We’re excited to feature a guest post from mentor Damyanti Biswas as she announces the release of YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN. Congratulations, Damyanti!
It takes days, weeks, months (in some cases, years) to have a literary agent show interest in your work. It is natural to be excited when one does, but you need to remember that signing a contract with an agent is all about a partnership.
Your contract with the agent is a business arrangement, because an agent takes a cut from your book proceeds, so you want to tie up with someone you can trust, get along very well with on a professional level, and who would do the best job of representing you.
Good agents who are interested in your work would expect to be vetted, just as much as they’re vetting you.
Before signing up with an agent here are a few things you should know about them, hopefully without having to ask, with an internet and social media search, and via the writer’s grapevine:
- The size of their agency, and how long they have been in business.
- The authors who have worked, or are working, with the agent.
- Their recent sales.
- If they’re writers themselves.
- If they work with co-agents in various territories.
- Whether they have staff doing their admin work.
Some questions need to be asked, though.
While asking them, keep in mind what you need in an agent: someone who is hands-on with editing your manuscript or an agent who only concerns themselves with the business aspects, for instance.
- What makes you interested in my manuscript? Would you represent just this manuscript or others that I write as well?
The answer will tell you a lot about whether you are a match for this agent. If she gets your story, and loves it as a reader as well as an agent, chances are she will like other things you write as well, but it is always great to make sure. Also ask whether they are comfortable with you switching genres.
- What changes do you foresee making to the manuscript before it goes on submission?
Not many manuscripts are absolutely submission-ready, but it is important to know your agent’s vision of your book, and that it matches with yours. You need to be happy with the number of changes you need to make, and understand that you and your agent are on the same page. This will also tell you this agent’s working style: whether they would like to dig in to the manuscript to help polish it up, or just help you find a home for it.
- Which publishers would you send the manuscript to?
Any good agent would have a list of editors in mind for your book–and it would give you an idea of what sort of publication your book might find.
- How frequently would you update me during the submission process?
The waiting is always the hardest part in the submission process. Make sure you and your agent agree on the frequency of updates, whether it is every response, or once a month–the important part is you both need to be happy with the frequency of your communications.
- What’s the best way to communicate with you?
Some agents prefer email, others prefer the phone, most go for a mixture of the two. Asking this question tells you what communication style would work best, and make things easier once you enter the contract. You don’t want your agent to feel bothered, or yourself to feel annoyed.
- What would be the process for transfer of the royalties to my account?
This might sound premature, but in a globalized world, it is best to understand the timelines and procedures in order for you to avoid grief or awkward situations in future.
- What happens if this manuscript does not sell or if you do not like my next book?
We all want our manuscripts to sell, but it happens oftener than we think that the book does not. In such cases, different agencies have different policies. Most have a standard clause of breaking contract if the manuscript does not sell for two years. This is why it is important that you keep writing another manuscript while the agent hunt is ongoing. Your prospective agent’s answer to this question would tell you a lot about the agent and the agency.
The questions you ask an agent would depend on who you are as a writer, what you want in an agent, and how much your research on them has already revealed.
A few things to keep in mind while asking questions:
- These questions should only be asked when a clear offer of representation has been made.
- There’s no perfect agent–only an agent who is perfect for you. If you have the privilege of choosing between agents, make very sure you go with the one most aligned with your career goals.
- And if it is just one agent who offers, do not sign up unless you feel you will be okay with them in the long term. Agents want to work with clients who are happy working with them.
- Always be courteous and professional in all your interactions. There’s no reason to be intimidated, because after all, the agent wants to work with you.
- It is not possible in many cases, but try and get in a meeting in person with a prospective literary agent before making your decision. This is a business relationship, but it WILL help if you get along on a personal level as well.
Celebrate an offer of representation—it is not easy to get one in today’s increasingly competitive publishing world. But once you’re done with the champagne, arm yourself with these questions and get ready to vet the agent who will work with you.
Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.
Damyanti’s new release…
It’s a dark, smog-choked new Delhi winter. Indian American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is in a long-standing affair with ambitious police commissioner Jatin Bhatt – an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives.
Jatin’s home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he appears to be, and his wife has too much on her plate to pay attention to either husband or son. But Jatin refuses to listen to anyone, not even the sister to whom he is deeply attached. Across the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags, faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all …
In a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin must make some hard choices. But what he unearths is only the tip of the iceberg. Together with Anjali he must confront old wounds and uncover long-held secrets before it is too late.
Damyanti’s debut literary crime novel, YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN releases today from Simon & Schuster India