What Should Your Agent Know About You?

Right now I’m putting together some tools that will help me be more effective at long-range planning with my clients. I want to make sure my vision for the client’s writing career matches their own vision, and that together, we intentionally work towards the client’s long-term goals and dreams (as opposed to a book-by-book “let’s see what happens next” approach).

One thing I may do is have my clients fill out a questionnaire to give me a baseline view of who they are and what they want when we begin working together.

I’m putting together my list of questions, so I thought I’d ask you: What information should I solicit on my questionnaire? If you were my client, what are some things you’d like me to know in order to serve you best?

Could be about your goals, could be about your expectations from an agent or the style of communication that works best for you. Anything.

Tell me! I’m listening.

And have a good weekend!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

52 Comments

  1. Sharon A. Lavy on October 19, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    >Renee cracks me up!



  2. Renee Gold on October 18, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    >HI Rachelle,

    Ask them how they order at Starbucks. You can tell a lot about an author that way. Are they an Americano, Espresso Macchiato, or a Cafe-Au-Lait kind of writer? Hot or iced? Tall, Grande, or Venti? I might be kidding, but, maybe not. Coffee is an important part of the writer’s life. It could be revealing…

    I love the world famous and sought after, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, made in the Clover Machine, with a sprinkle of skim milk….or, a Frappuccino in any size. Both beverages are best sellers

    Thank you for your generous question and phenomenal blog!



  3. Charise on October 18, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    >I think you've had some good suggestions. Along those lines, I think asking how a writer feels about the other part of being a writer (other than the writing). Are they able/willing/eager (or none of the above) to do the marketing necessary to be successful? Do they possess these skills or are they willing to develop them? On the writing/craft end of things, what are they doing to improve their ability.



  4. Anonymous on October 18, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    >I would not be pleased to be given most of these Rorschach-test questions. Ask me what you need to know and get on with the business at hand.



  5. Chris Clausen on October 18, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    >Rachelle,

    I would recommend adding some questions to identify your author's skillsets, resources and connections which might be helpful when developing a marketing plan for the author and for their work. Ie. Please identify skillsets which would prove helpful in marketing a book>

    Check all skillsets which you have proficiency and prior work experience:
    -Public Relations
    -Editing
    -Graphic Design
    -Web marketing
    -Public Speaking
    -Sales (business to consumer)
    -Sales (business to business)
    -Marketing

    You get the idea. Might also be good to identify business/personal contacts that could be of help.
    -publishers
    -retailers
    -media

    Though judicious use of LinkedIn might just get you all that. Not sure if agents link to their authors.

    Seems like authors will need to be heavily involved in marketing their work and selling their work. Might be good to identify strengths/weaknesses and resources that will make that job a potential success.



  6. nightwriter on October 17, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    >An agent doesn’t need to know our life story to be successful. Rather, I’d want them to know what motivates me, how I like to interact/communicate, my goals and expectations, and how I work with deadlines, etc. In turn, I’d want to know what to expect and when, how they operate, best times for contact, etc. I’d rather have an agent with similar work styles so we can function as a team, not as opposites.



  7. Glynis on October 17, 2010 at 4:50 AM

    >Building a relationship this way, is an excellent idea.One question I would like to be asked, is: What are you prepared to do for your book, should you be published?I have writer friends who say it is up to the publisher to promote. I disagree, I think I have a responsibility to see my book through all stages of its life.Nissi Peters



  8. Pat on October 16, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >Rachelle,This is a wonderful idea. I have read each of these suggestions and can’t think of a thing to add. These folks are smart! Thank you for being so transparent on your blog, sharing the role and expectations of an agent. Your visionary and progressive style is a blessing. I am THRILLED to be one of those clients soon to receive a questionnaire!BTW, did you receive what you wanted from me??



  9. Sharon A. Lavy on October 16, 2010 at 7:58 AM

    >As I read this continually growing list I would cringe if I thought they would all go in a questionnaire. But I think they are wonderful ideas to use in conversation with a client or potential client as and agent and writer get to know one another.



  10. DiscoveredJoys on October 16, 2010 at 3:51 AM

    >There are some terrific questions here – I’ll have to go away and think about my own answers.My only word of caution is questionnaire design. Good design is quite difficult to achieve. A particular problem that may trip you up is that how you word the question may prime the client to respond in a particular way – which may not be as ‘honest’ as you want. So for instance if you ask people ‘Where do you want to be in 10 years time?’ some will be able to tell you straight away. Others may not have considered the question seriously before but will make up an answer they think will satisfy you. How will you be able to tell which is which (they are fiction writers after all)? Good design can help you tease out the difference.



