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Take These Steps Before You Sign with an Agent

Before You Sign with an Agent Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards
Before You Sign with an Agent Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards

“Take These Steps Before You Sign with an Agent” by Joan Y. Edwards

Linda Andersen,  asked me to write a blog about the steps to get an agent. She asked, “Why should a writer get an agent?” When a writer has a good, respected, dependable agent, it opens up more opportunities for the writer’s work to get published. Many publishers do not accept work from writers they do not know or were not recommended to them. However, these same publishers will accept work from agented writers.

A query is not the same as a letter that accompanies a manuscript submission. A query is only a letter giving the pitch and asking for permission to submit a manuscript to see if an agent would be interested in representing the author with publishers.

Before you query an agent, do the following:

  1. Make sure you have a completed quality manuscript that has been critiqued and proofed. You Have the Writer Essentials for Submitting: Go for it. 

    Step 1 Get work critiqued, revised, printed, and proofed.
    Step 2 Choose the publisher, editor, agent, or contest for this writing project.
    Step 3 Write the pitch, query letter, cover letter, resume, bio, and/or proposal as required by the guidelines of the editor, agent, or contest you chose for submission this time.
    Step 4 Proof and Send your pitch, query letter, cover letter, resume, bio, and/or proposal as required by the guidelines of the editor, agent, or contest you chose for submission this time.

  2. Hollywood Script Express suggests that you give your screenplay to a friend or relative and ask them to read it in one sitting. If they can’t finish your screenplay in less than 2 hours, you probably need to trim some fat.

  3. Do Your Homework. Research to find out information to prove the agent/manager is the right one for you. Find three agents who meet your needs and they represent writers/illustrators in the areas where your manuscript fits. says it’s a good idea to make a list and rank them according to which ones meet your criteria best. Here are places I recommend that you look:

    • Check reviews of agents online to see if they have a great reputation.

    • Check Scripts and Scribes Information about Agents and Managers – Podcasts and blog posts by Agents and Managers:

    • Check Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. (E-book is less expensive than the paperback. You can copy and paste links and click on them.)

    • Query Tracker.com has information about agents. See what they say about the agent/agency, too.

    • Check my blog post: “22 Literary Agents Who Are Looking for You:” https://www.joanyedwards.com/2013/09/06/22-literary-agents-who-are-looking-for-you/

  4. Check the Agent’s website and current submission guidelines. Chuck Sambuchino also says, “Research the agent’s website to confirm that he is indeed still seeking “electronic queries for romance novels,” etc. Also, remember the frustratingly sad reality that the publishing industry is constantly in flux. Agents quit; they switch agencies; they suddenly stop representing fiction and move completely to nonfiction.

  5. Before you query the prospective agents on your preferred list, find out which authors/illustrators he represents and how many books he’s sold in the last three years and the last six months. If this information isn’t on the Agency website, ask for it.

  6. Follow the Guidelines. Follow the Guidelines. Follow the Guidelines.

  7. Write a great simple query letter. Chuck Sambuchino says that if you don’t have a good opening for your query, give the facts: “I am seeking literary representation for my 75,000-word completed thriller, titled Dead Cat Bounce.” Sambuchino says to follow opener with the pitch and a little biographical information.

Before You Sign on the Line, Ask Questions. Get answers.

  1. Take 3 days to consider the agent’s offer. Sarah Ockler suggests that you take a few days to think things over and prepare your questions before accepting representation from an agent. I know you’ll be so excited to get the offer. BE SMART. BE WISE. Get all the facts before you sign. Research and ask questions. Then honor your gut feeling

  2. What are the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of three of their signed authors/illustrators? You’ll want to ask them a few questions. As Michael Hyatt like President Reagan says to “Trust, but Verify.” He says, “If possible, talk with the agents clients on the phone. People will tell you things on a phone call that they will not put in writing.”

  3. What are your fees? How often will I receive my earnings? Before you sign, find out what fees they charge and how and how often you’ll receive your earnings. Sarah Ockler says that most agents take the standard 15% fee from the monies earned from your books. Publishers send your advance and royalty money to the agency; the agency sends you a check less their 15%. Are there hidden fees? If there are charges for mailing? Printing letters? Then these are probably not sure-fire agents. They might be a service similar to Writer’s Relief, a fee-based author’s submission service – not a literary agency.

  4. Do you have time for me? Felice Prager says to ask, “How many other clients do you represent? Do you plan on expanding or will this number stay about the same? Will you or another member of your staff be handling my work?” You want an agent that doesn’t have such a large number of clients that he doesn’t have time for you.

