How to Check A Potential Agent’s References

Everything about getting an agent publishing is daunting. From outlining a new project, to writing “THE END”, to querying and beyond. It can all be terrifying and exhilarating but one of the things I was nervous about was checking my offering agent’s references. Our emails had been positive and promising, our chat on the phone was comfortable and enlightening. As soon as I hung up I thought, “Yeah, I want to sign with her.”

But it’s always, always smart to check an offering agent’s references. If the agent offering to represent you doesn’t offer a list of their clients for you to chat with, it’s fine (and good!) to ask for one. That does not make you difficult, or demanding, it just means that you’re looking out for your best interests.

Checking an agents’ references is good for a few reasons. On one end of the spectrum, they could be a schmagent—do they charge a reading fee? Did they start their agency alone, with no prior agenting or editorial experience? Those are huge red flags. On the other end of the spectrum, they could be a superstar agent, but have a completely different communication style than you want/need, or are not editorial and you know you want an editorial agent, or just have a vision for your book that doesn’t align with your own, et cetera, et cetera.

To me, checking in with a my now-agent’s clients wasn’t about vetting her so much as it was trying to figure out if we would work well together, and if I would be happy with her over the course of my career. I did a lot of googling, checked in with my most-trusted resources (read: writer friends), and eventually compiled a list of questions that were important to me. As ever, your mileage may vary, but here is the list of questions I ultimately settled on asking my offering agent’s clients:

  • What’s their response time like for emails?
    • How long does it take for them to read and give feedback on a new MS?
    • Have they been responsive re: any problems that might have come up or questions you have?
  • What’s their editorial style?
    • When they give you feedback, is it clear? Do you get edit letters or in-line comments, etc?
    • If you start revising and find that things aren’t working, have they been willing to reassess?
    • Have they been open to brainstorming new projects with you?
  • If you’ve been on submission with them, how many rounds of revisions did you do before submitting?
  • How was the submission process in terms of discussing publishers or editors beforehand? How communicative have they been while on sub?
  • Is there anything they don’t do that you wish they did or expected them to?

Overall, I wanted to know if the client was happy with their agent, because every agent-client relationship is going to be different. And you need to keep your best interests in mind. Good luck!