A Day in the Life of an Agent

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Some jobs look pretty much the same one day as they do the next. That’s seldom true for a literary agent. One day can be all about phone calls. Another day I might not speak on the phone once. One day might be focused on negotiating a contract or readying a proposal. Another could consist of a single emergency that derails the day as I look for a fix.

For this post, I’ve arbitrarily picked a day from last week to give you a glimpse into a typical day in the life of an agent.

7:00 am–Rise and bleary-eyed feed the dog, eat breakfast, dress and take a quick walk. (Confession: Not every day starts with exercise. That depends on how early I start phone calls, the weather, and, well, my inclination.)

9:00 am–At my desk and implementing my new discipline of spending no more than 30 minutes on social media. I check to make sure our blog has posted, read the blog and comments; zip over to Facebook and catch up on the latest news on my feed, adding a post of my own; move on to Twitter where I read any direct messages, glimpse at my Twitter feed and do a bit of tweeting and retweeting.

9:30 am–Read priority emails from clients, editors and other agents. Mark those that guy sleeping at deskwill require considerable time (attached proposal, contract to negotiate, or complex situation with a client). Respond to all priority emails that can be answered fairly quickly. (Since more than a hundred emails that require responses await me each morning, even a quick pass through them can take several hours.)

11:00 am–Call a client for a “catch-up” conversation. We haven’t talked in several months and have on our agenda:

  • Update each other on developments on a film option for a series.
  • Strategize upcoming meetings with film producers for a movie that will go into production later in the year.
  • Look over list of possible book projects for the client to develop. Prioritize the list and brainstorm strong hooks for each.

12:00 pm–Work on emails that had required careful consideration before responding.

12:50 pm–Wendy Lawton, who is at a conference, calls to ask me the title of a book she wants to talk about during her workshop but can’t recall the exact wording.

1:00 pm–Reschedule weekly phone call with Mary Keeley because she is at the computer store, trying to get her laptop to function correctly. Take the unexpected break in my day to work on a publisher’s contract. I’ve already spent an hour on it the day before and had marked clauses that I wanted to suggest changes on. Work hard on alternate wording and what I want to delete, along with providing the contracts administrator with my rationale for the changes. Don’t make it through the process before my next scheduled call…

2:00 pm–An executive editor calls me to explain a legal complication he’s encountered regarding a project he made an offer on a week ago. He tells me his idea for a solution, and I respond with why I think the solution has its own problems. We agree that he’ll return to his legal department to express my concerns.

2:15 pm–I take a quick break to make a pot of tea, which is an afternoon office tradition. Often the mail has arrived at this point. I look over any payments for our clients to be sure they’re correct and to mark the monies on our payment tracking sheet. If royalty statements had been in the mail, I would set those aside to study and to make sure all titles had been reported when I had time to concentrate.

2:30 pm–I look over the proposal and sample chapters for a potential new client for one of our agency’s agents. I see several pluses but also have some concerns about whether the writer is ready for representation. I create an email and send it to the agent for us to discuss later.

3:00 pm–Time for my weekly call with Rachelle Gardner. We discuss some of the challenges we’ve each been facing (including my concerns about the contract I’m working on) and brainstorm ways to deal with them. Being part of a team is an important aspect of how our agency functions; none of us has to face complex situations alone.

4:00 pm–Read a client’s fiction synopsis to determine if the idea is strong enough for the client to move on to sample chapters. Thumbs up on this one!

5:00 pm–Back to emails, checking on new ones and reading lower priority ones from earlier in the day.

6:00 pm–Take a dinner break for the dog and me.

7:00 pm–Back to work on the contract, finishing my suggested changes and emailing it to the publisher’s contracts administrator.

8:00 pm–Quit work and watch a recording of The Good Wife, one of my favorite TV shows.

9:00 pm–Read a few chapters in a quirky book a friend recommended, American Hippopotamus.

10:00 pm–Head for bed.

What stands out to you about my day?

