Why do agents visit publishing houses?

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

As you read this blog, I’ll be spending the day ensconced in meetings at a publishing house. In preparing for this trip, it occurred to¬† me that on this blog we’ve never talked about why agents travel to publishing houses. What do we hope to accomplish?

  • To conduct meetings on behalf of a client.

That’s the reason behind my trip today. Writing careers are complex animals, and sometimes the best way to bring an author and a publisher together as a team is to put them physically next to each other in the same room. The meetings might be to introduce¬† an author to the entire publishing team either because the publishing house is very interested in a project and wants to meet the author or because the author has just signed a significant contract with the publishing house. Everyone has a lot at stake in these relationships, and nothing helps to kick off the team spirit like brainstorming on marketing/publicity ideas and hearing the author’s heart for the project.

Today I’m traveling with a client who is working with her publisher to produce video curriculum, repackage all of her books, and create a look for a website the publisher is developing to promote all the author’s work. Having a dialogue about what her brand looks like, how it can be updated yet remain true to the initial look, and how to transfer that same look to the new product will be part of the discussion. The plan is to agree about how to move forward with the design of all these elements by the end of the day. There’s nothing like sitting down at a conference table to make the way forward clear to everyone.

An established author who has a sizable contract with a publisher might also benefit from traveling with his/her agent to the publisher’s offices to toss around ideas for marketing and publicity. Both sides of the team prepare presentations in which they show what they intend to do. Significant synergy can occur as one group’s ideas spark ideas for everyone.

  • To discuss projects and business issues.

An agent can decide to visit a publishing house sans author if a face-to-face meeting hasn’t occurred naturally via a book convention or writers conference. Relationships deepen and the dynamics of what each party needs from that relationship unfold during these meetings. They’re an important part of the partnership that publishing entails. When an agent understands the publisher’s needs (both in terms of contractual issues, financial issues and types of projects sought) and vice versa, the likelihood of making a good match of author to publisher or satisfactorily negotiating contractual terms is greater.

Wendy and I made a trip earlier this year to visit with publishers about contractual issues we believed were damaging to our clients and that publishers needed to change. The honest conversations that resulted were enlightening to both sides, and as in any good negotiation, both sides moved toward the middle.

Sitting down with an editor or an editorial team and having them showcase which of their recent releases have done well and which were disappointing is enlightening. I remember a trip this autumn in which an acquisitions editor showed me a title a lot like one a client of mine wanted to write. The editor explained that it never took off, despite the author’s sizable blog audience. The publishing team had determined that the author was offering the same sort of material in a book form as she created on her blog. Why should her readers buy what they were receiving for free?

I realized my client was stepping onto that same path. What a great insight! When I returned to the office, the author and I discussed ways to make her book’s offerings unique from her blog content.

Pitching projects to an editorial team is educational, too. A lot of discussion takes place in face-to-face conversations as editors give feedback such as:

“My sister was looking at the list I’ve built and pointed out that I’m tending toward publishing dark novels. So, yes, I do want to see this romantic comedy.”

“I think I’ve overbought in romantic suspense, so even though this idea sounds great, I’m going to pass.”

“I’ve met insert author’s name at a writers conferences and had the best conversation with him. Yes, I’d like to take a look at his project.”

I leave these meetings with plenty of notes about what a particular publishing house is looking for right now, not a few months ago when we talked last, but now.

So those are the main reasons agents visit publishing houses. I could also add that sometimes an author-publishing relationship isn’t going well as a reason for such a trip and occasionally a visit will result when communication between an agent and publishing executive is strained. But thankfully these are less common. My travels are usually about points of commonality rather than contention–thankfully!

Can you think of other reasons for an agent to visit a publishing house? Does anything I’ve written surprise you?

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24 Comments

  • Navdeep Kaur says:

    I think that often, writers are under the impression that the only thing an agent does is the selling of a book. I’m glad I read this post because it clarifies the different responsibilities agents have and the level of commitment and understanding required between an agent and client. It seems only natural that while an agent should be meeting with their client regularly, they also need to keep an open communication platform with the publishers to ensure that all deals happen smoothly. An agent’s success can probably be measured by the amount of time they spend with both parties and the relationships they maintain with publishers and clients.

    Thank you for the enlightening post.

  • Jeanne T says:

    I’m glad you shared this post, Janet. Though it makes perfect sense, I didn’t realize how much face-to-face time an agent has with a publisher to build/maintain solid relationships between authors and publishers. I hope your trip today goes well. :)

  • Lisa says:

    I love getting an inside look at all you do.

    The connection face-to-face meetings build are priceless. I hope to meet all my wonderful on-line friends someday in person :)

  • Good morning Janet!
    None of this surprises me, none at all. Simply put, you know what you’re doing. Which is good, because when I go back in my memory to how I was approaching writing 349 days ago (I started my MS December 26, 2011) I could easily have been given the Olympic Gold Medal For Cluelessness. Or perhaps the Oscar for Best Performance of a Flaming Twit in Newbie Fiction Writing.
    I won’t even talk about my first few quesries. There should be a Hall of Shame for those.

    Fast forward to now, and I’d say I’ve had quite an education in not just how to write, one would hope, but in how publishing works. ALmost all of which I learned here, Rachelle’s blog and at Steve Laube’s blog.
    So, what have I learned? Publishing is somewhat glacial, shall we say, in its speed. (Did anyone notice NO apostrophe? Huh? Not bad for Monday morning!)
    As in any business, the varying layers of publishing all need to blend together, or the walls come down.
    Looking beyond the writing itself, it does not surprise me whatsoever that the intricacies of interpersonal relationships are so pivotal in the foundation of a successful author/agent/publishing house relationship.

