Choosing the Perfect A-List Client

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Happy May Day. How many of you remember making cornucopias of paper doilies, filling them with flowers and tying them to someone’s door handle? Anyone?

I’m finishing my series on what I look for in a client. Over the last three Tuesdays, I talked about what catches my eye with an unpublished author; a newly- published author; and a solid, much-in-demand, published author. Today I’ll talk about the mega-author. I represent a number of best-selling authors, one who regularly hits #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. It is often said that all agents would love to have nothing but A-List authors on their lists. That’s probably said by those who don’t understand what is involved in representing an author with a big career.

Representing best-selling authors is very different from representing most up-and-coming authors. The bestseller usually has a whole team, and every decision has a number of people invested in the outcome. Communication can be complicated. Weighing all the ramifications of every opportunity and each challenge is  paramount. You’ll often have far more opportunities than the author can ever entertain, but each possibility takes time to consider and either pursue or decline. When an agent has a handful of best-selling authors, just fielding possibilities and deflecting inappropriate requests takes time.

So what do I look for in considering authors with big careers? The most important thing is deciding if I have time to do the author and my other clients justice. There are a finite number of authors we should take at each career level. The A-List author is no different. Before I seek to represent an author with a big career or a ministry with an extensive publishing arm, I make sure I have the time, energy and creativity to do it justice.

A newer author may wonder if it’s wise to sign with an agent who represents the “big names.” Will he get less attention? That’s a valid question, but one of the reasons I decided to write about the different career levels and what we look for in each is that a wise agent will build a practice that includes all levels. Our A-List clients give us leverage to negotiate better terms on our contract templates–which benefit all our clients. Plus we have a certain leverage with publishers who would love to talk to us about our best-sellers. I rarely have a conversation about my in-demand clients in which I don’t introduce the editor or publisher to one of my newer writers. Leverage.

In an agency that is intentionally collaborative like Books & Such, our more experienced clients offer that much-needed perspective to our newer writers. And we all become marketing partners for each other.

If you missed any posts on what I’m looking for at every level you can read here about unpublished authors, here, and here about the well-published author.

Now that I’ve talked about what I look for in seeking the perfect client, it’s your turn. What constitutes the perfect agent? If you were to design your dream agent, what would he or she look like?

P.S. Our contest to win a Kindle Fire for subscribing to our blog closed yesterday. We’ll be selecting the winner via a random drawing today and announcing that winner Monday, May 7, when Janet is back in the office. Check in to see if you’re the winner.

32 Responses

Leave a Reply

  1. Maybe it’s just me, but the “here” links to the previous posts aren’t working.

  2. Tiptoes back around the corner….May 7th? That’d be my birthday. Coughhintcough.

  3. This is an eye-opening post for me, Wendy. Not that you seek a diverse client base, but that your dealings on the behalf of A-List authors has an impact on your other clients. I never thought of that.

    As for a perfect agent, I want a person committed to my career; someone who appreciates my opinion, but allows his/her years of experience to be the guide. Any agent I work with has to be personable. I couldn’t work with a grumpy person. I also couldn’t see myself working with a person who isn’t Christian. It’s so much a part of who I am, and faith or Christian values are important aspects of my books. Yes, I want to entertain kids, but I want them to learn about God’s gifts too.

    Thanks for such a great series. I truly enjoyed it.

  4. Michelle Ule says:

    Links are fixed; thanks for letting us know.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Thanks, Michelle. How could we live without you? It’s a good thing you are such an early riser.

  5. Jeanne says:

    Wendy, I remember May Day cornucopias! Although the ones I made were of paper, and not very “cornucopia-y.” My sisters and I would hang them on the doors of our elderly neighbors–ring and run. :) It was so fun. We also did the May Day dance around a May Pole at school. Many years ago. Happy May Day to you too.

    As for what I hope for in an agent,Cheryl described a lot of what’s on my mind. I’d love to work with a Christian, as that is who I am. Working with someone who knows the industry–essential. I’m still figuring it out. Someone I can trust with my story, and career. Someone who is truthful but also encouraging when it comes to suggestions. There are probably other characteristics, but these are the ones that come to mind first.

    Thanks for this series. It was very interesting to read what you as an agent look for and must consider in the different types of clients you and your agency take on. Thanks for taking the time to open my eyes. :)

    • Amanda Dyles says:

      Jeanne and Wendy, the May Day memories you shared make me smile, bring back memories of my own, and want to head out to the garden and pick a bouquet of tulips… except my sweet daughter beat me to it a few days back. :)

      Also, since I’m a committed fan of the Robin Jones Gunn’s Glenbrooke series, every time I think of May Day I also think of Leah Hudson in WOODLANDS. Glenbrooke Zorro, anyone?