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53 Responses

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  1. And I thought you lounged on a couch all day, eating bon-bons, and having the phone answered by minions…”She may call you back…”
    * Seriously, the first question that comes to mind was pegged by the comment “talk with other agents” – if it’s not proprietary, I’d love to know what sort of intra-agency communications there are…because the thought never really occurred to me, that such comms would exist on more than a social level.
    * The second question…who sets the dinner menu? You, or the dog? or do you take turns?
    * And now you may return to the chaise and the bon-bons.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, agents do talk about challenges in the industry, ask if someone has a connection with a publishing house an agent has a project for but has not worked with before, etc. We face the same challenges and help each other when we can.
      My dog, Murphy, is a total foodie but not picky. The important aspect of dinner for him is that it be served on time. And his internal clock ticks very loudly.
      Now, back to those bon-bons…

      • Janet, it’s nice to hear that you do have collegiality with agents from other agencies…I had formed the impression that it was rather a cut-throat business (something like academia, as I learned to my dismay).
        * Love to see a picture of Murphy, some day! My Service-Dog-In-Chief, Ladron, does give approval on meals, because if I can’t finish my single meal of the day, she gets it.
        * And speaking of food and literary stuff, here’s a groaner of a joke…
        * A New York lit industry dude was captured by cannibals, long ago, and was asked by the headman what he did for a living, as the cooking-pot was being warmed.
        “I’m an associate editor” he said.
        “Well,” was the reply, “it’s your lucky day. You’re about to be promoted to editor-in-chief.”

      • Janet Grant says:

        Andrew, congeniality with other agents certainly exists, but only with select agents. We all know which individuals don’t require a dark alley to do you in.
        I post pics of Murphy on Facebook. I just sent you a friend request. How come we’ve never connected on FB anyway?
        That joke, well, thanks for the groan.

      • Yeah, Janet, watch out for the sharks!
        * I will look for Murphy’s pictures…thanks!
        * Honestly…I was reticent in sending you a friend request because I have some idea of how busy you guys are. You have so many social media balls to juggle, what with clients, researching potential clients, and other industry professionals…along with everything else your job entails. I didn’t want to add to the load.

      • Janet Grant says:

        While you and I connect via blog comments, now you can see how dang cute my doggy is. I know you’re an appreciator of sweet-spirited dog pals.

      • Murphy’s a handsome Aussie! We have two among our gang…Indie and Megan The Tank (she’s BIG). That Aussie smile melts my heart every time!

      • Janet Grant says:

        I love Aussies. They’re so emotionally attuned to everyone around them but independent minded.

      • Independent-minded…you’ve got that right! Indie’s full name is Mr. Independent. We knew him from birth…Barbara helped with the whelping, and this little rascal kept crawling away on his own. He was originally “Little MISS Independent”, after the song…until Barb realized he was a boy.
        * He and his sister have invented a game…they get Ladron, my Red Heeler service dog, between them, and bat her back and forth (she enjoys the game). It’s called “Heelerball”.

      • Janet Grant says:

        Only dogs could appreciate such a game. Murphy saunters up to me periodically and taps me hard on the leg with his nose. “Hey, remember me? I need attention, and I need it NOW!” I call him my football player because he likes direct contact.

      • Haha, that’s so cute. I’ll bet Murphy is a welcome distraction sometimes. Help you step out of the box for a few moments. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Janet Grant says:

        Yes, he does manage to keep me hopping. It’s my job to let him in and out of the house, a game he plays regularly. I’m his fetch-it guy…Hey, wait, isn’t he supposed to fetch when I tell him to!?

      • Not only dogs…I once had a black and tan coonhound named Atascadero (yes, after the California town) who had a game called, “I will come running up and jump, and you can catch me!”
        * Trouble was, he weighed about 80 pounds, and the top of his arc was higher than my head…and he’d make the run-up silently, so my sixth sense would call me to turn and there would be this huge furry mass descending onto me, ears flapping, huge grin…and often as not I would be knocked flat.
        * And Pit Bulls have a game called “Rocket”, in which they will pretend to be very interested in something on the ground until you bend over them, and then they’ll make a delighted leap, straight up. They have very hard heads.

      • Janet Grant says:

        They do keep us entertained…and challenged.

      • Challenged is right. Have a Heeler and a Pit sharing service dog duties, and your day gets scheduled. If they think I have been at the computer too long, and Ladron will be tapping me on the knee with a box of cigars…”Uh, Dad? Rest? NOW.” (Syl is the muscle…she will push me away if I don’t cooperate.)

  2. Mary Kay Moody says:

    What stands out? The long hours you work; how thorough, competent, and considerate you seem; and that apparently you work so hard you skip lunch! I have to say, I’d be fading long before that 2:15 tea break at such a pace. Thank you, Janet, for pulling the curtain back on some of the mystery. And take care of your hard-working self! Blessings on you.

