ME AND MY AGENT Maisie Chan and Alice Sutherland-Hawes

What happens AFTER an agent offers you representation? Maisie Chan offers some insight on how to interview an agent.

Everyone wants to know HOW you get an agent. But what happens after you have been offered representation? How do you know they are the right agent for you? Do you go into that first meeting with your prospective agent using only your intuition? Or do you go prepared to ask questions?
In March 2018, I decided to start submitting my novel 'Looking For Lily Wong' to agents. First, I approached Alice Sutherland-Hawes of the Madeline Milburn Literary, Film and TV Agency after she tweeted what kind manuscripts she was looking for. I knew my novel fit the ‘clean teen’ bill. Ten days after submitting to Alice, she offered me representation.

As you can imagine, such enthusiasm and quick response did influence my decision to go with Alice. However, I wanted to look professional and not simply sign on the dotted line without meeting her. I know some agents and their authors live in different countries and will rarely meet in person conducting their relationship online. But I knew I wanted to meet face to face.

So what do you ask when you meet your agent for the first time? 

Two of my friends who had signed with the same agency had told me that they didn’t ask any questions at all and just went with their intuition. I was quite taken aback, as I was constantly being told by fellow SCBWI members to be prepared when deciding on an agent.

I talked to a lot of agented children’s writers about what I should ask Alice. Everyone was very generous with their time and offered great advice. From these conversations, I was made aware that writing is a small world and it’s also a business (with humans who have egos), so people who have had negative experiences with agents or agencies might want to tell you their stories. So in the end, you have to listen or not, and then make an informed decision. You have to use your intuition, but also ask important questions too. Not only to see if you fit well into the agency and with your agent, but also so you can learn more about the business that you hope to enter into with a book deal.
Having listened to many people’s opinions (probably too many, if I am to be honest) I headed to London to meet my prospective agent.

Here is a list of the possible questions I wrote down to ask 

(some I didn’t ask when I was there)

1. What did you like about my novel?
2. Do you have any publishers in mind that may be a good fit?
3. What is the market like for a book like mine?
4. What is your submission strategy? Big rounds of editors or smaller focussed rounds?
5. What kind of agent would you say you are? More sales driven or editorial?
6. How do you work on revisions with clients?
7. Will you be there to carry on with me if the first book doesn’t publish?
8. How many clients have you signed? I didn’t ask this question because I knew Alice was a new agent and was building her list.
9. How many deals have you brokered? I didn’t ask this question for the same reason as above.
10. How often do you want to keep in touch and by which method (e-mail? phone?)
11. Do you check in with me even when you’re not actively submitting?
12. How do you work with clients as they’re generating new ideas?
13. What happens if you leave the agency?
14. There seems to be an appetite by publishers for ‘own voices’ that focus on specific aspects of the ‘ethnic experience’ (for example: gangs, radicalisations, etc.) How can you ensure that I don’t always fall into the ‘Chinese’ experience category? *

*This might be useful for BAME authors, but it can be tailored for specific genres, so for example, if I want to write for adults in the future – will the agency be able to submit your other writing? It’s more about being pigeon-holed as one kind of writer when you might have aspirations to write a variety of books for different markets.

I was glad I had prepared for my meeting with my agent as I understood more about how agents submit to publishers and also where my own work might be placed in the market. Alice says that she goes with what the writer brings to the first meeting, so if they have a list of questions she is happy to go through them or if they prefer to have an informal chat; she is also fine beginning there.

She was surprised by my question about what happens if she leaves the agency, which I felt was one of the most important questions to ask. I found out that you sign with the agency and not the actual agent. The whole ethos of the agency felt right, it was small and personal and I looked up some of the writers they had already signed. I liked the look of many of them and that also helped me make my decision.

Alice was very quick to get back to me after I submitted and was excited to read more. She was also interested in any other ideas I had for other books right from the beginning. I was once told that an agent has to love your book as they have to talk and talk about it and I felt Alice would definitely be able to do that from meeting her. I was concerned about her being a new agent who was building her list but again, her youthful approach is perfect as she understands the teen and children’s market very well and as she grows as an agent, so I will grow as an author.

Thanks to those from SCBWI who spent time answering my questions on agents – you know who you are!

Maisie Chan is currently editing her middle grade novel  Lychees and Bingo Balls. She runs the Bubble Tea Facebook group for writers of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent who live in the UK. She also facilitates the Glasgow Children's Writers Group. She has recently been commissioned by Scoop Magazine, the Human Values Foundation and has a story coming out in the Ladybird Tales of Superheroes in September 2019. Previously, she has been published by Franklin Watts (Hachette), Penguin and Myriad Editions. As well as being a published author, Maisie has taught at Arvon, performed Chinese storytelling as Chinese Goddess Guan Yin and lead creative writing groups for children and adults for Writing West Midlands.


  1. From one agency buddy to another, thank you for answering all my questions too. I think it's really important to speak to others before taking such a huge step and I agree, meeting the interested agent in person is necessary, for me anyway. p.s love your title! I can't wait to read your book!

  2. This is really interesting and a great selection of questions. Some of which I wouldn't have thought about beforehand. Thanks, Maisie x


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