  5. What makes you the right agent for me? How do you see my career? Wendy Lawton says to ask, “What will you offer that other agencies don’t?”

  6. How can I tell you’ve submitted my manuscript to a publisher?  Will I receive copies of the submissions? Will you let me know each time you’ve talked with a publisher? Wendy Lawton says to ask: How often will we be in contact?

  7. What is your preferred form of communication? Wendy Lawton says to ask:  “How do you like to communicate? Email? Phone? If you like to talk on the phone and an agent prefers emails, then you might have a problem.” Remember to organize your questions so that your agent doesn’t receive 3 or 4 emails from you in one day. When a person gets overwhelmed with too many emails or too many phone calls, it hurts the communication lines.

While you are pondering all of these questions, you will probably think of others. Victoria Strauss gives many great links to posts with more questions about agents at “Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent:


  1. Chuck Sambuchino. “10 Submission Tips for Querying an Agenthttp://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/get-published-sell-my-work/10-submission-tips-for-querying-an-agent

  2. Felice Prager. “Ten Questions to Ask an Agent before You Sign:” http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/10-questions-to-ask-an-agent-before-you-sign

  3. “What Every Fiction Writer Should Do Before Submitting A Book to an Agent:” http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/what-every-fiction-writer-should-do-before-submitting-a-book-to-an-agent

  4. Hollywood Script Express. “How to Get a Screenplay Agent:” http://www.hollywoodscriptexpress.com/how_to_get_screenplay_agent.html

  5. Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. (E-book is less expensive than the paperback. You can copy and paste links and click on them.)

  6. Joan Y. Edwards. “22 Literary Agents Who Are Looking for You:” https://www.joanyedwards.com/2013/09/06/22-literary-agents-who-are-looking-for-you/

  7. Joan Y. Edwards. “Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Contract with a Publisher:” https://www.joanyedwards.com/2016/09/02/questions-to-ask-before-you-sign-a-contract-with-a-publisher/

  8. Query Tracker.com has information about agents.

  9. Sarah Ockler. “Literary Agent Offers: Don’t Settle:” http://sarahockler.com/2008/07/05/literary-agent-offers-dont-settle/

  10. Scripts and Scribes. Listing of Agents and Managers for Books and Screenplays. http://www.scriptsandscribes.com/agentsmanagers/.

  11. Victoria Strauss. “Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent:” http://www.victoriastrauss.com/2014/02/26/questions-to-ask-your-prospective-literary-agent/  (This has many great links to posts that will help you find more questions to ask an agent.)

  12. Wendy Lawton. “25 Questions to Ask Your Potential Agent:”


Thank you to all the people who read this blog post.

GIVEAWAY was completed Saturday, August 8, 2015. I especially appreciate the people who entered the contest. Come back. There will be other giveaways.

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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards
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Fascinating Ideas and Advice from Sandra Warren, Author

“Fascinating Ideas and Advice from Sandra Warren, Author” by Joan Y. Edwards

Today I’m honored to have Sandra Warren as a guest on my blog. One thing you’ll learn about Sandra is that she takes risks.

Thank you, Joan. Thanks for inviting me to be a guest on your blog.
You’re welcome. Let’s get right to the interesting part your answers to my interview questions.

1. How did you do in English?
If you’re speaking about literature, I did quite well, but the writing part, grammar, punctuation and spelling, well, that part was a challenge. In fact, all through school I hated to write. If someone told me then, that I would become an author as an adult, I would have laughed in their face.

2. When did you decide to become an author?
It was thrust upon me by the needs of my children. I began writing to develop classroom activities to enhance creative thinking and encourage higher level thinking skills to keep them engaged in learning and excited about school. From their needs my first book, If I Were A Road, came to fruition. If I Were a Table and The Great Bridge Lowering followed within a year. That was thirty-three years ago. All three books are still on the market and still used in classrooms throughout the country.

 3. What is your favorite book of those you’ve written?

My favorite children’s book of those I’ve written would have to be Arlie the Alligator because it’s so much more than just a story. After completing the manuscript, I met song writer, Deborah Bel Pfleger.  Ms Pfleger wrote the four catchy tunes, which are woven into the story mini-musical style and recorded in her recording studio, Bel Productions, with actors and sound effects. You can hear a sample via the book trailer http://youtu.be/UtTxiIkHdWc

Arlie the Alligator, Paperback
Arlie the Alligator, CD
Arlie the Alligator (Kindle Edition) 

Arlie the Alligator CD cover

Although the story book can stand on its own, the story is enhanced by following along with the CD. Reading skills are encouraged and creative thinking skills tweaked as children follow along reading and singing with the CD.