  6. Great series, Wendy! I’m curious to know how many clients an agent typically juggles.

    I agree with what Cheryl said. The perfect agent for me is someone who “gets” and supports me, my writing, and what I want to accomplish through it. I want someone who understands CBA, which also means he/she is a believer. And in the end, I want someone who is admired and respected in the field and who I get along with.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      The number of clients an agent has varies greatly from agent to agent. Some agents have more than a hundred clients, but they usually have clerical help to manage all the details. Some agents have only five or six big careers to represent.

      I’ve found for me the magic number is right around fifty. It’s keeps me hopping but I feel as if I can pretty much stay on top of things.

  7. I second the comments from Cheryl, Jeanne and Lindsay. I would add patience and the ability to read the winds when it comes time to either snap me out of it, kick me in the pants or calm me down. I want a professional relationship that includes grace and kindness. And the frequent exchange of chocolate.

  8. Wendy Lawton says:

    Ah, yes. Chocolate. Important asset: agent bearing chocolate.

  9. Lee Abbott says:

    We got the paper for our doorknob May baskets from old wallpaper sample books. Thanks for the happy reminder, Wendy.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      What a fun idea. Wallpaper. If I weren’t so far behind I’d love to take time to create some May baskets filled with garden flowers for some of the octogenarians-plus in our town who would remember them from their childhood.

      I do have some paper doilies which fold nicely into cornucopias. . .

  10. What an awesome series, Wendy. Thank you so much!

  11. Sue Harrison says:

    Loved these 4 posts, Wendy!

    My perfect agent is one who is blessed with strengths in the areas of my weaknesses, one who respects my life view and my convictions, one who isn’t afraid to tell me that what I’ve submitted needs work or maybe doesn’t work at all, one who is excited about my career and what I write, one who is honest even if honest is painful, one who inspires me by her or his own excellence.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      You hit the nail on the head, Sue. I think one of the most important things we do is tell the truth.

  12. For an agent, I want someone who knows the ins and outs of the business or can point me to someone who does. Someone who knows how to tell me the truth about my work in a constructive way, so I can improve, yet encourage where necessary.

  13. Great series, Wendy.

    My perfect agent would love my writing and have no other clients besides me. :)

    If I couldn’t have that I’d like an agent who would set deadlines for me and be a partner in the creative process. I don’t judge my own work well, and it’s a long, lonely road trying to write a novel that you think sucks. A little encouragement along the way is always helpful. I’d love to have an agent who would say, “this is good, keep going. Give me a rough draft next month.” Or, “You’re right. this plot/character/setting is broken. Let’s schedule a call so we can brainstorm.” Or even, “I don’t have time to call and brainstorm, but read Stein on Writing, chapter five, and get back to me if that doesn’t set you right.”

    Anything, to make me feel like the agent was a partner who cared about the manuscript with which I was struggling.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Sally, I know you’d re kidding about an exclusive agent but you know, that would be the worst choice for a lot of reasons. For an agent to be taken seriously by publishers, she needs to have an impressive list. this is how we get leverage for our just-starting-out clients. Plus unless you’re going to do two books a year with half-million dollar advances each, your agent will need to have a day job and that would deeply cut into their attention. If you’re doing the math, don’t forget that our commission is not all money we get to keep. That’s our gross income. We pay our travel, overhead and any salaries out of that.)

      And the biggest drawback is that you would miss being part of a community.

      • I was totally kidding. Even if I was making a million dollars a year in advances I wouldn’t want an agent with no other authors, for the reasons you list and also because…what an unhealthy relationship that would be. I imagine an agent in such a situation would become less trusted adviser and more yes-man. It wouldn’t be good for either party.

        Speaking of day jobs…many agents do have day jobs when they start out, don’t they? We never hear much about that.

  14. Ann Bracken says:

    I’m looking for an agent who understands the business (not that I can tell the difference, I’m too much of a newbie!), respects my beliefs even if they differ from hers, is excited by my work, is patient in teaching me what needs to be done, and has my best interests at heart.

    Oh, and shares chocolate. Although I’m happy with all four food groups (sugar, salt, fat and chocolate). :-)

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I know what you mean but if your beliefs differ too greatly from your agent, it’s probably not a good fit. For instance I would never represent someone who actively advocates, say, euthanasia. I couldn’t bring myself to help get that viewpoint out there.

  15. For me, an agent is a partner in the business; not only a career sherpa but also a sounding board for ideas and a voice of reason when the need arises. Your agent is your advocate in the industry, so choose wisely with whom you wish to link arms. Above all, find someone you like. Seriously, you’re going to be spending quality time putting together proposals, strategizing, etc so you do want to know that your personalities will click.

    Of course, I’m biased, but I’ve got the best! 😉

  16. Tiana Smith says:

    Great series – It’s interesting to see this side of the coin. I guess as a wannabe author, I haven’t really considered the A List client and how much work that would entail!

    I’m glad I subscribed via RSS before the contest closed!