Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m going to let you in on a secret that my clients already know: your agent needs to be spending his or her time working on your behalf. Time spent with clients is often time taken away from the activity that makes money for our clients– selling their work and keeping connected with all that is going on in the industry.dreamstime_xs_32284510

I had a client (now a former client) who asked me to call each week. She said she needed that kind of input– she needed to be updated and to know what was going on. This was a client who was contracted well into the future. The truth? When a client is under contract not much new will be going on unless a problem crops up. Had I spent an hour on the phone with her every week, talking about her projects and about the industry, I would have been cheating her and other clients. That’s what your writing buddies do, not your agent.

It’s like your doctor. You can find a doctor who has a gentle bedside manner and lavishes attention on each patient but if you end up with a stubborn illness you’re going to go looking for the doctor who can move mountains to find you a cure– one who has stayed current with every new treatment.

I do have to backtrack a little here because although the above is strictly true, there are some notable exceptions:

  • We need to spend serious time with our clients when it comes to strategizing career decisions.
  • We will be 100% client-focused when a problem arises.
  • There can be a lot of back-and-forth when we are working up a new project or proposal.
  • At contract time we will need to consult with the client as we work through the details.
  • Often we will want to get involved in marketing decisions.
  • We like to be copied on anything having to do with the book– covers, titles, etc.
  • At Books & Such we also believe in offering in-depth client services like webinars, retreats and get-togethers at writers conferences.
  • Truth be told, after a time, many of our clients become friends and we check in on them on our time. 🙂

Okay, so there are more exceptions than rules but I thought it important to mention that if you call your agent and get a busy signal or if your agent is on the road, count yourself fortunate. She’s working hard on your behalf.

Your turn. How do you picture agents spending their time? (I know. . . eating bonbons, lying on a beach reading a manuscript that’s sure to be the next great American novel, right?) What do you expect when it comes to contact with your agent or your future agent?


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51 Responses

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  1. I want my agent (when / if I have one) to be busy with things that add value to the process–not only pitching my book, but also improving her skills and networking. The contacts with me, to borrow from 2 Timothy 3:16, should be profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in the right way to do things. This blog already does that, thank you all very much.

  2. Anne Love says:

    I would also want an agent to be a bit of a project compass. While a writer has some projects the agent is shopping, she continues to write but might need a discerning nudge in a certain direction. If she has several ideas but isn’t sure which might be most marketable, I’d hope the agent could be sent an email (not an hour long phone chat) just to point them in the most viable direction. And I don’t mean, for all the little things, like if a scene should be cut–I’m thinking more like which of these three WIP ideas should I pour my heart and time into?

  3. I know that writing and marketing take an incredible amount of time, with the possibility of consuming every waking moment. Others roles in publishing (agenting and editing) are equally time consuming. I strive to be the client who respects that, allowing each to do her job. If I am “needy” in my communication, I am interfering with that effort.

    My agent-communication experience has always been timely, helpful, and professional. I consider my agent to be my friend, my representative in the publishing industry, and a prayer warrior on my behalf. I really appreciate that!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      You hit the balance perfectly, “friend, my representative in the publishing industry, and a prayer warrior on my behalf.”

  4. Wendy, I appreciate this post. Looking at it from the opposite side of the fence, when we have a question or problem that needs an agent’s attention, it’s tough to wait for a response. Of course, when we do have that conversation, it’s up to us to make it quick and to the point so the agent can get back to their work. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Exactly, that’s when you pick up the phone and call. But I didn’t mean to suggest that all conversations need to be quick and to the point. We like to meander and visit as well sometimes.

      I was trying to point out that so much of our work is done when we seem to be “away” to the client.

  5. Thank you for sharing all that, Wendy. My knowledge on agents is very limited.

  6. Jill Kemerer says:

    I’m not much for hand-holding! I spent my early career in a male-dominated field and it taught me to trust my instincts and not have unrealistic expectations about career support. I imagine agents spend most of their time checking e-mails, reading submissions, and working on contracts. Maybe I’m off on that one? I don’t know!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Seems like lately I’ve been spending a ton of time on film options, unraveling problems, talking with publishers and editors about changes in the industry, teaching (and preparing for teaching) and getting wonderful offers. . . and. . . and. . .

