What to Expect When You Finally Get an Agent (or who wins most annoying client award)

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.

Image by Edvard Munch

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

    Image by Vanessa Bell

  • 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!

Image by Keith Haring

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…


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31 responses to “What to Expect When You Finally Get an Agent (or who wins most annoying client award)

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  4. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. I think I speak for a lot of us when I ask what happens if after you’ve signed a client, you are not so excited about their follow up manuscript(s).

    And for the record, I’m a hahahaha person as well. Hmm … I’m beginning to see a trend here among your minions …

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  6. The haha vs LOL discussion has completely distracted me from whatever I was going to write. YES to hahaha, or occasionally a nice succinct ha! with an exclamation point after it. LOL is fun to use ironically, but the reader has to know you to get the ironic intent.
    I am also eager to ask questions about the process of waiting for my ms to be processed, but it’s hard to find a balance between being communicative and in-your-face intrusive.

  7. Wow, I got a bit dizzy reading all about the steps the agent goes through etc. I guess that’s why I love my agent, because otherwise I’d be on the floor in a vertiginous funk rather than writing. It’s still hard not to be insecure, though. Insecurity seems to be part of the writer’s wiring.

    The team aspect of this relationship can’t be stressed enough. So, if one part of the team is dropping the ball (or whacking it in the net, for tennis buffs like me) that can be deeply disappointing. But the best doubles teams whisper encouragement to their partners, rather than screaming and berating them for that easy volley that went “splat.”

  8. Linda – Is it out of line to simply come out and ask your agent what the next steps are and what to expect? It seems to me that open communication would be best.

  9. alka11217

    Yes. Thanks for this, Linda.
    What I particularly LOVE in this post is how personal it is. It’s about you, your process, your approach. Like you say from the start, not all agents are created equal or do things exactly the same way. But I know from past experience the ones worth teaming up with are as ‘pedal to the metal’ as you are. I had the misfortune to think I won the golden ticket a long time past, when my first MG manuscript was represented by a very established agent. She had Caldecott winners, Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, friggin’ Nobel winners, in her stable. And she wanted me? Gee Whiz!!! What company!!! What an early kick of validation!!! Well, after three years of basically no action, little personal contact and very few submissions, I bolted.
    My question would be: do you think the hungrier an agent, the harder they work? Maybe the more newbie the agent, the more passionate they are across the board? The more enthusiastic and energetically they’ll work for ALL their clients, even the ones that aren’t jetting off to Stockholm to pick up their prizes?

  10. Okay…
    Here’s my official question:
    Even though you (Linda) were very clear that I could send you an email or ask for a phone call whenever I had questions–and that you encouraged me to come to you with them–I felt like it was different once the manuscript was sent in and in your hands. It felt like the ball was in your court and I wasn’t sure if I should let that run its course (wait for you to get back to me with what would happen next) or if I could start asking you about what I planned to do next.
    So, I’m thinking there might be some newbies like me who are thinking “Am I getting ahead of myself and bothering her when she’s clearly busy already trying to get through the first steps we agreed on?”
    Is it okay to come to you, when you’re in the beginning stages of working on a manuscript, with questions/requests for advice and opinions on what we’re working on next or should be doing?
    (I don’t even know if this makes sense. I feel like I should’ve written a query-ish letter for this post just so I could articulate it in less than 500 words. Sorry. I’m prolific, to a fault. For real.)

  11. Thank-you, Linda, that’s just what we writers need to hear and know. It is frustrating, sometimes, struggling to get our voices heard and a lot of the time that frustration gets placed as blame on the shoulders of the publishing industry. Unfairly, in most cases. I suppose it’s like any other industry be it retail, or restaurant etc, one bad apple spoils the basket. And there are a few bad apples out there. We just have to remember they are not indicative of the whole. This blog goes a long way to proving that.
    It’s that “team” effort that I look forward to the most.

  12. I love this post! That you so much for sharing with us what goes on from an agent’s perspective–it’s not an easy job, I’m sure, but it’s one that we all (with and without agents) truly appreciate.

