Query Queries: What do literary agents want to learn while on a call with you?

I’ve seen many posts online about what authors should ask agents during phone calls, but what sort of information do agents want to learn when they ask to schedule a call?

Below are five questions I help my clients answer before they get on a call with a literary agent, so they’re prepared to speak intelligently and impress!

Why do you want a literary agent? 

The answers to this question are never the same. Some writers think a literary agent will automatically make them millions of dollars. Others respond with a more modest response, that they’re hoping to find someone to stand in their corner and navigate their way through the many decisions one needs to make in the publishing world. Whatever your initial response, this question allows an agent to find out what expectations a writer has about agents, and it also allows us to have a conversation about how the author/agent relationship works.

Are you willing to make changes to the manuscript?

Whenever an agent is considering offering representation on a project, they will always have a few changes in mind for the story.  Most agents will go over their suggested changes with the author on the call to make sure both parties are on the same page about where the story needs to go.  NOTE: it’s totally okay if you don’t agree with an agent’s suggestions!  That just means the agent may not be the right fit for the book. But it’s important to have this discussion so that both the author and the agent know what’s next in line for the manuscript.  This question also allows agents to find out if the author is collaborative and appreciative of editorial feedback.

What is your writing process?

Agents like to know the creative process of any potential client. This show an agent how long you spend on a draft, whether or not you make use of beta readers and critique partners (all writers should—even after they have an agent), and how long it might take for you to finish a revision of a manuscript.  Some writers write every day, early in the morning, before anyone else in their family wakes up. Others only have time to write on their daily commute home from work. Whatever the situation, most agents like to know that the author is taking their writing seriously and does have time carved out for writing, and that the act of writing has been explored long enough for some sort of process to take shape.

What is your publishing history?

This is a really important question, especially now that so many writers self-publish books!  It’s okay if an author hasn’t published a book before—that’s not something that will change minds about offering representation; most agents love debut writers. But they do need to know if the author has self-published a book, if the author has had a book at a major publisher that didn’t do so well, or even if the author has a best-selling title! The agent/author relationship requires a lot of trust, so it’s crucial that you are honest and lay everything out on the table so agents are aware of the history of your career. Agents are interested to know if the author also writes for any online publications, has had short stories published in literary magazines, etc.

What else are you working on?

You should absolutely have an answer for this one!  Agents prefer to sign clients with their long-term careers in mind, not just based on one project, so they definitely want to know what else you are writing. Since the writer is querying a finished manuscript, the expectation is that you are now working on something new.  You don’t need to lay out all the details, but agents do want to know if you plan to write in specific categories or genres that they are comfortable representing.  A short little “pitch” is always nice to hear, especially when the premise gets the agent excited about what they will get to read next as the writer’s agent, but they never expect to hear a fully-formed story during this type of phone call.  This question also opens a discussion about the long-term goals of you as an author and how what you’ve written, and what you’re working on, fits into your mutual careers as a whole.

There are definitely other questions that come up during a phone call with an agent, and the specifics often change depending on the author’s history or the project itself.  But these five questions come up time and time again, and I imagine the majority of literary agents ask very similar questions as well.

Let me know in the comments what questions you ask (or plan to ask) literary agents when you get to speak with them about your work, or if there is anything you wish agents would ask you when considering offering representation.

Query QueriesWriting Life

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