Following the Rules: Agents and Editors

Wendy Lawton

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?

5 Responses

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  1. Judy Gann says:

    Important post, Wendy. Thanks for sharing these tips.

    I think the key in both relationships is keeping the lines of communication open through whatever methods your agent or editor prefers. It’s easy for misunderstandings to develop or for the author to forget to communicate important information.

    On the other hand, some agents (waving at Wendy) make a client feel like their only client. 🙂 We need to remember we’re one of many and to be patient while waiting for a response.

    Like you said, use common sense. Seasoned with grace.

  2. KC Frantzen says:

    Judy, you blessed lady! 🙂
    I hope one day to be represented by this great agency myself.

    Wendy, thank you for your blog this week. I’m learning so much from each of you.

    A quick question: what are your views for an unpublished author even needing an agent? Or perhaps an expansion of that concept, WHEN does an author need to consider representation? There’s such a variety of answers on this…

    (If this was already covered, sorry ’bout that!)

  3. Wendy Lawton says:

    There are a variety of answers to your question because writers (and agents) are a varied lot. Not many agents shun unpublished writers. There’s nothing an agent loves more than discovering a bright new talent.

    The competition for the few open slots is fierce however. When you writing starts winning competitions and getting great feedback from experienced readers it might be time for you to begin to seek representation. You just need to be persistent. Rejections are not necessarily about you or your writing. It’s more commonly about the agent’s availability at the time, the market realities, etc.

    One of the reasons I always stress multiple paths to publishing is that you may have more success with a workaround of one kind or another. I’ve had many clients come to me with their first contract already in hand– a contract they netted themselves.

  4. ginko says:

    I am a writer and I was looking this kind of tips for a long.This information will be really very helpful for me.Thank you very much for giving such tis to us.You have done a good job at least for me.

  5. KC Frantzen says:

    Thanks Wendy.
    You hear so many things it’s hard to know which avenue to take!
    This Books & Such blog is just the best – we appreciate the perspective each of you brings.