Arlie can be enjoyed as a story book, a follow-along, sing-along story, a teaching/learning tool, and a theatrical production put on by adults or children for children of all ages. The theatrical production, sheet music, a reader’s theatre script and multiple classroom activities can be found in the Arlie the Alligator Communication Activity Guide, which was published by an educational company, Pieces of Learning, shortly after the original book came out.

The original Arlie, published in 1992, was ahead of his time. It was difficult to find a publisher because we had a story and a fully produced audio cassette. In the late 1980’s books-on-tape for adults were just coming on the market. Children’s books-on-cassette were in the infant stages. After 7-years of rejection, I self-published Arlie the Alligator in hardcover with an audio cassette. Now, 22 years later, in another risky move, I’ve brought Arlie back, newly illustrated but otherwise the same wonderful story.

4. How much research did you do to write Arlie?
Even though Arlie is a fictitious, I still felt the need to know something about real alligators. I researched and discovered 3 unusual things; First, young alligators have yellow markings that fade with age. In the Arlie story there’s a line: “Arlie knew he’d lose his beautiful yellow markings when he grew up; all alligators do.” Secondly I learned that male adult alligators bellow. Females do not. That’s why Arlie turns to his father when he doesn’t know what to do. The third thing I learned is that alligators have a different number of toes on the front feet than on the back feet. I couldn’t figure out how to use that information so I didn’t.

5. What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you related to your writing?
Two things come to mind. The first is in relation to Arlie. At a conference an irate woman came up to me and told me that I was sexist because in the story Arlie asked his father what to do not his mother. “Why didn’t you have him go to his mother for advice?” she bellowed. (Ha! Couldn’t resist.) I let her rant and then very calmly explained that the World Book Encyclopedia said that female alligators don’t make a sound, only males do so how could I possibly have Arlie’s mother model bellowing for him?

The second incidence was in relation to my book, If I Were A Table. Illustrated by my brother, Tom Sjoerdsma, each table in the book has a pair of eyes on its edge. Each pair of eyes is unique. A very excited teacher approached me at an educational conference who proceeded to tell me she’d promised her students that if she ever met me, she’d ask if they were correct about the psychology of the eyes on the tables in my book, If I Were A Table. She went on to explain that her students had a huge discussion about why the eyes on one table were more feminine than another. I listened politely nodding my head as she spoke. Later that evening, I called my brother and asked him why he made each set of eyes different and he said, “I just thought it would be a funny thing to do!” So much for psychology and story analysis.

By the way, this incident taught me that you can’t control what people see in your work. It also made me very skeptical of those (teacher and professor types) who teach classes that analyze other authors’ works.  I’m guessing many beloved authors long gone are rolling over in their graves with laughter at what people said about their work.

6. I notice that you’ve been published in multiple genres. Is one genre more difficult than the other?
I would say, “no.” Persistence and patience is the key. The only reason I’ve publications in other genres is because when an idea comes to mind, I go with it and worry later how to get it published.

7. What’s your number one recommendation to other writers about getting published?
The number one thing I recommend to writers is to research FORMAT and SUBMISSION GUIDELINES and then give the publisher/editor/agent what they want in the format THEY want it in.

  • Know when they ask for a chapter by chapter outline what that means.
  • Know when they ask for a synopsis how long that synopsis should be.
  • Know when they call for a book proposal what a book proposal entails.
  • And know these things for the genre you’ve written and are trying to sell.

It doesn’t matter what your college professors, your critique group or your best writing buddy says about submitting your manuscript. The ONLY thing that matters when submitting to a publisher, editor or agent is that you send them what THEY want to see and in the format THEY want to see it in.
 Remember: Your submission package is your book’s first impression. Make it look as professional as possible.

8. What are you working on now?
My current project is an adult novel that involves two brothers who were separated by the Orphan Trains in 1929. About five years in the making, I based the story on a screenplay that I had optioned years back. When I complete that, I’ll begin a middle grade/YA historical fiction involving a true incident from my high school. I also have a couple of picture book manuscripts looking for a publisher. As I tell students, perhaps I’d be more successful if I’d stick to one genre.

Thank you, Sandra for sharing this fascinating information about you and your writing and your advice for writers! Thanks for giving a copy of your book and CD to a lucky person who leaves a comment for this post. You’re a jewel.

You’re welcome, Joan. I had fun. Here are links for people to find me on the web: www.sandrawarren.com


GIVEAWAY is complete December 2013. 

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards