blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Literary agents and agencies are not one-size-fits-all…not that anything bearing that label ever truly is.
We share common ground. We differ in specialities, connections, level of hands-on or hands-off involvement in our client’s projects, and approaches to a writer’s long-term career. Agents span a wide range of communication preferences–email only, snail mail only (there may be one or two agents somewhere in the world who prefer snail mail), calling periodically, calling by appointment, texting never, texting in emergencies, texting only in real emergencies versus what an author thinks qualifies…).
But although we still have detail and frequency preferences, most agents want to be kept informed. Editing that last sentence: We NEED to be kept informed. We don’t care what you had for supper last night (unless you’re willing to share the recipe), but we do care if it sent you into labor and we have to adjust your book deadline because the baby came a month early. And we care that you had your baby a month early!
Authors often struggle with knowing what constitutes a tidbit or seismic change worth reporting to an agent. The only way to know your agent’s preference is to ask. But these ideas might help form a baseline for the so-called average agent and his/her so-called average client.
Keeping your agent informed about what?
- The author moves. Not, like, Zumba. But has an address change. Your agent and agency absolutely need to know to keep their records updated and so they can provide accurate information for tax purposes, mailings, royalty payments, and contract details. (Don’t get us wrong. We also like to know you’re moving to stay healthy, but it’s not an update item.)
- The author gains a family member. Or two. Or ten. If you’re now foster parenting, adopting, expanding your family in any way, please let us know. We need to keep your bios updated, and it may matter how we space out your upcoming projects.
- The author loses a loved one or close friend to death. When you’re able, let us know. We’ll join those praying for you, and we’ll work to adjust the expectations for your writing, publishing, and marketing timelines.
- The author’s health dramatically changes. Don’t keep it a secret from an agent who cares about you and wants to help you figure out what happens to your writing while you’re dealing with the health crisis.
- The author’s day job changes. Are transitions at work affecting your ability to respond to us in a timely fashion? Please let us know.
- The author loses interest in writing. If you would kindly let us know sooner rather than later, that would be so helpful. Gracias.
Is that all there is?
Consider these other not-so-automatic reasons to inform your agent.
- The author is involved in a legal matter, even if at first glance it doesn’t seem relevant to a writing career.
- The author decides to switch genres. That’s the literary equivalent of changing lanes without signaling. Illegal in all fifty states.
- The author hires outside help for rebranding or book coaching. Please let us know before it happens. We may be able to steer you away from an unwise business decision or toward someone whose reputation is impeccable. And we agents need to be involved in your branding or rebranding decisions, since they affect your writing career as a whole.
- The author is invited to participate in a major media event. I can only post pictures of my cute granddog so many times. It’s helpful for the author and his/her agent to be able to spread the word about major moments. And it keeps the agent informed about the author’s marketing momentum as well as the publishing house’s marketing and publicity efforts.
- The author leaves for an extended vacation. A contract stall or negotiation glitch can be prevented if we know you’re unreachable for longer than a few days.
It’s no surprise that an agent’s inbox overflows…and not in a lovely waterfall way. But staying informed about our clients is important to us–dichotomy. One of my clients has recently adopted a pattern that makes me feel better connected to her writing life and better equipped to respond if I see any red flags. She sends a monthly update email. This month she included topics like these:
- Book progress–I’m sure she sees it as accountability, but it also helps me know how to schedule my time and how soon I can expect to pitch the project to publishers.
- Other writing (guest blog posts, magazine articles…)–Showed her engagement with potential readers.
- New information about upcoming speaking events she scheduled–Affected her platform and her proposal information.
- Platform (built-in audience/her reach) progress–I could see what she was doing to make intentional inroads.
- What I’ve said no to–My author may have thought this was an afterthought, but it revealed so much about how she was zeroing in on playing to her strengths and positioning herself for a yes from a publisher.
- Other/Random–Here she offered the latest on her recovery from her unicycle injury (not making this up), a comment about a book she’d read that had an impact, and a significant change in her husband’s work schedule that might shift her writing schedule for the better.
One email, and I was caught up on a number of important elements for my author’s career, her current project, and our relationship-building.
Too much information?
Authors and their agents sometimes walk through seasons of far more frequent communication. Title discussions. Cover design questions. Contract information. Brainstorming. Some information must be communicated as it happens. But often much that might be helpful for an agent to know isn’t communicated at all. You had a dentist appointment? I don’t need to know. They pulled all your teeth and you’re booked for an interview on the Today Show Thursday? Worth communicating.
You and your agent will together establish a rhythm of communication that works for both of you. Maybe a monthly update email will help.
Final tip about keeping your agent informed
Ask if your agent wants or needs to be copied on communications with your publishing house.
No, seriously, the final tip for sure
Reserve agreeing to or getting excited about anything a publishing house asks of you or offers until after you consult with your agent. Love the title the publisher landed on? Wait to say so until your agent sees it. It’ll save you and your agent potential embarrassment or difficulty if the agent notices something about the title that you missed. Titles are often known by their nickname or filed by their acronym. You can avoid a sticky situation, like discovering Don’t Underestimate Mom’s Behavior is shortened online to D.U.M.B.
What questions do you still have about how much or little you need to keep your agent informed? What do you wonder, “Should I tell her or keep this to myself?” Looking forward to your comments.