    I can write, oh yes I can, but I would not set foot into the pub house of my dreams without my agent walking point for me. She already has the working knowledge that would take me decades to learn. So why not trust her? She has the professional ability to go in those pub house doors andn take on the giant.

  • When I read a post liike this, I want to be an agent. Those types of meetings and conversations sound so gratifying, and a great way to provide value to my imaginary client list. But then I remember the contract I slogged through . . . and gave up reading. And I’m very happy to return to my imaginary characters and leave the meetings (and contracts) to my agent.

    Thanks for the post, Janet. It’s fun to see these behind-the-scene glimpses into the publishing realm.

  • I’m impressed that an agent would take an entire day or days to visit a publishing house on the behalf of just one client. I thought they only did it to get to know the editor or something broader.

    If I ever get an agent and a contract, I would absolutely LOVE to visit the publishing house with my agent. How fun to have a physical meeting of the minds like that.

  • Taking a trip like that sounds like a dream come true! If two heads are better than one, then an entire team plus agent must be able to accomplish incredible things. I wonder, though, how “big” a writer must be for agent and editorial / publishing team to brainstorm together like that. Is it only for the multi-published, bestselling authors? Or is it something we newbies might benefit from someday? Thanks, Janet, for sharing so many details of your job.

  • Rick Barry says:

    Janet, there are many agents out there, each one different from the others. While I realize every agent must start somewhere, your post today has confirmed to me that, when I decide to approach an agent for my current project, I will want to consider more than an agent’s pleasing personality and instincts for a good story. An agent who hasn’t been in the biz long enough to engage in the types of visits and relationships you mention must automatically lack some of the perspective that accompanies experience. For an author, this is worthy food for contemplation. Blessings, and thanks for sharing.

  • Kimberly says:

    I love to peek behind the curtain and see how agents and publisher work together to produce good books. Thanks for pulling the curtains aside and giving us a good look at the work going on behind the scenes.

  • Janet, when I hear you say, “it never took off, despite the author’s sizable blog audience” and “what a particular publishing house is looking for right now, not a few months ago,” I’m reminded that a lot of things have to click to make an author’s book(s)successful and it’s not easy to predict success. Yet, I am gaining in commitment to my project. I feel I’ve just got to give this my best shot and see what happens.

  • Janet, one of the things I love most about the Books and Such Blog is the education you offer about the publishing industry, and today’s post is no exception. I love learning about the workings of agents, editors and publishing houses, and it reconfirms the need we have as authors to seek out agents we can trust with our careers. There is so much more to publishing a book than first meets the eye, and knowing that my agent would be constantly looking out for my best interest, as a part of my team, gives me a great deal of assurance.

    I agree that face to face meetings are vital in this business. I know that going to the ACFW Conference in October, and having the ability to talk to agents and editors in person, propelled my career much faster down the path. I love that Books and Such makes it a priority to meet face to face with the publishing houses their authors are contracted with.

  • Cheryl Russell says:

    Thanks for posting this, Janet. This is one aspect of agenting I don’t think I’ve read about, so it was enlightening. Good information as always. :)

  • Diane Yuhas says:

    Thanks for the inside view! I’m amazed at all the people involved in the producing of a single book.

  • Sue Harrison says:

    I’m echoing all the kudos about giving us an insider’s view. Thank you so much, Janet!

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    It’s hard to beat in-person interaction to move discussion, relationship, project, or career forward.

  • Face to face always leads to better results!

  • I have retained all of my own contracts in the past rather easily (By God’s Grace I’m sure), and so when someone I really respect mentioned the idea of my getting an agent I wondered what they could do that I couldn’t. I prayed about it and felt strongly that I was to move forward and get an agent and the Lord led me to Wendy, then to Mary. I’ve only been on contract with B&S a couple of months, but I’ve learned so much already from your posts. I came to the table with a completed book in hand and expected the same ease at attaining a contract as I’ve done on my own. Instead, Mary asked that I make changes, and changes and changes and even have it professionally edited. No one had ever required me to do that before so I have to admit at first I was a little taken aback, but when I followed Mary’s advice I began to see my project from a readers view instead of just mine and I passionately love the final product. I had to go back and apologize to Mary! ;-) All that being said, Mary is making me live up to my potential and is making me a better writer and I appreciate that eternally!

  • Linda Taylor says:

    Keep up the good work, Janet! A little more research on your blog and I’ll be ready to feature a cute, perky ginger-haired literary agent in one of my books. Oops, now I gave the idea away. Darn. Well, I’m sure my girl wouldn’t be as professional as you, anyway. She’d probably show up in a bright red suit jacket. (kidding) We all appreciate your insight. Brings us back to the reality of the other half of the business.

  • Rene Diane Aube says:

    Thank you, Janet, for posting this very informative blog. I had not yet read anything like it.

    There is so much to learn about the publishing business that it can sometimes be overwhelming. I love reading about all the nuances of it. As I write and query I try to keep in mind how life will change once I acquire an agent and get published.

    Visiting a publishing house…wow! Exciting and scary at the same time!

  • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

    Thanks to each of you for commenting even though I couldn’t participate in the conversation. My publishing meetings were great, and as always I gained some insights into the publisher and publishing.
    I just want to clarify one thing in my blog. It’s highly unusual for a newly-published author to visit a publishing house. Visits generally occur for very established authors or for a new author whom many publishers wanted to publish. That kind of interest signals the book has the potential to sell big.

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