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When a Famous Literary Agent Delegates Your Book Proposal

book writing coach lisa tenerOnce in a while, I hear from a client who signs with an upper echelon literary agent only to have that agent hand the project down to a less senior staff member. This is not a problem in itself as the staff member has more time to implement work on your proposal and, ideally, the big name agent will provide guidance and weigh in.

However, sometimes the greener agent isn’t as excited about your project as her others since she didn’t choose it. She may also feel less comfortable with your project than others because she hasn’t taken ownership of it. Maybe the senior agent isn’t providing enough direction. Maybe the junior agent is just overworked.

I received an e-mail last week from, let’s call her Janine. Janine had signed with a very famous literary agent who isn’t doing much personal work on the projects he brings in. He’d assigned a junior agent who seemed to be doing very little. The junior agent’s promises devolved. The number of planned submissions grew smaller. Deadlines came and went.

Janine wrote me for support during the process. I encouraged her to share her concerns with the literary agent who originally signed her. She had to do this twice, but it worked. After the second call to the famous literary agent, the second agent set up a phone call and got to work. By the time of the call, the agent was fully engaged and had sent the proposal to a large number of publishers–more than Janine had expected.

While you do not want to bug your literary agent–agents are some of the busiest and most over-worked people on the planet–there are times you need to be assertive and make sure your proposal is getting the attention it deserves. As Janine pointed out in her e-mail, “I think it’s important to not let too much time go by before doing this. I went to [famous agent] twice, and I think my new agent knew I’d do it again if she dropped the ball.”

questions about literary agentsI have seen a similar situation not work out quite as well. To avoid such a problem in the first place, here are seven questions to ask a prospective literary agent, once they offer to represent you:

  • Ask any literary agent whether they will be the only person on the project, the primary person or more of a guide to a less senior agent.
  • What aspects will the top agent handle?
  • Ask to speak to the junior agent before you sign.
  • Ask how they feel about your book.
    • What excites them about it?
    • What do they think needs changing in your book or proposal?
    • What’s their vision for the book?

The junior literary agent should sound excited and have  a vision for your book. If they don’t, this may not be a match for you, no matter how famous the first agent.

Have a question about finding a literary agent or how to choose a literary agent? Ask your questions here.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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