All in a Day’s Work

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I enjoyed Wendy’s post yesterday about how agents spend their time. She did a great job of describing how agents work on their clients’ behalf, and I wanted to add my own two cents to further explain how we organize our days.

People frequently ask me about a typical day for an agent. I think most agents will tell you — there are no typical days!  With a large number of clients, working on a variety of projects, all in various stages of writing or publication, the days provide endlessly changing excitement.

While agents always have a long to-do list, our most important job is to be responsive to our clients’ needs, as Wendy explained. The email box is always full, and fires erupt and need dousing with alarming regularity. So we begin each day with a “plan” and an awareness that we could end the day having not accomplished anything we’d planned. 

I try to be aware of what’s important, what’s urgent, what’s both and what’s neither. (Remember those categories when you email your agent. Your situation will be prioritized along with everything else on her desk!) Whenever possible, I organize my days according to my priority list:


1. Contracts and Payments.
Fielding offers, negotiating deals, scrutinizing contracts, discussing clauses and terms with publishers, walking clients through their contracts, making sure the contract gets executed properly. Following up on advance and royalty payments, making sure publishers pay clients in a timely manner, examining royalty statements for accuracy.

2. Submitting projects to publishers.
Working with authors to prepare their proposals and manuscripts; preparing lists of editors to whom we’ll submit; getting projects out to publishers; following up appropriately.

3. All other client-related work.
Answering random questions; reading their latest work and offering feedback; coaching on marketing, promotion, career planning; brainstorming ideas for future projects; handling interaction with their publishers on everything from titles to book covers to extended deadlines and more; being a listening ear whenever necessary.

4. Finding new clients.
Reading incoming queries, reading requested manuscripts, talking with potential clients on the phone. This also includes proactively pursuing authors I’d like to represent.

# # #

As you can see, a wide variety of tasks can come up on any given day. I tend to handle tasks in categories 1, 2, and 3 during business hours. Nights and weekends are for incoming queries, reading manuscripts (clients and potential clients), and blogging.

If you’re an unpubbed writer, you might be dismayed that reading incoming queries is the bottom of the priority list. When you’re seeking representation, you’re not top priority.

However, that’s great news. It means that once you become a client, you are now the agent’s top priority.

While there’s no such thing as “typical” and it often feels more like a circus complete with juggling and high-flying trapeze acts, one thing is consistent: The needs of my clients determine the trajectory of each day.

→Are you surprised that reading incoming queries and considering new clients are at the bottom of the priority list?

→From the perspective of a writer, what do you think should be an agent’s top priorities?

→Can you think of anything I’ve left out of this post?


Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of an agent. Click to Tweet.

How do agents prioritize the tasks in their day? Click to Tweet.



42 Responses

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  1. Hearing that queries are at the bottom of the priority list doesn’t surprise me – or bother me – at all.

    It’s broadly similar when you’re trying to get a university teaching job. At first, I thought that finding bright young faculty (well, not so young, in my case) would be something approached with eager anticipation.

    Uh, no. NO ONE wants to be on a search committee; it’s extra, and unpaid, work. No one wants to go through the multipage resumes, verifying that the papers claimed were actually written, and making informal calls to see if a promising candidate is really all that. And then there are the official referee calls, and the interview, and “It’s your turn to take the candidate to dinner.”

    Yuck. The only good part of the process is having a warm body to teach the classes everyone hates.

    The analogy obviously breaks down pretty fast, but the fact is that adding new blood, in the form of writers or faculty, takes an investment of time and effort that will take awhile to pay off.

    Earning the daily bread has to come first, and who can resent that?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Andrew, that’s a helpful analogy, thank you! Most companies spend a certain amount of effort on developing “new business” and that’s what the query box is for (as well as attending conferences). But we have to make sure we’re taking care of current business first!

  2. Identifying new clients would be the first priority of an agent with NO clients. But I want an agent with a proven track record–I’d rather not be the FIRST client (just like I’d rather not be a surgeon’s first patient). Not that a budding young agent (or surgeon) wouldn’t do a good job. I’m a newbie, and I’ll feel more confident if one of us knows the road.

