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Some basic questions about authors and agents…

by Chip MacGregor
MacGregor Literary

1. “What’s the best way to find a literary agent?”
In my view, a face-to-face meeting is best. And you may find that getting a referral from your friend (who happens to be agented) is a nice way to gain an introduction.

2. “If an agent has asked you to send in a manuscript, is it wrong to continue sending out queries to other agents?”
Not in my book. The way I look at it, if I’m taking a couple months to review a manuscript from you, then you’ve got every right to use that time and try to see if some other agent might be a better fit.

3. “How long does it usually take for an agent to respond after receiving a requested manuscript?”
I try to respond to people within a month. If you’ll check out the website of literary agents, most will offer some sort of timeline in the one-to-three month range.

4. “Is it possible to schedule a meeting in order to have the agent look at your material at a conference?”
A writers’ conference is one of the few remaining possibilities for meeting agents. Most conferences will simply post meeting schedules, where you can sign up to meet with an agent. Usually you’ll come in with your one-sheet or proposal, make a quick pitch, and have about 10 or 15 minutes to talk. You can’t totally “sell” them in such a short time, but you can certainly start a conversation and make a good impression.

5. “Do agents want to read a part of a book, or do they require a completed novel?”
In most cases, they’ll want your first novel to be completed.

6. “Will we still need agents with e-books taking over?”
If you’re going to keep up on trends, navigate publishers, negotiate contracts, review royalty statements, and get valuable career advice, you may find a literary agent helpful. For all the negative talk about agents coming from some bloggers, most seems to be coming from the handful of successful self-published authors who feel they know all they need to know. But the numbers are clear: for every novelist making money with a self-published book, there are dozens who are making next to nothing. So maybe those agents know something about the industry.

7. “How do I best prepare to meet an agent at a conference?”
Research the agents you’re interested in working with, so that you find someone who’s a fit, not just someone who happens to claim they represent books.

8. “What are some questions to ask when you finally sit down with an agent at a conference?”

Perhaps something like…
-How long have you been doing this?
-How many contracts have you negotiated for authors?
-Who do you represent?
-May I have their emails so that I can check your references?
-What publishing houses have you worked with in the past year?
-Which editorial personnel have you done deals with?
-What sort of projects do you represent?
-Can you give me a book title you sold that you loved?
-What’s unique about your agency?
-What percentage do you earn on a book deal?
-Are there any hidden fees or charges? Any up-front costs?
-Do you charge back all your expenses?
-Have you ever worked in publishing or done any editing or writing?
-How do you approach career planning?
-Do you work by yourself?
-Are you full time?

That will get you started. Again, an author needs to consider what he or she needs from an agent before interviewing prospective agents. That way you’ve got some idea of whether or not this person would meet your needs, rather than simply asking yourself, “Do I like this guy?”

Chip MacGregor is founder of MacGregor Literary and a longtime agent. Chip has a comprehensive knowledge of the industry-from book development to writing, acquisition to production, marketing to sales. He has secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with all of the major publishers in both CBA and ABA. A popular writer’s conference speaker, Chip has presented workshops at more than 100 locations, spoken at colleges and universities, and is frequently invited to speak to writers groups around the country on the topics of writing and publishing.

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One Response to Some basic questions about authors and agents…

  1. Thiis is great advice Chip. Finding an agent can be confusing. Your post simplifies the process.