      I’ll never complain that every day is just like the one before.

  7. I expect my agent to be on call 24/7, to attend to my professional and social calendars, to handle my dry-cleaning and dog-walking, and to be sure my bedcovers are properly turned down, with a mint on the pillow…

    Oh. Sorry. I was just channeling Barbra Streisand, there…

    The most important attribute for an agent/author relationship is, I think, a shared vision and understanding of the work’s place in its genre. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for an agent to represent a client whose work is stellar, but whose attitudes are unrealistic and firmly held.

    I don’t need hand-holding, but I can appreciate that there are those who do. I would not begrudge my agent spending her time with those clients (rather than being ‘chatty’ with me) – they may have walked a very hard road to representation, and that can take a lot out of a person.

    And it’s precisely those people who may have the most to offer.

  8. Lori says:

    Thank you for sharing what you do. What do I imagine agents doing:

    Reading queries, proposals, and looking for that diamond in the rough (someday I hope that will be me).

    Giving authors (mostly new authors I hope) good news that they sold their book to a publisher.

    Writing a good blog post that authors/potential new authors will learn from and responding to their questions and comments in that post.

    As for what I expect from my potential agent, see the above comments. Also, I expect an agent to be truthful and fair in their dealings with me.

  9. That’s one of the great things about investing the time to read this blog, Wendy. I understand what to expect, and every single bullet point makes perfect sense to me. I have no problem with you on the beach reading manuscripts…as long as you wear your sunblock. 🙂

    Thank you for your time spent here, educating and encouraging us.

  10. Christine Dorman says:

    What do I imagine agents do? What Lori said plus traveling to and attending conferences, networking with other industry professionals, spending time at a book auction, spending a great deal of time and energy trying negotiate a good contract for a client even though the (one particular) niche publisher is a dinosaur. What I never imagined prior to the gift of discovering this blog is that an agent would not only take the time to write blogs that help give its readers a degree in business of writing (if the readers pay attention), but personally responding to people like me who aren’t published yet. I cannot tell you, Wendy, how much I appreciate that fact that you and the other Books and Such agents take the time to do that.

    Do I need an agent who will call me each week to give me updates? No. If several months go by and I’ve heard nothing, I would check in with a quick email, but requiring a weekly phone call indicates neediness or a lack of trust. An agent is not a therapist (well, that’s not what she gets paid for at any rate). If she and I become friends, wonderful! Even so, the agent-client relationship is a business one. Hand-holding sessions need to be reserved for non-business meetings. By the way, I find it interesting that she wanted YOU to call HER. It sounds like she wanted to feel she was special. Reality check: a contracted writer is just one of many clients.

    Blessings everyone! 🙂

    • I wonder if an agent has to be something of a therapist, to work with people who can be high achievers in a creative and highly speculative field.

      Novel-writing is not a cause-effect endeavour; the rewards are not necessarily commensurate with the time invested, and it takes a very special set of personality traits to stick with it.

      Some of these traits are difficult to integrate into a business relationship; determination can become stubbornness, having vision can morph into unrealistic expectations.

      When I taught in college, I never thought that I would have to act as a relationship and faith counselor; I was a structural engineer, for Pete’s sake!

      But the students who left their childhoods behind to begin to play at adulthood needed handholding. They needed someone to wipe their tears and say, “I understand. I care.”

      Whether it was in office hours, or a sobbing 3 am phone call. Or the suicidal student who sat, gun in hand, and asked why he should go on (hope none of your clients do THAT, Wendy!).

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that we as clients should be circumspect in the demands we place on our agents, but that the world is a frighteningly seamless place, sometimes, and there are days when we ALL need a helping hand to guide us into the light.

      • You know, Andrew … the one thought that came to mind is … people, no matter what relationship … need to be … approachable.