    • Actually, I’d love to be a new agent’s first client.

      Freshness can have awesome power – do you know the old saying, “They can because they think they can?”

      Well – for someone new to a field, this can sometimes be rewritten “They can because they didn’t know they couldn’t.”

      Sure, it would be a risk. But life has no guarantees.

      And it might just be fun.

      • Andrew, I know this is a totally different topic, but I think the reason we sailed through our daughter’s cancer battle so smoothly was first because of God, but also because we “didn’t know we couldn’t.” We didn’t know all the negatives … and I was so thankful afterwards.

      • OK, Andrew, you convinced me. I can see potential in being the first client. But I stand firm for the experienced surgeon.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Shirlee, I hear you! I still have my first client, and she and I sometimes laugh at what a difficult decision that was for her. Go with a new agent (not necessarily young, LOL) or an established heavy hitter?

      I’m happy to be in the position where the job of identifying potential new clients takes a back seat to taking care of current clients.

  3. Amber Skyze says:

    I’d rather know that my agent or potential agent puts his/her clients first.

  4. Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:


    I so appreciate this blog for the very reason it’s not one of your top priorities, and I’m not sure where it falls on your list. Yet, you share so much knowledge of the industry here for free to people who aren’t even your clients.

    This blog is great. Thanks so much!

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Roxanne, sometimes I think of the blog as “self defense.” The more questions we answer on the blog, the fewer people (non-clients) will email us randomly and expect answers to their questions!

  5. Hi, Rachelle Gardiner,

    I’ve been looking for a good agent and in that connection approached you earlier. I embarked on writing the novel because there were no takers for my story. However, it is my firm conviction, that the story, based as it is on real life, is perfectly sale-able! The novel appears as an e-book on
    The result so far: Although those who have read have a good word to say about it, it has failed to catch the fancy in a manner it really deserves.

    Kindly suggest what I should do, please.

    Eknaath Nagarkar

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      If it’s your first novel, then I recommend continuing to write. You will get better with each book, which will lead to more fans enjoying your writing and may lead to an agent or publisher being interested.

      The answer is almost always: Keep writing!

  6. Rachelle, as you explained your week, your wording sounded so similar to mine … and I’m a stay-at-home-not-home-enough home-schooling mother, who also happens to manage our bills paid, ensure bank statements come out perfectly, career planning for my two daughters, writing for our career dreams, writing for contracts signed, planning a speaking engagement, juggling everyone’s medicines here recently, trying to nurse back a cat that is losing too much weight … and I could list so many more.

    Like you, I rarely have a typical day; it often feels like a circus, too.

    Nothing you wrote surprised me. And obviously, you have your priorities straight. I appreciate what you do; I certainly don’t need an agent’s day explained. You’re a busy, successful woman! Plus, you have your home and family to care for, as well.

    And thank you for all the amazing advice you continually hand out to us.

  7. Rachelle, congrats for having the courage to explain how you work and where you place your priorities. That aspiring writers should come last doesn’t surprise me, actually it makes a lot of sense.

    But it does mean that you have an INCREDIBLY busy work schedule, week-ends included! All I can say is: wow! In fact, I’ve always wondered how an agent can also run a blog and yours is so full of info – you actually make a sustained effort to come up with content useful to your clients both the actual ones and the would-be ones. For I assume that’s who reads your blog – I certainly plead guilty to doing that. One of these days I might need an agent – not for the moment. I’m self-published and I havent’t decided what to do yet, in fact I’m not querying anyone for the moment but when the time comes, if it comes, I should certainly query you, because I really enjoy reading your blog and appreciate your no-nonsense balance approach to your work!

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I appreciate you being here, Claude. I imagine I’m not any busier than most working people. We all make the time for the things that are important to us, right? I’m lucky to have a fantastic career. And I like doing the blog because of people like you who come to read it!

  8. Your line of work and my line of work is so similar. You have to set priorities or you’ll feel like you’re a chicken running around with its head cut off. I so enjoyed your post!

  9. Rachelle, is it true that agents receive, on average, 15 queries a day? Even if it’s only 10 each day, that’s 50 every week (using just 5 days a week, not 7) and 2,600 for the year. (I don’t know the percentage of queries that make it to a partial or full ms with an agent.) But if agents select no more than 4 new clients a year, that’s a percentage rate of .0015 QUERIES that make it to agent contract for any given agent. For authors seeking representation, it’s not impossible, but it’s daunting. I wish for a National Review Panel of editors that would be paid by authors wishing to have their manuscripts reviewed by at least 2 respected editors in the ms genre (the editors could be chosen by a committee of AAR members). Then, agents could search the NRP website for the genre they want, read the 2 reviews, and start their process of signing new clients based on the respected editor’s review and comments.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Michael, the numbers vary but in essence, yes you’re correct. We try not to talk about (or even think about) those numbers because they’re largely irrelevant. Sure, a tiny percentage of people who send queries to ME will end up represented by ME. But we can’t look at it that way because:

      –Those writers are also querying other agents, thereby increasing their chances of getting representation by SOMEONE.

      –Zero percent of writers with boring or badly written queries will end up represented by me.

      –Zero percent of writers who query with a genre I don’t rep will end up a client.

      –However, a large percentage of writers whose query is well-written and whose book idea is exciting will get strong consideration. So the playing field is not level.

      So yes, the numbers seem daunting, but if you write well and have an original book idea, the odds are ever in your favor.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Michael, I like the creative thinking in your NRP. We can always use ways to make this process more effective!

  10. Joe Snoe says:

    I’ve wondered when you had the time to write the blog entries and how long it took to come up the idea, decide what to say about the topic, and how to develop and revise the entry.
    At least now I know the when.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Joe, sadly, the “when” is usually “right when my blog post is due.”

      But the process of coming up with ideas is ongoing. I keep an Evernote file with post ideas, and since I have Evernote on my phone, my iPad and my laptop, I can jot down ideas whenever and wherever I get them.

      I often place other people’s blog posts or interesting online articles into my Evernote file, too, if they spur my thinking for my own post.

      So the truth is that, while I often don’t sit down to write my post until the last minute, I always have several post ideas brewing in my mind and sitting in my file.

  11. Mel Menzies says:

    I’m intrigued to know, Rachelle, whether you’re a morning person or an evening person? I find that my creativity in respect of writing and prayer begins about 5.a.m. If I haven’t started writing or having my QT by mid-morning, at the very latest, I find all my creative juices have run dry. I cannot start later in the day, though once I’ve started I can continue.

    Reading, however, is a different matter. I could no more sit and read a book in the morning than I could give up writing.

    I can’t quite work out why this should be, but I’d be interested to know if you, or anyone else has a similar experience. Is one nature and the other nurture, for instance? Or is it the difference between giving out and taking in? Work and entertainment?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I’m sure we all have our patterns… I’m a morning person but can’t get myself to write a blog post or read a book during daylight hours. On the other hand, if I haven’t gotten my workout in by 10am, I can be pretty sure it won’t happen.

  12. Hello Rachel,

    I appreciate your posts — even when, from time to time, they are discouraging — because they are honest and constructive.

    Five years ago, I queried without doing proper research. I received form rejections and didn’t know why. It was difficult, but I set aside querying and took the time to actually understand the field. I have since learned that patience and persistence are key in crafting engaging prose, writing professional documents, and targeting well-respected agents who are also right for my project.

    Whether queries are top or last priority, I believe patience and persistence won’t go unnoticed forever.

    Thank you,

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I hope you don’t actually get discouraged by the honesty here. I guess when you become more realistic about the challenges, it “encourages” you to be more honest with yourself about whether you’re up for it. So in a roundabout way, it’s a good thing!