  11. Wendy Bertsch on October 16, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    >Since we, as authors, are expected to participate enthusiastically in marketing as well as write, you should understand the demands on my time. Do I have pressing family responsibilities? Is my day job demanding or flexible? Do I need long vacations, or will short getaways do? A description o recent vacations should paint the picture.It might be helpful to get a sense of my comfort with the internet and social media. They’re becoming more and more essential to book marketing every day, and you need to know if you’ll have to deal with resistance.



  12. Judith Robl on October 16, 2010 at 2:10 AM

    >Maybe I missed it in this super list of great questions, but I think I’d ask: What hinders your writing?Is it a major stumbling block, or just a nuisance?



  13. Sana Quijada on October 15, 2010 at 10:47 PM

    >Hello Rachelle. I’m enjoying your blog and growing because of u. thx. I’d like u to ask me, why i’m writing. what’s it doing for me. aside from making truck-loads of money, what do i hope to get out of the writing process as well as end results. if we don’t get real from the start, our agenda’s may not get in sync. Have a great week-end yourself. Keep on!



  14. Old Salt on October 15, 2010 at 10:14 PM

    >I think the first question should be, “What do you expect of me?”



  15. Rachelle on October 15, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    >WOW, there is such an amazing amount of wisdom here in the comments! THANK YOU to everyone who responded! I’m going to have so much fun getting to know my clients even better.



  16. Dan Holloway on October 15, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    >Rachelle, I interview a lot of creatives from all media, and write a lot of features. I also run a regular column, “The View from the Shoe”, and one of the things I find tells me and my readers most are questions that come from left-field. Even if I’m only writing a feature, I start with a Q&A, and never about what I’ll write about. When I’m interviewing a band, one of the best questions is “you’ve been in the studio since 8 am and it’;s gone midnoght. Who cracks and calls for takeout first and what do you order?”. The first question in my View from the Shoie slot is always “Converse or Louboutin?” Relevant to nothing but relkevant to everything.The key to a great interview/questionnaire, is not asking something so esoteric o one can answer it with more than yes or no, but not asking what you think you want to know. You DON’T want to know that. You want to know the person. Ask them soemthing that will reveal themselves, but in an unexpected way – catch them off guard, but off guard in a way that makes them smile. You’ll learn both what you wanted to know and a whole lot more besides.



  17. Micah Maddox on October 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    >Myers Briggs personality type?Large businesses and dating sites utilize these for a reason, and free tests are available online. Communication is paramount. This answers many questions, such as how does the client value and process information. Intuitively, we just mesh with certain people over others, but in most cases it has a basis in that ‘how.’ Need to tell a writer they need a major plot revision? A certain client needs a few ideas to get the gist. Another just needs to be advised to make a change and chat it up for a few. One responds better to inspiration. A different writer requires a rational answer to why a revision is necessary.



  18. Erin MacPherson on October 15, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    >I think this is a GREAT idea, Rachelle!A few thoughts:1. My expectations from an agent (I know that sometimes in the past I’ve been unsure as to what the role of my agent was… like whether you could edit my work, make suggestions, etc. so perhaps an outline of a writer’s expectations would clear up confusion2. My knowledge of the publishing world. When I signed a contract, I had NO CLUE about the publishing world and what to expect, so if you knew my background, you could explain more.



  19. Rachelle on October 15, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    >For everyone who’s asked… yes, I’ll be doing this with my current clients over the next few months.



  20. Walt M on October 15, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    >My question focuses on an author’s flexibility and how willing an author is on rewriting his/her own work.What was the hardest change you’ve ever made to a manuscript and how did you reach the decision that it needed to be done?



  21. Mystery Robin on October 15, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    >I would ask what genres they enjoy most and if they hope to write in those genres someday. I’d try to get an idea of what they see themselves writing in 5 or 10 years. I think it’s good to know if branding will make an author feel trapped, or if that’s exactly what they want.



  22. Crystal Laine Miller on October 15, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    >Oh, yeah, I forgot to add–make all your clients be guests on my blog When I Was Just a Kid and then you can keep their interview on your file and know about them from childhood, too. (LOL) (I think I may have a couple of your clients on that list, already.)



