5 Tips for Managing your Agent and Editor

There’s a first rule in becoming an agent: “learn how to manage your client.” This is true of any entertainment agent: when you are invested in someone’s longterm career, you need to allow your client to dream big in the creation process but moderate expectations in the fulfillment of that dream with conservatism, and guide clients to detach themselves from their work as more parties are involved. And encourage that they detach themselves again when they become, as so many artists, the subject of criticism or enjoy the celebrity of fandom–the majority of well-recognized authors experience both, in equal part.

But what about managing your agent or your editor? Most authors are not given this guidance, and yet these partners are the glue and the cement of what your book is to become. I thought it might be helpful to give a few tips of what, from the other side, an author can do to get the attention and results they need, without alienating their partners as they travel the long (and winding) road:

1)  Have patience. Once you’ve turned in your manuscript or proposal, do not follow up just a few days afterward with a needy call or email: “so what did you think?” Agents and editors have their own lives, just as you do; plus other projects to juggle in order to make a living

2) Push yourself beyond the limits of patience. When your agent has decided your proposal is ready for submission, he/she will inform you before approaching a list of editors. Submissions can take anywhere from a week to a month before an offer is made. The lag between an agent’s submission, an editor’s read, and a publisher’s final decision to make an offer is subject to all kinds of approvals and bureaucracy. What’s often not recognized in the ever-mysterious and insular publishing world is that there are actually five considerations in selling a book, each contingent upon one another, and they’re made on the part of five different parties.

First the writer must persuade the agent of the merit and commercial potential of his work. The agent then needs to convey and formalize this for an editor. The editor now advocates his belief in the book to the publisher. The publisher if left to convince the vendor. And finally that vendor, i.e. Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore, is left to market or sell that book to the public.

I’ve said in an earlier post that writing careers are made of talent, tenacity, and luck — all of which are founded in patience.

3) Be clear, concise, and respectful in your ask. Whether wry, ironic and self-deprecating, literary and confident, or written with humor in inventive new slang, the mark of talent can be distinguished immediately, even in short form. I tell writers I want to represent: “you had me at  email,” or the more suggestive term a friend of mine uses: “you give good email”  The writers who get my attention write concisely — just 2-3 paragraphs should do it, leading with who you are, and why you think your book idea deserves to break out. They express a passion that excites me; an urgency but not an emergency. From the query stage to the publishing stage: be clear in your message. Define the value proposition for your book idea. Or when your publisher is pissing you off for whatever reason, a short note to your agent in email demonstrating that reason, even bulleted with the points of contention, provide a clear call to action for anyone whose attention is oversubscribed (i.e. your agent’s or your editor’s).

4) Get it all in one email  Authors tend to have an idea or several a day. Let these percolate over the weekend. On a Monday or Tuesday, send a detailed email with as many questions/ideas as possible in one document to the team. Do not follow up just a few days afterward with a call or email: “so what did you think?” Your memo likely requires thorough thought and response. In your note, provide a clear call to action for anyone whose attention is oversubscribed (i.e. your agent’s or your editor’s). Keep the tenor of the note excited and fun, not heavy. Express gratitude, always

5) Put a little pressure on if needed. Agents are phone people, editors are email people. (My subjective view. But doesn’t it makes sense, given the job description?) Know the preferred communication style of your representatives, and if you don’t, ask at the outset. Even if you’ve sent an email first about your issue, and that issue has not yet been responded to, it’s likely either due to one or two reasons, neither of which have to do with disliking or not caring about you: 1) your ed/agent is buried in work or 2) they don’t yet have an answer for you, and no one wants to be held accountable for flip flopping later on. Business authors I work with are often surprised by how slow the publishing industry can be in reaching decisions. But unsurprisingly, as an industry known for fostering competition — among writers, agents, editors, and publishers — people do respond to a little pressure if done strategically. A mundane example: I’m just over two weeks away from launching a book with an author and there’s a ton to get done, and lots of smaller decisions needing response. But of those emails we’re all trying to read with some thoroughness in between meeting with clients or putting out fires, there’s one email that’s more time-sensitive than the rest. The author gives a quick call and leaves a polite–not needy, not angry–message that there’s one email requiring urgent attention. I respond by giving a quick call to the other person involved to get it dealt with in just a few minutes before rushing off to the next thing. Agents are a rare breed who can move swiftly to action within 5 minutes time. We often don’t have the time to flower our language, but we do have the time to bluntly convey facts and offer an update or needed advice. We do, in other words, respond well to pressure. Do not doubt our investment or advocacy of you — we took you on for a reason!

 

  • Wonderful post, great advice, and very timely for me as my agent has my ms on submission currently. You write: “Submissions can take anywhere from a week to a month before an offer is made.” What if, as in my case, my ms has been on submission since October, with very few rejections and no correspondence from the other editors who still have it on their desk? There are like 11 still out there. Is my agent not doing her job with following up? She says she assumes they’re not interested. My assumption is SHE’S no longer interested because she’s not after the editors following up. What’s your take? I’m about ready to cut my loss and look for a new agent. I think it’s better to have no agent than to have a bad agent. Would LOVE your advice, if you’re offering it here. Thanks, Stephanie Elliot

  • Lucinda

    Thank you for the compliment. There’s absolutely hope for you! Email your query to me and I’ll look over and give some feedback. Just don’t expect immediate turnaround!

Douglas Kennedy

“The best book about Morocco since The Sheltering Sky. Completely absorbing and atmospheric.” — Philip Kerr