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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Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards
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15 thoughts on “Take These Steps Before You Sign with an Agent”

  1. Good advice, Joan. But the problem as I see it is that when an agent is interested in your work, you’re so grateful to finally get some interest that all these sure-fire wonderful questions go right out the window.

    1. Dear Sandra,
      You are right, Sandra. We’d probably get so excited that we sign without thinking about it. Perhaps we can get enough energy to say, “Let me think about it for three days.” Then we can devise questions. That is why it is important to do good research beforehand. Right? Thank you for writing.
      Good luck in finding an agent.
      Celebrate you!
      Never Give Up

    1. Dear Sharon,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad you read my blog and like the information I post. Is there a subject you’d like for me to write about? I hope my post about agents gets you to thinking of at least one new thing to consider seriously!
      Celebrate you.
      Never Give Up

  2. Joan,
    Thanks for tackling my questions on this topic again. I appreciate it. A great post. #4 under questions reminds me of how writers/illustrators have to justify what’s unique or different about their submission. In order for an agent to be a good fit, he/she must meet the specific needs of the client, as well as stand out in the crowd. A tall order for all!

    1. Dear Linda,
      Thank you for writing. You’re welcome.for my tackling your questions. You are right. both the agent and the writer need to know, trust, and believe that they both meet each other’s needs. Good luck in secouring an agent.
      Never Give Up

    1. Dear Janis,
      Thank you for writing. You are right. You can use the same strategies listec here for contacting for contacting publishers, too. That is a great observation!
      Good luck in finding an agent.
      Never Give Up

    1. Dear Carol,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad you like it so much you’re going to save it for when you’re in the process of choosing an agent. Is there anything you’d like for me to blog about? I am glad that Linda asked, too.
      Celebrate you
      Never Give Up

  3. I don’t have an agent and there are times that I wish I had gotten an agent before signing with my publisher. This is an excellent post for those seeking a good agent to market their work.

    1. Dear Judy,
      Thank you for writing. I am glad you believe they are helpful. perhaps when your second book is ready, you can search for an agent. It is not essential for everyone to have an agent. Good luck inselling your book and your future publishing endeavors.
      Never Give Up

  4. Thank you to all the people who read this blog post. I especially appreciate the six people below who left comments before midnight Saturday, August 8, 2015. They had a chance to win a free critique of a query letter to an agent.

    1. Sandra Warren
    2. Sharon Willett
    3. Linda Martin Andersen
    4. Janis Silverman
    5. Carol Baldwin
    6. Judy Pierce

    Random.org chose #1. Therefore, Sandra Warren, you won a free critique of a query letter! Congratulations!

    Never Give Up

  5. All the information needed is so confusing: especially trying to outline the seven stories in the manuscript I wish to submit as one book. Each of the seven tales in the book contains paranormal events happening to ordinary people with unresolved issues.

    1. Dear Elizabeth,
      Thank you for writing. If there are seven stories, it would be an anthology or a short story collection. You could market them that way. They usually want a summary, not an outline. You have to read the agent’s guidelines and see. To me you’d need a pitch for each story in your book. I am not an agent. Have you seen companies that publish something similar to your book. They would be the one to investigate. Good luck.

      Never Give Up
      Stay Safe and Well

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