  23. Author Sandra D. Bricker on October 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    >I love Lisa Jordan/Debbie Macomber’s suggestion of asking for five writing goals, even if they seem unattainable. Or maybe ESPECIALLY IF they seem out of reach.AS IF you as my agent couldn’t recite BY HEART what my goals are … it’s really valuable to both parties if the agent has a clear picture of where the writer wants to go. I think it’s helped to define our working relationship over this last year or so. And by the way, I LOVE the fact that you are always searching for better ways to serve your clients. I (almost) 🙂 always feel like I’m your one and only priority, even though reality dictates that it couldn’t actually be true. Part of what makes a writer confident is the belief that there is a stakeholder in their career that GETS what they want, and wants that for them as well.



  24. Patti Struble on October 15, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    >Rachelle,Having been on both sides of the interview table, I think the standard business questions would be most effective.5 & 10 yr. vision – goals/motivations/dedicationHow you dealt with a difficult situation, rejection, etc. – character development/conflict resolutionSuccesses – value-added/motivationSorry, my analytical brain took over.Patti Struble



  25. T. Anne on October 15, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    >Author goals, what’s the average turn around time for a novel, what centers them as a person, how much and what mode of communication would they be comfortable with, do they have fringe projects they would like to pursue outside of their genre and why, would they like to brainstorm on each novel/ some novels, these are just some things that popped into my mind.I was looking at a college app to USC for one of my sons and they have an entire page of getting to know you questions such as what’s your favorite food, your favorite movie, your favorite literary character of all time, etc… I think after all the serious questions are through you can learn a lot about a person from simple questions as well. Have a great weekend!



  26. Crystal Laine Miller on October 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    >Rachelle, I love this sort of thing. I have a whole file like this on my computer to keep myself focused. Michael Hyatt had put these questions out on his blog (I think he said Bob Biehl came up with these questions for making a personal mission statement.) If your clients have an overall mission for their writing, then it would help in steering them along a writing career path, wouldn’t it? Here are the questions.(And maybe you’d want to adapt them for just writing.) They span a whole life, but shouldn’t your writing be in this overall plan? I look at this about once a year. 1.If I could sum up the purpose of my life in one word, what word would I choose? (Or the purpose of my writing.)2.What if I were to sum it up in three words? 3.How would I want my epitaph to read? If I were to live to be 100, what would I want people to say about me at my 100th birthday party? (I was thinking about Janette Oke on this one, after the 2010 ACFW Awards dinner.)4.Over the course of my life, what do I want to do? (What kinds of work.)5.Over the course of my life, what do I want to be? (What do you want to be known for?)6.Who are the people or groups I most want to help? (This would include the audience/readers.)7. What sort of things would I like to accomplish over the next three to ten years? (What goals do I want to meet and what is my focus in writing?)This is what I’ve been thinking about.



  27. Caroline Starr Rose on October 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    >This is something that happened with my editor and not my agent, but the sentiment’s the same:My book went to auction, and I spent several weeks meeting potential editors over the phone and hearing about/discussing ideas for my story. One thing that really struck me about the editor I chose to work with was her interest in me as a person. She took a moment during that first chat to ask after my family, my teaching experience, etc. She saw me beyond my role as writer. This has spilled over into our work relationship, and it is very satisfying indeed.



  28. Layla Fiske on October 15, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    >I would ask…What do you see as your strengths as a writer?What do you see as your weakness as a writer?



  29. Tina Roberts on October 15, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    >Get to know them as "people". For instance, find out what they most enjoy with their family, learn who is in their immediate family. That will help your client to feel as though you really care about them and their lives. For instance…aske them about the worst experience in their life and if they would like to share it with you. We as writers use so much of ourselves and our experiences in our writing, often without even realizing it. IF I were asked that question I would have to say that after my son was born, I had nine misscarriages and then gave birth to our daughter…she lived only 4 days. Just the experience alone makes it sooooo much easier for me to relate to other mothers and my characters who are also mothers. SO…I would say…get to know who your clients really are. I know that would be a good feeling to know that my agent felt comfortable enough with me to ask about my "real" life.



  30. Bill Peschel on October 15, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    >Listening to the WritersCast interview with Avery Aames about her mystery novel "The Long Quiche Goodbye" reminds me about work-for-hire. How about some questions about them?

    * Would you consider a project suggested by a publisher?

    * Are there genres you would be especially interested in?

    * Also important, are there genres you would not be willing to consider?



  31. Kay on October 15, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    >I think this is an excellent idea and you've gotten some good suggestions.

    In addition to what's already been said, I'd ask an author what makes her laugh, what makes her cry.

