Blogger: Wendy Lawton
I’m heading out on a working vacation for two weeks, so I dusted off a post from about seven years ago that, unfortunately, still rings true. It’s especially timely in light of my absence. For the next couple of weeks I may not be able to join in the comments but I will read them when I return.
Many an agent blog talks about what writers do that make an agent cringe—everything from crazy queries to attention-seeking ruses. Addressing some of these issues makes great cautionary tales. Today, however, I’m going to talk about what we agents do that make us cringe.
I’m guessing that all of us start out with the noblest intentions: I will answer emails within twenty-four hours. I will never let a query sit longer than two weeks. If I meet a person at a writer’s conference and request material, I will put that at the top of the pile.
And then we wake up.
The universal fact of publishing is that each cog in this mighty machine is working at top capacity and still not getting the kind of traction we’d like to see. You’ve heard the numbers of projects editors handle. Agents are in the same boat. We can’t control the amount of work coming in—take queries, for instance—and we can’t always control our day-to-day schedule because much of our job revolves around averting crises and meeting immediate needs. It means that we do the best we can and blush when we come up against our inadequacies.
So let me make this personal. These are the things that me cringe:
- I cringe when I look at my pile of requested manuscripts. I have a basket in my office with some I’ve printed out, others are on my Kindle, others in a file on my computer desktop marked “To read/non-clients.” How I wish I could get to these quickly. Having been a writer, I can never forget that wait.
- I cringe when I come back from a trip or a writer’s conference to 400+ emails. I know I can’t catch up and handle the new emails in a timely manner. The deluge of communication seems to increase each year.
- I cringe when I’m distracted around people. I used to try to keep up with email while I was on the road, but I found it impossible to be “present” with the people I was visiting. I stopped trying to multi-task. I get more done when I’m focused. Besides, flesh-and-blood people are important.
- I cringe when I’m at one of those conferences and meet a person to whom I didn’t respond in a timely manner. It’s especially painful when, had I had time to read their submissions, I would have offered representation. But someone else beat me to it.
- I cringe when I get a new proposal from one of my clients and have to put it in the queue. Clients often hope for immediate feedback. In a perfect world. . .
Cringing aside, part of my job is to prioritize. Each thing that crosses my desk is intuitively categorized—drop everything and put out the fire, do immediately, put this in the file and create a tickler, get to this when you can.
One of my clients gave me this set of Post-It notes that I love:
After reading my list of regrets, you may wonder if I ever get anything done. I do and, on the whole, I do it successfully. I’ve had to learn to set aside my perfectionist tendencies, offer frequent mea culpas and repeat my favorite sayings, “It is what it is,” and “You can only do what you can do.”
How about you? What things do you wish you could do better?