  3. Contract writing . . . not the usual topic for this writer’s blog. It would be reassuring to know that my agent was making every word count in the contract, making sure those words work for me and not against me. It’s the legal version of “blessed are the peacemakers.”

    • Janet Grant says:

      Working on contracts requires the most concentration of everything an agent does (can’t let the mind loll even for a second) and the most complex. An agent has to figure out what changes to suggest that will work for her client as well as for the publisher. It’s often a case of finding a spot in between what the publisher wants and what serves the author.

  4. Becky McCoy says:

    There’s a theme of discipline and commitment to your clients woven through your day. As someone preparing to submit queries and proposals, it makes me excited and hopeful to find an agent who will be invested in me and my book.

    • Janet Grant says:

      A good day is one in which I stay focused the entire day and not allowing myself to slip off to Facebook for awhile to alleviate the stress and intensity. But working on behalf of my clients is very satisfying. I wish you the best on your agent search.

  5. Hi Janet,

    One thing that stands out to me is limiting yourself to thirty minutes on social media. Last night when I went to bed, I thought how to make my morning more productive and limiting my social media time was a top priority.

    Thanks for sharing your day with us.

  6. The amount of e-mails, yikes! I do know that I am much more likely to check back in with the blog if it is your day, because you try to comment and answer people’s questions. Thank you for that and for the peek behind the curtain. I find these kinds of posts so very interesting.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Yes, emails can rule the day, and the week and the month. Next thing I know, hours have been swallowed up in the onslaught. Which is why I’m trying to train myself to work on emails intermittently throughout the day so that, at the end of the day, I can say I’ve done something BESIDES respond to emails.

  7. Christine Dorman says:

    The very first thing that stood out for me, Janet, was when your list got to the tea break. First, as an Irish-American, I immediately resonated with the idea of the tea (how does one make it through the day without tea?), but almost simultaneously I thought “Tea break? It’s 2 PM. Did you have lunch?” Perhaps this is a detail that just got forgotten as you were writing the day, but I know for myself that lunch is something that gets forgotten in the midst of the details of my day or something I get around to at about 4 PM. Hopefully, you just forgot to mention it (or it sounds like you may have eaten at your desk).

    Another thing that stood out for me was poor Mary Keeley. I hope her laptop issues have been resolved. Computers are a blessing and a curse.

    And, as has already been mentioned, I noticed and love how you stay connected with the other agents and that you function as a team, which means that “none of [you] has to face complex situations alone.”

    Certainly I noticed your professionalism, your commitment, the variety of skills and responsibilities involved in your daily work. It’s just that the humanity stood out for me more. That is the quality that I so love about you and the other members of the Books and Such community.

    I hope you all have a gentle week (and the same to all the members of this blog community). ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Janet Grant says:

      Christine, the tea break is the only break I give myself. Lunch seems like a waste of time. My body doesn’t seem to need that lift; so I power through until tea time. But by dinner, I’m definitely ready to take some time off!
      Mary’s laptop issues were resolved that day. Hooray!
      And, yes, you’re right that being an agent requires quite a long list of skills–and not a faint heart!

  8. I always love reading “A Day in the Life of an Agent” posts. When I read all that you (and other agents) do, it about leaves me breathless. You are very busy. And disciplined in how you spend your days.
    *I loved reading how you and your fellow agents touch base regularly and talk through how to handle certain aspects of your job.
    *The other thing that stood out to me was how you worked your email, checking and responding to the ones directly relating to your clients, editors, and other agents first. Then, later in the day, going through the second tier of importance, and then still later in the day managing those that weren’t as important for the work you are doing. I need to be better about dealing with emails in a similar way. I spend way too much time going through them. ๐Ÿ™‚
    *And, how encouraging to know you read the comments here regularly too. That, to me, is huge. You ladies are so busy, yet you take time to respond to the comments in this community.
    *I also love reading of your interactions with your clients and how many different things you do for themโ€”from re-working wording on a contract, to helping them make decisions about what to write next, and other interactions.
    *I hope this day is a productive one for you, Janet.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jeane, I think I’ve finally found a rhythm for my emails; it’s taken me years to figure out how to make my way through them without spending the entire day doing so. Because, as we all know, the emails you answer right away will result in responses popping into your box. I call that the Echo Effect. Once the Echo Effect clicks in, you can be stuck in Email Land for a very long time.