    –how she handles rejection and the best way for her to hear it

    –where she writes, what her work space is like and share what your is like. This way you can each visualize the other when e-mailing or talking on the phone.

    –Three top goals for her professional life, her personal life, and her spiritual life.



  32. Phil on October 15, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    >1) Do you understand the concept of author branding, and where this novel would place you in terms of expected future novels?

    2) How long do you need to write a novel from start to final revision? 6 months? 1 year? 2?

    3) How much do you enjoy the revision process? How much time and effort do you put into revising?

    4) What sort of online presence do you have? How many visits does your blog get per month? How many followers on Twitter do you have?

    5) How good is your social media kung-fu? Do you understand the value it can bring your efforts to promote your book?

    6) How aware are you of changes taking place in the publishing industry? The current state of the industry? The rise of ebooks vs the potential decline of hardbacks, etc, and what that could mean for you 5 or 10 years down the road?



  33. Ariana Richards on October 15, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    >there was a question an old manager of mine asked all her employees, and I thought it was very important, but I'd expand on it just a little. Two parts:

    What motivates you (pick one)?
    Praise
    Money
    Freedom
    Autonomy

    and

    Place the below in order of priority:
    Family
    Writing
    Day Job

    Those two things can tell you a lot about a person and how best to work with them (at least I think so ^_^)



  34. Nik on October 15, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    >Most of the above seem good to me, too. I'd also add – 'Do you believe your writing is precious or are you willing to be edited so it will shine more?' Something like that. If you can't accept helpful/useful editing suggestions, then the relationship isn't going to work, IMHO.
    Nik Morton



  35. Erica Vetsch on October 15, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >Fun idea! You could break the questions down into two parts, professional and personal (always realizing these run together.)

    Communication preferences, expectations, writing style (like how do you feel about deadlines. How long does it take you to write a novel. Do you have critique partners.)

    Personal questions like family life, outside job, interests, etc.

    And it would be super cool to know your answers to some of the questions, too, so that communication was a two-way street. 🙂



  36. Susan Bourgeois on October 15, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    >I would offer an area where clients can write an essay on their goals in the areas of writing or anything that's related to their writing.

    One person may have only one book of nonfiction that they choose to address.

    Another person may have created a brand with three books as a package for the future. Along with the three books they may have many concrete marketing ideas that work hand in hand with their books in order to build a brand.

    The person may have certain passions or gifts that can easily turn into additional opportunities such as a cooking show or cookbooks all stemming from the original series of books. The person may already know that they have a strong sales nature along with a strong marketing background.

    My point is that it's important to know that the writer may have a vision that's more than the initial book. That's part of the writer's creativity. It's there and it may start with one book but he/she can see the entire process and I feel the agent needs to see that vision also.

    I think it's important for an agent to ask if a book based on fiction has a commercial appeal that could appeal to the masses.

    An agent needs to know what type of fiction a writer is working on. Is it a book that's original? Does the writer see this book as a future movie? Is this one single book or does the writer have a series of books under this theme?

    From a personal standpoint, I need an agent who can do all of these things.



  37. Christi Goddard on October 15, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    >The answer so far have been pretty good. Knowing their expectations and capabilities would definitely be two of the most important things.

    Another thing to know would be their personality. Do they prefer frequent communication or just necessary communication? Do they want to be able to write the ideas they have or are they open to doing 'assignments' if asked? Are they planners and plotters or pantsers?

    Deadlines are a definite concern. I find focus much better when I have a time frame.



  38. Sharon A. Lavy on October 15, 2010 at 8:14 AM

    >Great answers here. Did anyone mention to question the writer what he/she is looking for in an agent. You had a post awhile back mentioning different agenting styles and got a lot of feedback where some would welcome editing help from an agent and others would want their writing to stand on it's own merits without advise from an agent.

    I would say whatever questions would help you know if you and this writer would be a good fit in expectations.

    (And you know sometimes it still won't work out, or would have and you didn't think it would~~such is life.)



  39. Jan Cline on October 15, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    >I would say that it might be helpful for you to know how I process information – my learning style. Each of us do it differently and it helps for others to understand how we function. Eases the frustration in communicating.
    The questionnaire is a great tool!



  40. Noelle Pierce on October 15, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    >Most of the questions by other commenters are great, and there were several I wouldn't have thought of. The only one that really came to mind for me was: How do you write? (alternately: What is your writing process?)

