Blogger: Rachel Kent
One of my clients responded to a message I sent to check in with her about what was going on in her writing life with what felt to her like a confession. She has been meaning to finish her project for a few months now but hasn’t been able to because of life circumstances. I didn’t know what was going on, and she said she felt much better once her “guilt” was out in the open. This situation of communication breakdown was not a big deal, but it is nice to know that the two of us are on the same page now. I know not to expect her project for a little while, and she knows that I’m aware of what is going on and that I’m okay with her taking more time. (This is an uncontracted project; being behind with a contracted manuscript is a whole other situation.)
It’s very important to keep the communication flowing with your agent. It really does help everyone to avoid unnecessary stress. A lot of times lack of communication leads to piles of extra work for everyone involved because a small situation spirals out of control. Things can even get emotional. An author can end up feeling ignored, but the agent doesn’t realize the client is upset because he or she is assuming that the author would contact said agent if there was a need. This is especially true for a client who is under a multi-book contract; silence means all is going well.
Communicating with potential agents is also important. Even if you aren’t represented yet, if you have established a relationship with an agent and that agent is either reviewing your project or waiting for you to submit a project, then you should be in some communication with them if the need arises. I think it’s important to check in with an agent if you haven’t heard from him or her within 6-8 weeks of submitting your project. Just send a polite email asking for an update. If you don’t receive a response, you could phone because your emails might be going into SPAM. Again, be polite and keep it brief.
The other reason you should communicate with a potential agent is if some life circumstance is keeping you from sending your requested submission. Agents do request projects because they want to see them; so it’s a courtesy to let that agent know if you anticipate a considerable delay in submitting.
What situation have you been in that was caused by lack of communication?
What holds you back from communicating with your agent or a potential agent?
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
A certain parachurch mega-ministry was getting mail from me for a solid year. Every week or two, another letter would arrive in their mailbox. My words were angry, actually, hateful, threatening and extremely vile. They grew to loathe anything with my name on it. After a year of my words breaking hearts and morale, their director confronted me, in our church hall, during a birthday celebration for an elderly member. He raged at me in front of 200-300 people about my behaviour. The only problem was, I had not written or sent a single, solitary one of those letters.
But, and it’s a big one, they didn’t answer one of them either. Not one. They hid what was happening, they HOPED it would stop.
They allowed a year of this to enter their workplace without once picking up the phone or writing ME back. One letter from them would have tipped me off and I could have taken action to stop the letters from coming. I knew many of the people *I* had been slamming, they were my friends. Were.
My name was ruined, my ministry was ruined, my reputation in a tight missions community was ruined. They blamed me for the letters, but I wondered why they never once took action. They didn’t call the police and report any of the threats that *I* had made.
A lawyer and some detective work, on my part, found and exposed the culprit. I informed the minstry exactly who had sent the letters.
It broke my heart too, remember, the letters were sent over a solid year, every week or two, for twelve months.
The writer of the lettters was my best friend. And let me tell you, having to tell a faith based organization that your best friend wrote hate mail in your name was a just tad awkward.
My advice to anyone is this: don’t copy any emails to anyone you don’t trust. Follow up any important communication with a phone call. And ask hard questions. If you are investing time or money with someone, you have the right to ask them if they have checked you out.
If those people had just picked up the phone after one, ONE!!!! of *my* nasty letters, NONE of the trouble we all went through would have gone beyond one single letter!! One lousy phone call, was that so hard? Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope the bad people go away, either, they won’t.
And no, when I confronted her about her handiwork, she didn’t apologize, speak to me ever again, or show her face in church. Ever. Again. And I never found out why she did it.
What holds me back from communicating with a)my current or b)future agent?
Well a) I don’t have one and b) I seem to have developed a case of chicken feathers.
I have this certain agency I want to query, and I haven’t stockpiled enough chocclate yet.:)
Wow, Jennifer. That is CRAZ–YYY! You are totally right. All they had to do was confront you calmly in private and the whole matter would have been resolved. Your best friend? That is double crazy!! And just p.s. but I’m thinking future book subject!! ahem. cough. Keep your chin up! Have a great day!
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Jennifer, what a horrible thing to go through. And, as you said, it could have been cleared up quickly, at least between you and the church community, if they had simply contacted you. You still would have had the betrayal of your best friend to deal with, but so much other hurt could have been prevented. I hurt for you that you had to go through that.
What an interesting and horrifying story! That is a very scary example of what problems lack of communication can cause.
And put that chocolate courage to work and start querying. 🙂
On the flipside, if such an organization was either so incompetent or lazy as to not do a basic follow-through, why would you want to be associated with them? Especially from what I gather from your post, you had some position of responsibility / leadership role in the organization, for them to not discuss it with you ealier, and then to confront you in such a petty, vindictive, unprofessional way?
Susi Robinson Rutz
An important reminder to all of us: RESPOND, rather than REACT! Thanks for sharing, Jennifer.
Oh. My. Word.
I can’t even imagine… *speechless*
Can I say how happy I am that you came through that life-lesson a better person? I can hear the hurt in your words, but not bitterness. Good for you. And thanks for sharing so we can all learn.
