Blogger: Wendy Lawton
My colleague, Rachel Kent, wrote about agent/client communication just a couple of days ago, here, and did a wonderful job. Since I had already prepared my blog, I decided to tag along and add a little more to the discussion.
Here’s what got me started: A friend recently posed a question about agent/author communication. He asked the question, “What do agents owe clients?” and answered it with a one word answer–communication.
He was right. Agent/client communication is important but here’s how I answered the question:
I don’t like to talk about what we “owe” each other. That takes the relationship to an uncomfortable place. I hate unfair expectations just as much as my clients do. I’ve worked with some clients for years before making a sale, expending the kind of time and energy that, if considered on a ROI basis (return on investment), would put me far, far below minimum wage. But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in that client and in most cases it has eventually paid off. Sometimes very handsomely for both of us. I’m investing in careers. My clients don’t owe me a return on investment anymore than I owe them.
One thing to remember: When agents spend time talking with clients it is time we are not able to spend working on their behalf. The real work we do for clients is done behind the scenes with publishers, editors, publicity people and media. It takes getting out of our offices and putting in time on the road when we may seem unavailable.
That said: We do need to communicate with our clients. This is a topic that always engenders guilt for agents. We can never do enough, especially in the CBA when our client load can be many times heavier than that of ABA agents. We almost always fall short but that’s the nature of the job. We grant grace to our clients and they grant grace to us and, in what may be an imperfect relationship, we make exciting things happen.
Personally, my biggest shortcoming is that I hate to give bad news. I’ll sometimes save up rejections and try to figure the best day on which to communicate those. Never on a Friday, never when the writer has talked on Facebook about being discouraged, never near a holiday, never when they are sick or worried or broke or. . . well, you get the picture.
Other reasons an agent may seem silent:
- The proposal you sent needs so much work it’s going to take thirty+ hours to get it into shape and the agent has no idea how he/she can possibly fit that in. Perfect proposals for fabulous ideas get sent out right away and always engender editorial excitement. The communication flies back and forth. Too many proposed books are just sort of meh. We’re always going to work on those “tomorrow.”
- There may be no communication because the client has presented nothing to the agent in a long time and the agent sort of pictures them on the bench– on the inactive list. If there are no books releasing and no books to present, there’s little to say.
- Sometimes it is because we just can’t get anything going for that client. I am an encourager by nature but one of my goals for this year has been to temper encouragement with reality. To be a truth teller. I know that rather than be non-communicative, I need to be quicker to let clients go when it seems as if I can’t get any traction for them or when sales numbers make it almost impossible to get a publisher’s sales team to give a nod to the project. That’s when I’m guilty of poor communication. There’s nothing to say. The interesting thing is, when I’ve let a client go, or a client has let me go, I’ve often been able to celebrate with them as their new agent makes a sale I could not seem to make. We all have different contacts and an agent who hasn’t heard all the negative stuff I’ve heard from editors may approach the client with a fresh enthusiasm.
- Every agent has his or her own style of communication. Some are natural communicators and want to know about the client’s family, hobbies, children and pets. That agent might be hurt if you don’t include them in everything. Others are the strong silent types. It’s like the difference in physicians– bedside manner. That’s why it is important to understand at the outset how the agent communicates.
That’s the way things look from this side of the desk. Don’t forget, the phone lines go both ways. If it seems like a while since you’ve heard from your agent, pick up the phone and call. We signed you because we like you– really, really like you. Your agent will be happy to hear from you.
Now it’s your turn. Remind us what it looks like from your side of the desk. In a perfect world, what would agent/client communication look like?
What’s up when your literary agent falls silent? Click to Tweet
When all you hear from your agent is the sound of crickets chirping, what’s going on? Click to Tweet
What one thing do agents owe their clients? Click to Tweet