In past posts, I’ve talked about getting an agent and choosing an agent. Today, I’d like to discuss maintaining a healthy author/agent relationship. I chatted with several agent friends of mine recently about what makes a good client and there was many an overlap. (Note to any Weed Lit client reading this. Most of these examples are from colleagues, not my own experiences… hence I am not pointing fingers :))
1. Send in Clean Copy*—I know there are agents out their who don’t edit (or, gasp, READ your work) but in my humble opinion, a good agent edits your work. However, we aren’t copy editors. If punctuation/spelling/grammar isn’t your strong suit, find someone who can read your work before you send it to your agent. A good client will have another reader in their life (a spouse, a friend, someone from their writing group) read behind them. It’s a sign of professionalism and just a general indicator that said client is thoughtful about his or her work and that what is sent in is as polished as you can make it. “I” asked a client recently to please send me her next novel and she said she wasn’t sending it until it was perfect and she could really knock my socks off. That was much appreciated. ***
2. Be Nice—This may be the most powerful thing a client can do for herself. You don’t have to be Pollyanna, or 100% agreeable, but a good client is pleasant to talk to, has manners and respect for other people’s time. This is not something that just affects the agent. “I” once had a client who was so unpleasant, demanding and negative that she not only put me off, but the editor as well. It’s one thing to frustrate your agent, but once you poison the waters with the editor, you are in trouble. Your editor is your in-house advocate–the person that will sing your praises from the rooftops to everyone from marketing and publicity to sales. Without her as your advocate, you are toast.
3. Be a Team Player—This kind of goes in tandem with #2 but a good client is ready and willing to work with her agent and, by extension, her editor and the rest of the team at the publishing house to make the book the best it can be.
4. Be Your Own Publicist—I have so much to say on this topic that I may devote a later post to it, but for the time being, a good client is someone that not only gets the importance of publicity but is also ready to roll up his or her sleeves to be a big part of the process. Sadly, publicity at publishing houses is not what it needs to be. Much of the work falls on the author’s shoulders, from following up with an in-house person to, frankly, securing publicity on their own. Some of “my” most successful clients are the ones who have gotten the lion’s share of their own publicity. Often times publicists are young, overworked, underpaid and inexperienced. And while the level of in-house involvement from publicist to publicist does vary from house to house (and “I” have had authors who have had good experiences with publicists securing press) the majority have been understandably frustrated. So, a good client not only gets this, but rather than sitting around and complaining about it (well, a good client has a relationship with his or her agent such that she is always free to bitch to her agent about this sort of thing) she figures out ways around a rather disappointing situation.
5. Be Realistic—I believe in the power of positive thinking and that setting big goals can lead to big things. However, a good client is aware of the tough market and understands what they are up against when they decide to write a book and have it published.
6. Looks at the Long Term—A good client thinks long term and by that I mean, isn’t looking at just one book but at their career. They may, for example, have another author’s trajectory in mind and have the understanding that “building a career” may mean starting out small. Or it may mean that they need to think about branding their books. Or it may mean having to suck it up when you don’t feel you have the best fit with your editor. See that book through and then figure out a way to move.
7. Don’t call/text/email on the weekends—Caveat here for me personally. I work with a lot of mothers and I don’t care when you email me as long as you understand that I will most likely not respond to you until the week day when I am in the office. I understand that many a working person needs to do their writing etc. on the weekends and in the evenings, so it’s easiest to send those emails while you are thinking about them. But, it did come up a lot with others so I wanted to throw that out there. I think this might be one of those case-by-case things where you kind of have to feel each other out.
8. Takes Criticism Well—I had a client tell me recently that he usually freaks out about feedback, sits with it, sleeps on it and then thinks about it again before responding to his critique. Getting critiqued is not fun, but your agent is usually giving you feedback that he or she hopes will improve the book. Of course, you can agree to disagree—and a good agent will allow for that kind of back and forth. (An agent is not the end all be all.) But a good agent tries to keep an open mind.
9. Be Appreciative—Yes it’s your agent’s job to read and edit your work, but I try to do the same when I know an author has worked really hard. So, when your agent has read and edited countless drafts of your work or gone to the mat for something with the publisher, let them know you appreciate their hard work.
10. When in doubt, send chocolate or wine! Just kidding. But I wanted 10 points and only had 9. Gifts are always majorly appreciated and I seem to have hit the jackpot with amazing gift-giving authors, so this one is really from me to them. THANK YOU!
Does this advice help? Ring true? I want to throw this out to those of you who have agents. What makes a good agent? Anything that we should be doing?
*due to a scheduling conflict, I did not take this advice and am pressing send after a quick read through.
***Kath here, the conflict was all my fault, Elisabeth was such a trooper!