Tracking down agent references

Dear Mistress of Snarktitude --

I've got one for ya.

So say an agent CALLS (yes CALLS) and says they want to respresent your beloved cherished novel --

and you WANT to say yes, but then Miss Snark's holy words reverberate in your ears -- check with other clients first.

Now how do you gracefully do this? Do you hunt them down yourself? Ask for a list of "references." Trust that this agent has sold many a book cause you see them listed at Agent Query, on the agency website or on Publisher's Marketplace?

Been querying agents you don't know, huh??
You know my position on that; all together now: do not do that.

By "know" I mean not that you have tea and crumpets on the lanai regularly, but that you've done some basic research like finding out who the agent represents and what they sold.

When an agent offers you representation you say very nicely "I'm thrilled. May I contact some of your clients to make sure you're not a scuzzbucket". I give out client emails at that point (but not before) and only of those clients who've said "sure" when I've asked if they'll be willing to speak to prospects about the Wonders of Snarkistan.

Listings at AgentQuery and Publishers Marketplace are just that: listings. You want to be in communication with folks who've actually worked with the agent.

ALL reputable agents agree to fork over this info. NO reputable agent refuses it. They may not give you Thomas Pynchon's email, or their really famous clients, but there should be contact info for legitimate clients with books that have sold. Do NOT accept any equivocating on this subject.


Kit Whitfield said...

... and if the agent refers you to published authors, don't forget to check that they really are published, by non-vanity presses.

Kerry Allen said...

I have a list of standard questions you're supposed to ask a potential agent, but what questions do you ask their clients if you reach that point in your investigation?

Anonymous said...

I would ask if the agent does what they say they will; if they're communicative; if they send my money on time; if they've made the best possible deals; if they've offered good career advice; if they've taken any heat from the publisher during the process, thereby allowing me to remain cordial with my editor.

There are lots of questions. Just don't be nosy (personal). Be professional. This is a business relationship you thinking of entering into, not a sorority. You want a strong advocate with good business skills and good reputation.

Time in the business is a good thing, too. A lot of friends have rued having a younger, unmarried agent (male or female)who suddenly needed to either make more money or decided to concentrate on family. Good to know that if such a circumstance comes up, who's going to catch you? Does the agency automatically pick you up, or are you out in the cold? (My friends were out in the cold, with the rest of the slush. Not pretty, especially with a simultaneous orphan book situation with the editor involved. Total suckage.)

Daisy Mae said...

Thanks to Anonymous for the insightful questions and advice.

Kerry Allen said...

Thanks, anonymous, for your response.

"What happens to me if you leave the agency?" was on my list of questions for the agent. Maybe I should I expand that to "Excuse me, but what are your reproductive plans?" and "Have you considered a tubal ligation for the convenience of your clients?" Nosy and personal, yes, but also relevant to the professional relationship...

Anonymous said...

My agent was pregnant when I signed with her. It did not stop her from doing her job. Nor has having a small child. I think she took maybe two weeks off in all.

Anonymous said...

I am cool with your advice except on one point:


Anonymous said...

I know you don't usually comment on comments, but if you see this...please answer. More than once I have queried an agent I've researched only to be passed on to a different agent at their agency. Suddenly I know nothing about the agent who is reading my stuff. Right now, at this moment, I have one of those agents that got my manuscript handed off to them talking about representation. I've asked who she's repped, but she's building a list and none of the stuff she's worked on (not sure if she means line editing or sold?) is out yet. But she is with this big reputable agency and she seems to get my writing...So???? Now what?