Ask Daphne! What to ask Daphne?

June 9th, 2008 • Kate

J.O. writes

When a writer gets close to having an agent offer representation, what sort of questions should they have prepared to help them determine if the offering agent is ‘the one’ when they get the ‘the call’? (Like many of us would actually say ‘no’ to someone we had queried and who thought our work was saleable!) Are there no-no questions? Are there some essential questions? Are there questions you wish writers would ask you?

Hi again, J.O.! Thanks for your question — it’s a good one. You should absolutely be prepared to have a conversation with your prospective agent before agreeing to sign on the dotted line. I’m sure there are other examples of questions to ask out there on the internets, but here are some I like to hear:

  • How do you see my book being positioned? (i.e. Do I see it as sci-fi when the author thinks it’s a mainstream commercial novel? Do we agree on the genre?)
  • What’s your timeline for submitting? Is it ready to submit? (Am I going to send this right out to editors to read, or does the author need to do another round of submissions?)
  • What commission do you offer? (honestly, I usually offer this information before it’s asked — I offer 15% commission on domestic deals, and 20% on foreign or dramatic rights, in order to cover bigger mailing expenses and subagent commissions)
  • Do you charge any other fees? (Beware of agents who charge reading fees, but being charged for mailing expenses shouldn’t be a make-or-break decision — although it is, I think, less common in today’s internet age)

Those are pretty essential, I think, although there’s different ways to ask them, and you may want to know something else. Most importantly, you and your agent should be on the same page about the project (you love it like a child, and she’s excited to sell it), and you should walk away with a clear understanding of her methods of working.
On the flip side, fyi, there’s questions I like to ask as well — my top one being what else you’re working on. I want to sign an author for a career, not just a single book, even if I’ve only read one book (usually). I also want to hear again aboout any other publications you’ve had, or other submissions you’ve made on your own, so I know what editors I might contact first, or can already cross off as having been approached already.
This is all at the forefront of my thoughts, as I recently signed several new kt literary clients, and had several of these talks. Woot! Expect to hear more good news shortly, and let me know if there’s any important questions I missed.

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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! What to ask Daphne?”

  1. jeanoram Says:

    Thanks Daphne!

  2. Caryn Says:

    Good to know! Although I'm not yet ready to query, I'm already making a list. And congrats on the new clients. That's got to be so exciting for you and them!

  3. Jon Bard Says:

    Excellent stuff! I'm going to add a link to this from my blog ASAP.
    I'm especially taken by the first question: "How do you see my book being positioned?" This is really a reality check for authors, who are often too close to their project to recognize that they're targeting the wrong age range or genre.
    Actually, I'd be somewhat impressed by any author who even asks that question. I'd imagine there are many who wouldn't ask for fear of hearing something they don't want to hear.
    All the best,
    Jon Bard
    Managing Editor
    Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers – http://write4kids.com
    The Children's Writing Web Journal – http://write4kids.com/blog