Following the Rules: Agents and Editors
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley, California Office
Weather: Cloudy and 67º
I guess you can tell that we’ve been talking about rule-following and judicious rule-bending this week. Let’s take a look at some of the rules you’ve heard about approching agents and editors or relating to your own agent or editor.
Just as in rules having to do with the submitting process, you’ll find that the “rules” often applied to the writer/agent relationship or the writer/editor agent are as different as the personalities involved.
Some editors are unapproachable, while others love interaction and thrive on relationship. Some agents prefer an arms-length relationship with clients, valuing professionalism and efficiency, while others are solidly on your team and part of your life.
What’s a writer to do?
If you are in the process of finding an agent:
- Follow the agency guidelines for contact. These can usually be found on the agency website.
- Never call. There’s nothing an agent can tell about your writing from a phone call. The reason agents ask you to query or propose is that it provides a window into your skill as a writer.
- You can often ignore the contact rules if you’re a successfully published author looking to make a change. Or if you’ve been referred by one of the agent’s clients. Or if you’ve met the agent in person and he/she has given you permission to skip the query step.
If you are just submitting to editors:
- Follow the protocol listed on the website unless you’ve met the editor in person and been given different instructions or told to skip a step or two.
If you are already a client of an agent:
- While making the decision to sign with an agent you should already have learned that agent’s style. It doesn’t hurt to ask for specifics at any time. Questions like: How often will we talk? How do you like to be contacted, by phone or email? How long can I expect to wait to have a question answered?
- Be sure to communicate in the preferred medium for your agent. He or she probably has a system for dealing with and archiving communication. I use email primarily. When a client or potential client contacts me via Twitter or Facebook, it runs the risk of getting missed or misfiled.
- Make sure your agent is in the loop with any important discussions at your publishing house.
If you’re already working with an editor:
- Same thing goes. Find out how your editor likes to work– how involved do they want to be in the process?
- Find out the right person for the right issue. At times you may work with a line editor, an author relations manager or someone in marketing.
- Make sure not to copy everyone in the publishing house with every bit of news or every question. Most emails should be directed to one person. Every time you add another recipient you complicate things in-house—who is responsible to reply? Do all the recipients need to coordinate?
- Never tackle problems with your publisher on your own. You get to do the good stuff. Let your agent handle any potential thorny issues.
As for the generic rules? Just follow the rules of etiquette. Common sense and an attitude of graciousness and gentility will work in a pinch.
Now it’s your turn: Anything you’d like to know about working with agents and editors? What have you discovered?