  13. Rachelle, I guess I’m the lone voice that actually is surprised that pursuing new business is last on your list.

    As a former commissioned salesperson, if I didn’t continually feed the pipeline with new business, I would face no income six months into the future.

    Of course, your current roster of authors can produce more books, so it does make sense for you to concentrate your energy on them. But, as you said, for an unpubbed writer, it’s disheartening.

    I wake up each morning with the prayer, “Lord, please multiply my time.” Hey, if you try that, then maybe those of us working diligently on perfecting our query to you will get more of your newly-multiplied time.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      You hit the nail on the head — much of our “new business” comes from current clients. And in order to KEEP those current clients, we need to take care of them! Hence, the priorities.

  14. Katya says:

    🙂 Couldn’t help but notice there’s no time for Twitter in your schedule. What a shame, Twitter is where all the cool literary people hang out.

    In other news, once again checking the Books and Such blog did not disappoint! 😀

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I spent years being a super active Tweeter (I have thousands of tweets!) and made a lot of great connections there. But alas, now it has taken a back seat. There is only so much time.

      Btw, you could sign up for our RSS feed and get this blog in your email, or sign up for my blog’s feed ( and then you wouldn’t have to manually check the blog. We tweet all our posts also!

  15. Marcy McKay says:

    Wow, Rachelle. An agent’s life sound busy and exciting and busy. But, it’s just like a writer’s in the fact that you need to do what you LOVE because it’s. So. Much. Work!

  16. I guess the important thing I see here is the importance you place on prioritizing. Each of us would probably do things a little differently, but knowing you have the wisdom of setting priorities, and attempting to follow a plan means you are more productive than someone who hits the day running without knowing her destination. Hurray that new clients are even on the list!

  17. Thanks for breaking down your priority list. To me, this list seems like it’s probably typical for most agents. I’m not surprised that incoming queries are last on the list. Honestly, with all the stuff an established agent handles, I don’t see how he or she has time to look at incoming queries at all!

  18. Joan Campbell says:

    A reputable agent has agreed to represent me but said we could do the paperwork (sign me up as a client) when she gets an offer for my manuscript. What are your thoughts on this? I’m not so sure I’m truly represented or that I’m one of her priorities, but I don’t want to be a pushy client and insist on a contract if that is the normal way of working.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Joan, congratulations on getting an agent interested!

      I’m not sure you’re truly represented either, but I’m not in a position to advise you. Our agency doesn’t work this way but I know some that do. Do your due diligence in checking out the agent, and I wish you the best!

  19. I appreciate you giving us a glimpse into how you prioritize your work, Rachelle. Like the others, I want an agent dedicated to her current clients, so no surprises there.

    Sometimes I wonder if my decision to make searching for new publishers/agents hampers my success. My goal for 2014 was to research one new publisher/agent a month, but so far it hasn’t happened. I’ve been researching and writing instead. I see this as my number one priority followed by marketing my current works, but your list is making me wonder if my publisher/agent search should move up on the list.

  20. I think being an agent should come with a cape! My favorite part of this post was something I tried to remember as I was waiting for my agent. I knew that the process took time, but the reason was because of all the hard work that was going into helping her clients. Who wouldn’t want that to be his or her agent’s primary focus?

  21. Linda says:

    Although I am sure I’m older than the vast majority of new authors, I am nevertheless extremely naive about all of this. I was so thrilled when I actually finished writing a whole book, but I got a real wake-up call when I realized what was still ahead of me. I am far from having an agent, but I can certainly appreciate all the hard work you do. Thanks for giving me a peek into your daily life.

  22. i fall into the #3 category in your post and i appreciate that you answered my random email about a week ago about what genre my book idea should be. i really sent it thinking that i may or may not get a response because you are so busy, but when you emailed back almost right away it made my day. thanks for all you do to inspire and encourage writers. you are pretty awesome!!!

  23. Linda Marmon says:

    Do you try to keep your client load down to a set number? If you are over your limit, do you point a prospective client on to someone else? What is your preferred type of book to work on?