Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top Ten Pieces of Advice for a Good Agent - Author Relationship

By Paige Wheeler

I was originally supposed to write about that elusive subject, “voice” and how writers can find it--a good and important topic, to be sure. However, I received something in today’s mail that made me change the direction of my blog posting. Today, I received an invitation to the graduation of one of my author’s daughters. This author has been with me for eleven years when her daughter was only seven years old. It’s amazing how time flies. It’s even more amazing the relationship that I’ve developed not only with my author, but with her family as well. We have shared personal ups and downs over the years, I’ve watched her family grow and I’ve guided her career as well.

It’s the same for the majority of my clients. They start off as clients but they become friends. It’s important to nurture this relationship from both sides, because it IS going to be a long term relationship. Once the agent sells the book, you’re working with that agent for the life of the book contract. Even if the two of you part ways, royalties still have be paid out, correspondence exchanged, and foreign rights have to be sold. It behooves BOTH sides to follow some simple guidelines to ensure good communication between agent and author. I’m going to outline some of them below.

1. Make sure both of you agree how you like to communicate. If it’s by email, confirm that you have the correct email address (many people have multiple addresses). If you change your email address, make sure this is communicated as well. Also, keep your agent updated on all of your points of contact. That means your phone number, email address and mailing address. This is even true once you part ways. Your agent must continue to send you royalty statements, 1099s, and other important information for the life of the book contract.

2. You may want to casually inquire how frequently you should expect to be in contact. You can expect to be in fairly close contact when your agent is giving feed back on revisions, shopping your material around and negotiating the deal. Once she has sold your book and the contract has been signed, she may leave you alone to actually write the darn thing.

3. Both the author and the agent should be attuned to how the other likes to communicate, whether it is informal and chatty or strictly down to business. This will probably vary depending on demands on both parties, but pay attention to cues in how communication is exchanged and respond accordingly.

4. How long is too long to wait for hear back from your agent? Or better yet, when should you start to panic? This will vary from agent to agent. But before you panic, realize that emails go astray, computers crash, people get sick, messages get erased, and calls made from a cell phone may be too distorted to comprehend. If you haven’t heard back try again and then a third time. After the third time, then you may want to get concerned about the lack of response.

5. If you’re going on vacation, let people know. This is true for both sides. For authors, leave contact information so that your agent can reach you. Agents who are leaving on an extended trip usually inform their clients and indicate a person to contact in case of an emergency.

6. Show appreciation for each other. Remember each other at the holidays and, if possible, birthdays (although I’m horrible at remembering birthdays).

7. Realize that you’re not going to agree on everything all the time. Your agent probably won’t love everything you write. If she’s good, she’ll let you know that it’s not your best work. That’s her job.

8. Make sure you both understand your goals. Do you want to write a book a year? Make a bestseller list? Reach a certain print run? Move to another publishing house?

9. If things aren’t going well, don’t dwell on it by discussing it only with your writing buddies but not your agent. If there is a problem it should be addressed directly. This is true for both sides. If the agent has issues, she should bring them up as well.

10. Realize that this is a small industry and gossip travels quickly. Above all, practice courtesy and be professional. Treat your agent the way you’d like to be treated and she should do the same.

Bottom line: keep the lines of communication open, don’t hesitate to bring up any concerns, and make sure you both have a clear understanding of your goals and responsibilities.


Kristin Laughtin said...

While I love hearing about voice, this is very good advice that always needs repeating. It's definitely important to remember things like vacations or address changes. Writing is a job, and though your agent is not your employer, they are vital to your business and good communication is always essential.

It was also nice to just hear about how you relate to your clients on a personal level.

Travis Erwin said...

Thanks for all the tips. I often wonder when I hear authors griping about their uncommunicative agents if they bothered to find out these kind of things before signing.

Paige said...

Thanks. Some of this seems like common sense but you'd be surprised how often people tend to forget the little stuff.

Shannyn said...

Hi - Welcome back to work. I hope you enjoyed your maternity leave. Sorry you had to miss Chicago Spring Fling, but Erin was great. I'm a C-N member and had the chance to pitch to Erin.

Thanks for the insight into the agent/author relationship. I've often wondered how friendly is really is. It says a lot about you that you've been invited to an author's child's graduation. You're obviously doing something right.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Haste yee back's wife says he has to clean up his act... ya know, like be professional and all! So...

Dear. Ms. Wheeler:
Thank you so much for your agent client blog concerning communication and relationships, business and otherwise. It was very informative and I hope to make excellent use of your advice.

There... (dry as the dust on my 20 year dead uncle's dentures)!

Haste yee back ;-)

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Thanks, Paige.

Now I just have to snag that agent.

My first novel is about to be released by a small press. They seem rather shocked that I keep them up to date (via email) when I travel overseas for a couple of weeks at a time.

It's amazing that some people can't comprehend good business practices.

The Writers Canvas said...

Excellent post, Paige! I'm enjoying this new blog by Folio, and look forward to reading more.


Eileen said...

Agent's percentage 15%
Foreign rights percentage 20%

Having an agent you trust to be your business partner?


Paige said...

Eileen-Funny post! Maybe that will be the NEW credit card commercial.

I just attended a writers conference over the weekend in New Orleans and was once again struck with the unbridled enthusiasm of new writers. It's so refreshing! I just hope that all writers understand that landing an agent is only a small part of the process of having a long writing career! I'll talk more about that in my next post!

Deanna said...

Fabulous post. I'm so glad you guys are blogging!

Barbara Martin said...

This advice is good for any kind of relationship: business or personal.

freecycler said...

Thank you for this post. It helps us newbies figure out what is 'normal'.

Trang said...

Actually, Paige Wheeler and another agent took the time to give me a bit of personal feedback which I took to heart. I made the changes and that lead to a contract for my first book.

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