    I'm the type of person that needs deadlines or things don't get done. I don't do as well when I set my own deadlines, because I see those as more flexible. Case in point, I only just finished my dissertation, which should have taken a year to 18 months. In January, it will be 5 years from when I started it. BUT, during NaNo last year, I managed to write the 50k. I *need* deadlines. Other people really don't, and may work better without them. Knowing which category your clients fall under is good information.



  41. Cheryl Barker on October 15, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    >Another one to include might have to do with speed of writing: Are you a slow writer, a fast writer, or somewhere in between?



  42. A. Lockwood on October 15, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    >Lisa Jordan's questions are great! I think "Why do you want to write?" and "What is the one thing that keeps you writing?" are particularly important. Some authors are probably more interested in simply getting out the stories in their heads, others in making a difference in someone's life through writing, and others in connecting to the writing community. Pinpointing the overall goal might give a clue as to whether the author will be happiest at home, on tour, or at a conference. (Which might be a good question to ask directly.) To me, having the right balance of those activities would be a priority.



  43. Susan Helene Gottfried on October 15, 2010 at 6:55 AM

    >Best time of day and method to reach you. I can't tell you how many people consistently phone me before 11AM, even when I explicitly tell them I'm unavailable.



  44. Wendy Paine Miller on October 15, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    >Excellent idea!

    Lisa's questions were awesome. One about what the client expects from you could help you to clarify certain aspects of your role to that client.

    Dreams, ask them to try to put their vision in a statement, what do they picture five years from now, what is most rewarding/disappointing about the industry.

    And I like Katie's point, this could be wonderful for you to have for all of your current clients as well.

    And my personal favorite–what makes them laugh (this will help with stress relief when that's called for).

    Have a great weekend.
    ~ Wendy



  45. csmith on October 15, 2010 at 6:47 AM

    >I would ask one horrible question. "If you have a day job, what comes first, the day job or writing?"

    Then give them some space to explain why they've chosen whichever they've chosen.



  46. Peaches on October 15, 2010 at 6:33 AM

    >Ask them if they're comfortable with the concept of branding, as described in the previous post, or if they're interested in experimenting with more than one style and genre.



  47. Lisa Jordan on October 15, 2010 at 6:27 AM

    >Look at your clients as characters and ask those core questions that make them tick:

    What's your greatest dream in writing?
    What's your greatest fear in writing?
    Why do you want to write?
    What is the lie you believe about yourself as a writer?
    What is the one thing that keeps you writing?
    Which authors do you admire? Why?
    If you could talk with a deceased author, who would it be? Why?
    Which novel do you wish you had written? Why?

    At the 2009 ACFW conference, Debbie Macomber asked us to come up with five writing goals and to list them, no matter how unobtainable they may seem. You could have your clients list writing goals, and then help them put steps in place to meet those goals.

    I think a questionnaire is a terrific idea for new clients and those you already represent. 🙂



  48. Yvonne Osborne on October 15, 2010 at 6:26 AM

    >Have you traveled outside the country? If so, where?

    Do you have another novel in the works? Where do you see yourself in five years?

    How much time do you currently devote to your writing?

    Do you listen to the radio? Watch television?

    Who are a few of your favorite authors?

    What's on your nightstand?

    These are all questions that I think would tell you much about a person and their expectations.



  49. Jessica Nelson on October 15, 2010 at 6:11 AM

    >When I got my job, the manager gave me a sheet full of questions. Favorite books, food, movies, etc. It's for when we do sales well, for rewards and stuff, but I think something like that would help you know your clients more. Maybe how many books they've written, the genres, etc?

    Sounds like a great idea!



  50. Katie Ganshert on October 15, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    >That sounds like a really great idea! Are you going to give it to new clients or old ones too? I think it's not only good for the agent-client relationship, but also just good to get the author thinking long-term too.



  51. Anonymous on October 15, 2010 at 4:13 AM

    >I'd ask them what books they read, and what books they admire (often two very different categories) – because both will show trends of what they'll probably write themselves in the future. Ask whether they'd rather make a million dollars with their books or win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think those questions will tell them a lot about themselves.

    Louise Curtis



  52. Aimee L Salter on October 15, 2010 at 2:43 AM

    >I'm thinking from a business point of view you want to make sure your authors have realistic ideas about what YOU can sell for them, or achieve:

    In an ideal world / career, how many books would you have published in 5 years time?

    Do you plan or hope to diversify in genres?



I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

I sell. I negotiate. I coach. I brainstorm.

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