Q7: Client Involvement

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Literary Agents. For the remaining questions, see here.)

How involved in the process do you like a client to be once you’re out on submission with his or her manuscript?

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I believe in transparency, so I’ll discuss submission lists with my clients if they’re interested. I explain the strategy behind going to certain houses or editors. If they have a Dream Publisher, I’ll take that into account, but if they’re truly not a fit I’ll explain that to the client and not sub there. After that, I ask that my clients not Twitter-stalk editors or approach them at conferences while on sub. I also ask that they not blog or tweet about being on sub, which comes across as unprofessional and can come back to bite them later if the project doesn’t sell on that round. If they want to see responses as they come in, I’ll share; if not, I won’t. I want my clients to feel comfortable and supported throughout the process.

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I have a complete transparency rule. They know what the pitch says, where I’m sending it, and every conversation that happens in the time on sub.

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Involvement is always good, but there are boundaries.  Agents don’t need to be pestered in order for them to work for you, and nobody likes to be micromanaged.  However, prolonged silence can be interpreted as disengagement. It also depends on what’s going on. Submissions can take an awfully long time, and for the bulk of that time what you’ll be hearing is the sound of editors reading (and/or not reading) which means you’ll be hearing nothing. An email or phone-call once a week or twice a month would be acceptable during this time, provided you’ve got something to talk about.  An email/phonecall every day, or several times a day, when there’s no news to report from my end could be considered a bit onerous.  It’s sort of like the annoying child in the back seat asking “are we there yet?”  Trust me, I want editors to respond to my calls and emails and offer you money for your book, almost as much as you do (to be specific 15% as much as you do) but I can’t will it to be so, and having to calm your nerves takes time away from me being able to call editors, and send attention grabbing follow-up emails that will goad them into making an offer.  While you wait for the phone to ring, I suggest being productive, rather than chewing your nails to the quick.  Instead of writing me every day, you’d be better served by writing that next project.

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Their level of involvement is up to them, although checking in every day isn’t ideal. 🙂 I do think, though, that the most important thing a writer can do while their manuscript is on submission is work on the next one. Generally it’s a good idea for it not to be the next in a series, although there have been exceptions, so that is not an absolute. But having a new manuscript puts you ahead of the game, whether your first manuscript sells or not.

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If they have a particular relationship with an editor or heard them express interest in that subject, then I like to know that. But it’s my job to know which editors to pitch to and to balance my submissions in a way that’s favorable for everyone: while I absolutely keep the author informed, I want them to trust me to do right by them.

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If an author meets an editor at a conference or has a personal connection to a publisher in some way, then I’d want them to suggest them to me. But, if they don’t have a personal connection, it’s annoying to have an author send me their own sub list. They should trust that I know what I’m doing and my choices are in their best interest.

Authors shouldn’t check in every week to see if there have been any responses. Agents have no reason to hide that information. We would never sell a book and not tell the author. The best part of the job is telling the author!

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The most useful thing an author on submission can do is WRITE ANOTHER BOOK.

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I always like input. I like to ask the author what their dream publishing house is, so I can do my best there. Some authors like to see all the rejection emails from editors and some like me to be a buffer so they don’t have to worry about that. The process often varies. I would say though, that your agent is not your employee (and not your boss either). You’re co-workers. The author’s job is the write, and the agent’s job is to sell. Don’t start telling your agent how to do his or her job. That is annoying.

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It’s up to them.

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Well, at that point in the process it is largely a waiting game and patience will serve the author well.  Publishing moves at a glacial speed so patience will always be your friend.  As passes come in I send them to the author.  If there is encouraging news I will let the author know.  There isn’t a ton to DO on the author’s part unless we decide to make revisions before a second round of submissions or we get an R&R from an editor or something like that.  I always make sure the author knows who has her ms and update her as there is news.

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After I send out a round of submissions, I usually send my clients a list of who has the manuscript and then send them any rejection letters as they come in. Sometimes a client will email me with an editor suggestion (someone editing a friend or they read a great interview about) which is totally fine as long as it doesn’t happen too often and they aren’t micromanaging me.

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