Rachel, great thoughts as always. I’ve been in a situation where I told a friend something minor, that had our roles been reversed, I would have wanted to know. It bothered her that I mentioned it, but she didn’t say anything to me for 6 months. It soured our relationship because she held it in. By the time she mentioned it, the feelings associated with her offense at my words had grown. I felt the tension grow in our friendship, but I had no idea why she was upset with me until she told me. It all could have been taken care of so quickly, had she told me what I’d said that upset her. Sigh.
As for agents, I appreciate your suggestion to keep communication open, even if I’m not represented but I’ve submitted my work to one. Thanks so much, Rachel.
Jeanne, I had the same thing happen with a friend this week! I had said something about six months ago that she took very differently from the way I meant it and she just confronted me about it a couple of days ago. I’m so glad we got everything cleared up. Scary though.
Rachel, I love this post. I always like hearing an agent’s side of things. I’ve often wondered if those little “check in” emails would be seen as annoying–because that’s the last thing I’d want to be! I especially love that you mentioned it’s okay to check in with an agent if he/she has had your submission for 6-8 weeks and you haven’t heard anything.
I think communication is extremely important, and it’s one reason I’d want to have an agent with whom I was comfortable, because it would make those conversations so much easier to have.
Thanks, Lindsay! I’m so glad the post was helpful.
Thanks, Rachel! This is good to know.
I’ve read a lot about communication with agents during the query/submission process and have found varying answers (as expected). 🙂
But this info helps very much. We as potential clients don’t want to come off as rude or with unprofessional behavior, so it’s great to know the boundaries of agent contact. Appreciate it!
Hopefully I’m not leading anyone astray! I think if you are patient and respectful you can’t go wrong when communicating with agents. Same thing goes with agents communicating with authors!
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Thank you, Rachel. Another great post.
Communication is so important. Sometimes lack of communication can have terrible consequences. I know someone who this summer seriously considered suicide. Thank God, she asked God for the grace to help her continue living. She emailed her sister about the fact that she had felt so desolate that she had considered suicide. Her sister’s response was silence. For two days. Absolute silence. Thankfully, this person had already promised with God’s help not to commit suicide. I think, otherwise, her sister’s silence would have been the final push over the edge. Then her sister wrote a really angry email accusing her of emotional manipulation. The person was quite hurt and considered firing off an angry email, but after praying, she decided to call her sister, not to express anger, but to apologize for upsetting her and to try to make peace between them. The situation could have easily have spiraled into estrangement without this gesture–on the part of the person who most needed help and compassion. They talked and her sister got that this was not some sort of emotional ploy, but that the person was seriously hurting. Her sister expressed care and concern and urged her to start talking with a counselor, which she has since done. The sister said she didn’t call or email immediately because she had numerous emotions going on inside her and she was afraid she would say the wrong thing. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I think she should have at least had someone else call her sister–her husband or a friend, so that someone reached out to her to let her know that she was cared about. I don’t think her sister gets how fortunate she is that her younger sister didn’t kill herself during the silence.
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Nothing for two days?? At the risk of sounding, whatever, that older sister was rather stupid. How thoughtless to accuse someone in pain of being manipulative!
You don’t kick someone when they are down!!!
Words, or the lack thereof, are often the last vapour between life and death.
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
I absolutely agree. Words–or lack there of–can make all the difference.
Yikes! Sounds like both of them could have used some counseling and a mediator. It does seem like there were some past issues coming up in the situation too.
But you don’t treat suicide lightly ever. I hope things are better between them now!
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
You’re right, Rachel. Talk of suicidal thoughts should never be ignored. And I agree that BOTH of them could use counseling and a mediator. At least, the one who had the suicidal thoughts is getting counseling and her therapist is a spiritual woman who brings God into the equation. So I think she’s ultimately going to be okay. Thank God.
One of the factors keeping me from sending queries out to various agents is that too many seem stuck in the old paradigm of the industry. The industry has changed. It is continuing to change. I want an agent, an advocate, who is able to adapt to such changes rather than bemoan them. I want one who is able to work in the state of the industry as it is today, not the last century.
Which is why your topic gets to one of the most vital questions facing publishing, Rachel: in this new era, it is hard for a writer to find someone who is an advocate who understands that the writer, the content and job-producer, has a voice, that they should and must be engaged in dialogue with their publisher, and not just talked down to and told “sign here and shaddup because this is just the way things are.”
From the agents’ perspective, I think you helped to show that an agent who is a true advocate WANTS their client to be able to communicate freely and openly, so that as the industry continues to change the writer and their agent can better navigate those changes (and also deal with the not-so-new worries, frustrations, and changes in the writers personal life) .
From the publishers’ perspective…as a writer, I don’t hear the vast majority so much trying to communicate how they and the industry as a whole needs to adapt to change and how it will do that, so much as attempt to justify why they are so opposed to change. As an agent, what do you hear from publishers which they are perhaps not communicating well to authors? What do you think publishers could do to better communicate to authors (and readers!), and how much is simply not a problem of communication but a desire to not change, to not have a dialogue?