  13. Thank you, Ms. Epstein, for that very informative post on the incredibly busy life of an agent. It just serves to confirm to myself (as a newer writer) that I will be better served with being part of a team like you describe rather than trying to go it alone. I manage a martial arts training facility during the day and write picture books, middle grade & young adult novels at night. I would not expect you to be an expert in the arena of martial arts (unless of course you ARE one in your spare time? ;~), nor do I see myself as an expert where the publishing industry is concerned.

    My question is this:

    When an agent says they want to see a manuscript once it is complete, how long is that request good for? I submitted the first page of my young adult novel to an agent query contest and an agent requested the manuscript. When I explained the novel was a writing in progress, she said she still wanted to see it when I’m finished but I am wondering just how long that request for my manuscript lasts? My novel is in the early stages and it might take me six months or longer before I feel it is ready to present to any agent for consideration. Do agents usually wait that long? How would I even present myself to this agent after that long a time? Would she even remember her original request? I wonder if you have ever had to deal with this type of situation. I’m sure other writers out there would be interested in your advice on how to handle this in the right way.

    Happy Holidays and thank you for all you do for the writing community!

    Donna L Martin

    • Send it! You can remind the agent that she was interested in seeing it when it was complete, and perhaps what contest it was. I would never fault a writer for taking their time writing. I don’t think those offers expire. I’ve been contacted by authors a year or two after we first connected and later signed them as a client.

      • Thank you for your input. My original thoughts were that I would sent the requested pages when they are ready and reference the original contest where I received the agent’s request. It’s heartwarming to know that I am not that far off base in my thinking!

        Thank you again,

        Donna L Martin

    • Wow–you describe exactly where I was last spring. I won the same thing from an agent contest and I ended up taking much longer than I anticipated to write the novel (the one Linda ended up offering me representation for). I sent the agent an email when my estimated “deadline” was coming close to let her know that I’d been hard at work but the novel wasn’t yet ready. She responded that she’d be there when it was ready and to take my time.
      Unfortunately, when I did send it months later, I never heard back. I’m not sure if the additional months had anything to do with it or if it was something else. However, I did keep in touch throughout the process and I’m thinking in a lot of cases, that would probably work for a lot of agents…right? I’d assume if they know you’ve been working on it and then you end up delivering a great polished manuscript, that would likely be a good thing.

      • Thank you, M-E for your input. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out here dealing with this type of situation. Congrats on being picked up by an agent! I’m crossing my fingers that one day I will be able to say the same…;~)

        Donna L Martin

  14. Yay! We all win! GO TEAM! And wow, you are busy. So, in case you missed it on twitter (where I sometimes work)…
    Because I love and appreciate you so much, I’ve written a little form rejection you can use over the holidays to help ease your query stress:

    Dear Author,
    Thanks so much for thinking of me with this, however, I’m blinded by the talent of my current clients to the degree that I cannot even see this query.
    All best,

    HAHAHAHA! HAHA. haha. ha. ha? ahem. anyway.

    • I don’t share all that to point out how busy I am, but so folks understand what can be expected from their agent by seeing what the agent is already doing and figure out for themselves whether they’re being a pain in the ass or just an insecure client. 😉

      Thanks for the form rejection. Lovely holiday gift!

    • And BTW, this is my favorite part: “HAHAHAHA! HAHA. haha. ha. ha? ahem. anyway.” I keep re-reading it and laughing.

    • I love everyone who actually types out “hahaha” instead of “lols”. I’m a fan of the “hahas”. I’ve never used “lol” in my life.

    • We should start a “lol sucks but haha rocks” group.
      I feel like “lol” is a shortcut. Like it doesn’t actually mean what it says it means. No one’s actually laughing when they write “lol”. But a nice trail of “ahaha” or “Muahaha” or “AHAHAHAHA! OMG AHAHAHA!” is so much more expressive.

      • Yes, M-E! But what about LOLZ? I’m not sure there’s any such thing as a published YA author who hasn’t used LOLZ, if just to be intentionally ridiculous. This is something to consider, along with the repetitive S or Z as an ending consonant. For emphasiss! Yess! Thiss happenzz! And then, of course, there’s LOLZZZ! Which, to me, says “laughing narcoleptic.”

        It’s heartening to see that we’re all able to focus on the ultra important takeaways from this post. It says a lot about us as writers.