      • Christine Dorman says:

        True, Andrew. I teach in college and I definitely do more than teach. I am a hand-holder, a counselor, a confidant, and even a mom at times.
        The past couple of weeks, I’ve had a student who has been thinking about self-harmful behaviors such as cutting and not eating–not as scary as your gun-holding student, but still painful. You are right that we all need someone “to lead us into the light”–at times, but we shouldn’t view it as a part of our agent’s regular job description.

        Lori, I agree that people need to be approachable. Wendy certainly seems to be. But we also need to establish boundaries so that we aren’t taken advantage of or abused.

      • Lori says:

        Christine, I think you mean Shelli.

        Shelli, I agree that an agent or anyone for that matter should be approachable.

        Christine, I agree that there should be boundaries in any relationship.

      • Oh my…where to start? Suffice it to say that Wendy should have a PhD in that whole therapist thing! Thank you, Dr. Wendy for 8 years of excellent therapy! 😀

      • Christine Dorman says:

        You are right, Lori. I’m sorry. My apologies to both you and Shelli.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Of course we all need hand-holding sometimes. Me included. And there are sometimes when we are feeling hopeless or stymied and that’s all part of our job as well. In coming up with an interesting blog topic 🙂 I hope I didn’t overstate. (I hate that attitude of “I’m busy and you are not.”)

  11. First, I’d like to give my agent, Mary Keeley, an earned Ph.D. in clinical therapy. She has a living thesis named Jennifer Z. Major. Mary could easily be working toward mastering cold fusion, time travel and wait for it…making every day a good hair day.
    Because if she can survive ME? Well, everything else is child’s play.

    I am extremely aware that not everyone has an agent. I try to be sensitive to the fact that it IS hard to read comments about how awesome my agent is, when I remember that green wave that would come over me when people waxed poetic about their agent.

    Yesterday was a tough day, writing-wise. One of the golden moments was a very long and very detailed email from Mary that made me feel heaps better.

    I am well aware that one of the great blessings in my life is to have her on my side. I try to respect how many emails I send, because I am not in the contract stage yet, and who knows how many hours she spends on those? She does. I don’t.

    So, I try to only e-nag her when I have to. I thank God every day for her, and for the blessing of being a Bookie.

  12. As someone who has always worked best independently, hand-holding isn’t something I look for.

    I’m hoping my future agent will be likable and honest. Maybe we would meet once a year or so in person to make sure our goals are the same, but the occasional email (when necessary) works for me. I’m hoping this agent will be too busy seeking out new opportunities for her clients and negotiating on their behalf to spend too much time chatting with me.

  13. I imagine that when an agent reads for pleasure and relaxation, they remember afresh why they represent those who give hope and change lives through the written word. And in fact, that’s what you all do here. Give us hope, and a dose of much needed reality. Thank you!

    An agent spends time crafting content for contracts, cultivating relationships with professionals and beginners, and committing the future of their work and that of their clients to the Lord.
    I imagine discernment comes into play when you consider what projects to take on because, as the B & S agents have mentioned, you look at the long term career of your clients.

  14. Elissa says:

    I imagine agents are like any working self-employed professionals. The bonbons will run out fast if one’s proverbial nose isn’t kept to the grindstone.

    Writers who put demands on an agent’s time aren’t just distracting said agent and preventing vital work from being done– they aren’t doing their own jobs, either. That job would be writing the next book. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t have time to pester an agent about anything that isn’t truly important.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      And that’s the reality for most of my clients. Their time is as tight as mine. I have one client whose counseling practice is so busy I’ve noticed that the last calls have been during lunch or on a holiday.

  15. I started following Books & Such about a year ago, and I’ve come to really respect you guys. I feel that you really care about your clients–that that’s not just something you say. That’s what I want in an agent. 🙂

  16. Before she retired, Etta Wilson was my agent, and if I had to do it over again, I’d take more advantage of opportunities to communicate with her. I did not need my hand held, BUT I could have learned so much more if I hadn’t been so independent. I miss her.

    • Etta Wilson says:

      And I miss you, Barbara. We can all wish we had done things a little differently in the past, as Wendy and Rachel’s blogs remind me, but we can also give thanks that we had or are having such rich relationships with the writing world. We must keep writing for everyone’s benefit, including our own.