Interesting, Larry! I think publishers aren’t communicating well how much work they actually do for their authors–editing, marketing, getting reviews, etc. This lack of communication makes self-publishing seem like it’s just as good as selling a book to a publishing house because they are not always upfront about the work and money they are putting in to a project. Ultimately, this lack of communication could be the downfall to traditional publishing, so I really hope publishers start being more open with the behind-the-scenes work they are doing.
I do think that this lack of communication is based in some old school of thought that needs to be reevaluated if publishers want to stay as a major player in the game.
That’s one example. I’m sure I could think of others and I’ll have to keep this in mind for a future blog topic. Thanks, Larry!
EXCELLENT advice, Rachel. I will def remember this. Thank you.
Hi Rachel: Such a significant topic: It took me years of forcing myself to ask others “what they meant” in certain situations but I did it to avoid conflict and endless rumination. Showing that one cares about the relationship by asking for clarification opens up new levels of friendship, and, in the business world, it saves everyone time and money. Sorry to go off topic of literary field, but I highly recommend “if in doubt, ask.”
I totally agree with you, Mike. It’s so easy to misinterpret a person’s words and words can be so powerful. It’s always better to double-check someone’s meaning if you are at all in doubt. Even if they meant to be hurtful, clarifying that with them could make them think twice about their intentions anyway.
“What we have here is failure to communicate.”
There’s nothing like a good understanding between people who work together.
Sharon K Mayhew
Communication is so important. Something I have done with the agents I have met at SCBWI conferences is use the original email (gmail) that I had with them. That way if they have forgotten what we were talking about they can scroll down.
Always a great idea to continue email threads. It is helpful.
Your example of the author feeling ignored and the agent not realizing the client is upset reminded me of that classic anecdote where the wife comes to the husband, after years of marriage, and complains that he never tells her he loves her. The husband says, “I told you I loved you when we got married. I’ll let you know if that ever changes.” While I might’ve slapped the guy, I can understand the application for those of us who tend to wig out if left to our own devices.
Yes, communication is vital on both sides, but I think it’s easy for an author to forget just how slowly the publishing industry moves. Even when you’ve seen it first hand! So we get impatient and paranoid, call our agent and in essence demand, “Do you still love me?!” (And of course I’m speaking metaphorically here. None of this applies to me. I am the Soul of Rationality.)
I don’t envy agents those phone calls. You guys are special people to do what you do.
Thanks for posting on this topic. It’s definitely something we authors obsess about, in case you hadn’t already guessed. 🙂
Lol! I love that marriage example. 🙂
And it is true that it is easy for an author to forget how slowly things move in publishing. The agent is also likely to not have a good feeling for how long it’s been since he or she has actually communicated with each client too. Time moves very quickly for agents where it might drag on and on for a waiting author.
LOL! I had that EXACT conversation with my husband about fifteen years ago. Now he calls me at work a few times a week, leaves post-it notes on my steering wheel, and texts periodically to make sure I remember.
We worked out a system for when we want the other person to pay more attention. It’s very simple. One walks up to the other, makes sure s/he’s focused, and say, “Pay attention to me!” Works every time.
Heather Day Gilbert
How refreshing to read an agent article on the IMPORTANCE of communication! Half the time, I think clients feel they are being high-maintenance when they check in often. I know there are definitely limits to that, but I definitely think lots of confusion can be cleared with regular and clear communication (let us not even go into how important that is in a marriage relationship, much less an agenting one!).
I did have an experience with a previous agent, in which the burden of communicating almost always fell on ME. I had to ask how things were going, only to find all my submissions had been rejected. I definitely knew I wanted my next agent to be a good communicator (and one who could give me more feedback on my MS, rather than just saying they loved it). I am so thankful God answered my prayers.
Thank you for this excellent advice, Rachel!
I do think that the burden of communication does fall on the author a lot because agents need to be told that there’s a need in that author’s life.
I always try to check in with my clients though. I hope they don’t feel neglected much.
How’s this for communication?
Dear potential agent,
I had a publisher call me on Tuesday morning to tell me she’s putting my book to her committee this week and that I need an agent. Please expect a query on Friday (which I took off work to write queries, and to can peaches and tomatoes, or is that TMI?).
Still in shock author
Heather Day Gilbert
Just read this and ANN, that is SO COOL! What a knockout query that will be–you already have a publisher lined up! Congrats!
Congratulations, Ann! And I hope canning is fun for you. Sounds like a chore to me, but some people find it relaxing. 🙂
I just sent my manuscript to some agents. I feel very confident about my work. I’ve always been kind of scarred to let people read what I wrote from the fear of them stealing my idea. I let one lady read it that works with me, and she wouldn’t give me back my computer. The lady told me writing style is different, and so is my idea which made me feel confident. A new style of writing is on the up rise. Hope everyone gets what they are striding for. Good Luck to all, and my quote “I can’t draw, but I can paint beautiful pictures with words”.