I’ve been reading your posts about questions a writer should ask an agent before accepting an offer, and finding it very enlightening! What I’m wondering now is, is it acceptable for an author to contact an agent and ask some of these questions before submitting work, particularly if the agency is new? I’ve been to the agency’s webpage and they seem ‘on the level’ near as I can tell, but since they don’t represent any authors yet (or haven’t yet posted the representations on their website), I can’t tell if they deal with the publishing houses I’m interested in and have nothing to compare my own work to in terms of exactly what they might be interested in.
My first concern isn’t necessarily whether or not this agent represents the types of work you are writing; my concern is whether or not this agency is legitimate. You say that they seem on the level as far as you can tell, but do the agents have any publishing experience? What are they doing, or have they done, to learn about the business, network with editors, understand publishing contract language, etc.? It’s one thing to find someone who calls herself an agent, it’s another to find an agent who can actually grow your career. The best place to go to learn about the legitimacy of an agency is Writer Beware. Here you can find a comprehensive list of things to look out for when evaluating a new agency.
I wasn’t given much information other than what you said above, so I can’t say for sure what their Web site might look like or who they are. A red flag for me, though, is if they don’t have a list of genres they are interested in representing and/or houses they have contacts with. It’s tough. I was a new agent once and I know what it’s like to put up a practically empty Web site. However, I also know that what helped me really build my career was the fact that I did have a publishing background, that I did have contacts in the business, and that I did attend regular publishing meetings and events to not only network but also to learn more about the industry. It’s amazing what you can learn about things like contract negotiation and publishing houses by simply talking to other agents.
Okay, back to your first question: I think you could easily call the agency. You can always call, but I don’t necessarily know that they’ll call you back. The truth is that you can query them and ask all of the questions if they call to offer representation. You can always say no. This is a good question for readers, and even some of our own clients. For those of you who queried or signed with an agency that might have been fairly new at the time, what made you comfortable doing so, and if you avoided querying a particular new agency, what were the red flags for you?