  9. “I look over the proposal and sample chapters for a potential new client for one of our agencyโ€™s agents” … I found this very interesting. Is that common or only needed sometimes if a decision is hanging in the balance?
    *And I love how closely you work with your clients and fellow agents … it seems to have that real family feel.
    *And as others have mentioned, I appreciate so much how you and others take your precious time to respond to your blog comments … it means the world to someone like me. I always want to know if you’ve responded to me, what you’ve added to what I’ve questioned, etc … even when most of my comments are so rookie. I learn so much here, and I appreciate it.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Shelli, I talk with each agent about writers they’re thinking of representing. We come to a conclusion together whether that person is ready for an agent and is a good fit for our agency, weighing the pros and cons together. Sometimes I read that person’s proposal and sample chapters, check out his or her website and other social media. As president of the agency, I reserve the right to make the final decision, but I’m never heavy-handed about that; it’s a discussion.
      I love responding to the comments on our blog. I learn a lot when I read what you all have to say, including what’s important to you.

  10. Thanks for giving us a behind the scenes glimpse, Janet. It’s interesting to see how your day goes. I’m sure it can be difficult to jump from one thing to another and switch hats all the time.

    I appreciate that you make time for the other agents and that you all keep in close contact. I’m sure that has countless advantages both the the agents, and the clients you are represent.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Amber, yes, my days seldom have a single theme; they require me to fleet of foot. Agents have to be many things for their clients. That’s the nature of the job–and something that surprises people who become agents. Editors generally thing they know what agents do because they work with agents a lot. But they clearly don’t have a grasp of our job description because whenever an editor becomes an agent, their breath is taken away by the breadth of tasks we have to accomplish.

  11. That is quite a busy schedule! I’m sure you prioritize and refine the process. Anything worth doing involves hard work. Janet, you demonstrate this to us through the quality of product we see represented here on this forum. And thanks to you and your staff, many new authors have found representation and visibility…and success. I appreciate the upbeat tone of this group. I believe it is nurtured by the positive and informative approach of your organization. It’s always nice (and satisfies curiosity) to know how it looks on the other side of the curtain.

    • Janet Grant says:

      It’s gratifying to know we’ve been a bit of a catalyst for many authors. That’s why we began this blog several years ago. But just because that’s what you hope to accomplish doesn’t mean you’ll succeed!

  12. One thing I noticed, after being amazed at all that you do, is umm, when do you play?
    And no, Zumba is not playtime.
    Do you save those things for the weekend?
    Do you attend the theatre?
    Take wine country tours?
    Make paper airplanes with the grands and see who has the best skillz?
    Drive to the police department and make sworn statements about psycho Canadians who slipped into the agency under the radar?
    That last question was for a friend.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jennifer, I try not to work on Sundays but to concentrate on whatever my little heart desires–take my dog for walk, read a novel, make a complex meal (which is very fun for me and a creative outlet), spend time with the grands, call my mother for a girlfriend chat, etc. I hadn’t thought about your last suggestion, but now that you mention it…

  13. Janet, what caught my attention about your day, besides you being an organized and diligent agent, is the following: “Being part of a team is an important part of how our agency functions; none of us has to face complex situations alone.”
    As a writer, I don’t want to work alone either. But I’m thankful for agencies who share valuable information through blog posts. Thank you. All of you. You’re helping us feel less alone.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

    • Janet Grant says:

      Wendy, I’m glad that our blog helps you to not feel alone. The writing journey can be such a solitary one, and because publishing is such a complex business, we all need friends to help us hack our way through the complexities. I’m glad we can do this thing together!

  14. Betts Baker says:

    What a wonderful glimpse into your days, Janet. I understand an agent’s role better when I see the individual activities you spend time on. I love seeing how your group works together to make decisions. Your day makes me hunger all the more for an agent on MY side! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. Susan Sage says:

    What stands out is 1) it’s too long 2) you’re very focused though, it sounds like you work from home 3) you didn’t take time for lunch 4) you are one hard worker lady.

  16. Thanks for giving us a peek into your day…

  17. Robin Gunn says:

    One if the things that has always amazed me about you is the way you can put aside one task and switch to the creative side of your brain in a flash. This is one of your finest qualities as an agent Janet. You can be in the midst of intense contract negotiations and then switch to a scheduled call where you calmly suggest brilliant title ideas or precisely identify why a book idea isn’t on point. You amaze me.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Thank you so much, Robin. I guess my brain is highly compartmentalized, and I can be “all there” by switching gears quickly. I’d never given that much thought since it comes naturally to me.