conversation about what we both expect will reveal if I want to work with you. But certainly understand if someone wants to delve in deeper.

Also thinking how fun it would be to type the words: "been offered rep by Janet Reid" ...

Megan V said...

Serious question: what is the etiquette if a writer is either contacted by an agent's former client or by happenstance comes across an agents former client?

Today's random thought : If the queen uses a hello Kitty flamethrower here on earth I wonder does she use a Gumby flamethrower on Carkoon

MA Hudson said...

'And I've heard from editors that they appreciate that what they get from me is a pretty clean draft.'

And that would probably make editors sit up and take notice when when one of Janet's submissions arrive. Definitely a plus.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Congratulations, OP! How thrilling to receive offers of representation! [And it's inspiring too... if I keep plugging away at this, perhaps one day this could even happen to me...?]
Thanks also for asking such questions. I wouldn't have thought to have asked them, but am glad - thank you, O my Queen! - for the answers.
And best of luck, OP, with the next step in your publishing dream!

Kae Ridwyn said...

And LOL Megan! A gumby flamethrower!

Panda in Chief said...

What I wouldn't give for a Hello Kitty toaster, not to mention the flame fhtower and OMG THERE IS REALLY A HELLO KITTY CHAINSAW??????????

Do you suppose there is a Hello Panda toaster? I would make room on my counter for that.

Meanwhile, a day late, and three time zones away. Good question! Definitely one for the treasure chest, Colin.