PART ONE (of a multi-part blog post)
So, you hang up the phone after getting The Call from the person who is now your AGENT (OMG! OMG! I have an AGENT!!!), the ink is dry on the agency agreement which legally makes it true (Pinch me! I have an agent?!), but you haven’t received a rule book on how to behave next. As with most relationships, your relationship with your agent depends upon who your agent is! What your agent will now expect of you will also depend upon who your agent is! So although I can answer some of the questions my newest newbie client M-E Girard posed in the previous blog post, I don’t know if my answers are universal to all agent/client relationships.
In order to understand what I expect of my clients, I think it’s important to understand what agents actually do, how they spend their time, or more importantly, how I spend my time. These are some of the tasks that fill my days:
- of course, reading and responding to queries
- which can lead to reading the first 1-20 pages attached to those queries
- which sometimes leads to reading between 10 and the-whole-thing of the requested manuscripts and then responding to those
- and then I have to also read what’s in bookstores, so I know the market
- of course, reading my clients’ manuscripts and giving them initial notes about what I think
- which leads to reading my clients’ manuscripts after they revise, and giving them more notes on what I think
- or sometimes sending their manuscript out to a reader, to get a second opinion, because by now I can be too close to the manuscript, after reading it about 3 times already
- so then that leads to reading the reader’s report and somehow incorporating it into a semi-coherent editorial letter for my client, including my thoughts and the reader’s thoughts (if I think they’re valid)
- but sometimes there are glitches and the reader quits, so that means I have to do all the things one needs to do to hire someone new (i.e. post notices, interviews, test reader reports, etc…)
- when a manuscript is ready, I have to write a submission letter, which needs to be pithy and engaging
- I have to make sure the manuscript that I will send to editors is a clean copy containing my correct contact information
- and I have to build a submission list which means I’ve had to
- meet with editors, over lunch or coffee or a quick meeting in their office, to get to know them a bit so I know what kinds of projects they’re looking for, what kind of people they are, what interests them
- and I’ve had to hang out on Twitter or Facebook or on blogs to see what some of these editors have been talking about or thinking about or wishing for
- and I’ve had to to do research on Publisher’s Marketplace to see who has bought what, how many projects they’ve bought, what types, about what, so I know who to send a particular manuscript to and who not to send that manuscript to
- after I’ve built the submission list, I start pitching, which means I pick up the telephone and start calling editors to talk to them about a manuscript
- which entails repeated phone calls until I get a human being on the other end of the phone
- after enthusiastically sharing about the fantastic manuscript I want them to buy, if they’re interested, I send it, attached to the brilliant submission letter I’ve written
- of course I have more than one client, so I also need to follow up on the other manuscripts I’ve already sent out to editors, which entails phone calls and/or reading and writing more emails to editors as well as my clients (because I keep my clients apprised of how it’s going)
- and when I sell a manuscript there’s the bevy of emails and phone calls back and forth as the contract is negotiated
- and following up on clients getting their advances and royalties, etc…
- and then there are foreign sales
- and dramatic rights
- and this list could go on and on and on from here, so I’m going to quit now…
So, fine. You get it, right? There are a ton of things an agent does, some of which haven’t even begun to be addressed here. What didn’t I include? I didn’t include providing encouragement when a client gets lost in the sauce of a new work in progress, or hand holding through rejections, or feedback on a new idea, or suggestions about marketing a soon-to-be-released book, or comments on blogging, or… Wait! Stop! Hold on!
What do I expect of my clients? Patience, when I’m slow in getting back to them about their manuscripts. Honesty, when I ask them how it’s going. Perseverance, when they’re writing or revising. Understanding, when I forget things or misplace things. But also, I need my clients to just get it: We are a team. I do all those things that I do in order to sell their work, so that we can see the manuscript turn into a book and both make some money. They do what they do, hopefully toward the same end.
If it’s helpful for a client to write a pitch so they can clarify for themselves what it is they have written, then they should go ahead. If a synopsis works for a client to get clear on where they’re going with a project, then they should go ahead. If a query letter makes a client feel better or more confident about sending me a new manuscript, then they should go ahead. But just know, on my end, if my client sends me something to read, I read it. If my client needs to talk to me on the phone at any point in the process, we set up a time to speak. If my client feels the need to email back and forth with me about something, we email. I like communicating with my clients! I mean, I picked them because I like what they have to say and how they’ve said it and I want to work my ass off so the whole world can read it. For crying out loud: We are a team!
So who wins the Most Annoying Client award? A client who doesn’t write, doesn’t communicate, and doesn’t understand that: We are a team. And all you other folks who think you might be vying for that position? You’re just colorful, complex, thoughtful (and sometimes insecure) characters. And I LOVE those kind of characters!
So people (my clients and others), feel free to ask me specific questions about this issue (in the comments section) and I’ll answer them in the next blog post (not specific to your case, but more specific than this general blog post.)
Now go and write something…