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Agent Symposium Series -- Client Insecurities

Writers often feel excited, even euphoric, once they accept an offer of representation from a literary agent. They believe they not only have found an advocate for their books, but also an advocate for their careers.

However, once the honeymoon period is over, and communication becomes less routine, many writers grow insecure about their agent-client relationships. How can writers play an active role in creating a positive, ongoing agent-client relationship? How do unrealistic expectations or misconceptions about the agent-client relationship, the submission process, or the advance/book deal play into the anxiety and fears of new clients?

* agents' responses are listed in the order that they were received

LITERARY AGENT: Ted Weinstein - Ted Weinstein Literary Management
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Setting clear communications and expectations at the beginning is the best way to start any professional relationship, especially between author and agent. Every writers' needs are different, so the range of services I provide and the ways I communicate with each client are different.

Whenever I take on a new client we sign a simple, clear agency agreement spelling out the business terms of our relationship, and at the same time we discuss the whole process I expect we'll go through together with their immediate project and (we both hope) our long term working relationship.

One client may need intensive back-and-forth on the proposal, another may need some occasional nudging once the deal is signed and they are fighting the temptation to procrastinate on their full manuscript, another may need to advice about their on-going self-marketing. For every client, though, I'm always available and responsive. Even if I don't have an immediate answer, I always respond to clients' calls and emails in no more than one or two business days. It helps that I'm an email and phone junkie who doesn't need too much sleep...

LITERARY AGENT: Janet Reid - JetReid Literary Agency
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One thing writers can do for their own peace of mind (and mine!) is get past "do you love me enough". I've sent revisions to clients, not heard back, called them, and heard "oh I thought you didn't like me any more"... and this from reasonably functional adults! I've had clients ask "why doesn't the editor like my work" when the correct question was "why wasn't the editor able to buy this novel that she loved". In other words, I like clients who can separate their sense of self from their work... or at least practice Method Acting well enough to convince me they can.

LITERARY AGENT: Kate Epstein - The Epstein Literary Agency
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It seems to me that _everything_ about the publishing process is almost set up to play into the anxiety and fears of writers. That is, it's NOT set up for that purpose, but it could scarcely do so in a better manner if it were. Every path--big publisher, small publisher--inspires one or the other kind of question, am I being appreciated as I should be OR are the people who are appreciating me just losers anyway? (A form of, if this club would let me be a member, how good are they anyway?) Remembering that these feelings are normal might help authors have a little distance.

I don't think the problem is unrealistic expectations or misconceptions going into the publishing process, I think the problem is that it's natural to miss the excitement and euphoria of the initial signing with an agent or publisher. Because when the excitement and euphoria dies away at least one of the voices writers hear is always some form of self-doubt. And who needs that? But writers (and anyone else) will always need more, something larger, to get the same high as the initial signing provided. You have a wedding, you're excited to be getting married. A year later, being married isn't quite so exciting (though like a publishing contract it may offer many other benefits).

I think once a writer makes a commitment to an agency or a publishing house it's best not to second-guess. (Not until the next book at least.) For some writers just deciding _not to_ might be enough. Others could perhaps keep a record as to how they made a decision to sign on the dotted line and review that record when they get doubtful.

Probably the best thing is to concentrate on the writing first, then your life, and try not to give much time to the ambiguous and crazy-making things coming from publishing professionals. Books are a wacky business and no one really knows what's going to sell and those of us who make our living by it are always struggling with that. Have patience.

As to how to create a positive relationship with your agent--the list could be long or short. Take your cues from your own agent, I think. Being up front can be helpful too. Choosing an agent you like enough that you might consider friendship is great; at the same time never imagine that your relationship IS a friendship.

LITERARY AGENT: Jenny Bent - Trident Media Group, LLC
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This is pretty simple. Clients need to go into the relationship having done very thorough research on their agent and the whole publishing process. If they know what to expect going in, they are less likely to have problems down the road. It is reasonable to expect to see a submission list, have e-mails or phone calls returned within a few days, and to generally be kept informed about the entire process. Basically, being polite and respectful is the best way to go, but there are plenty of unscrupulous agents out there and the only way to avoid them and to avoid disappointment is by doing homework before you sign any kind of agent-client agreement. There are plenty of websites and books out there where you can do research, and never, ever, sign any agreement that is unclear to you without having a lawyer who is a publishing expert (not some random lawyer who is a friend, etc.) look it over. I honestly believe that the best way to avoid trouble is first to make sure that you’re signing with someone reputable. Then, try not to make a total pest of yourself—calling every day, for example, is not the best way to go. And finally, the more you know about the business, the better client you can be. I am constantly amazed by the wealth of information on the web—take advantage of it!

LITERARY AGENT: Sam Stoloff - Frances Goldin Literary Agency
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Yes, there’s typically an ebb and flow to the agent-client relationship, largely because there’s a rhythm to the book-writing and publishing process. During the active proposal-drafting and submission period, a writer may be in touch with their agent every day, but once a book is under contract, months can go by with little or no contact. This is hard on some folks. It’s perfectly reasonable to check in with your agent, to offer an update on the writing, ask for advice, or submit work in progress. An agent will generally appreciate a periodic update. But by the same token, it’s important to recognize that an agent’s silence during the long in-between times is not a slight or a sign of trouble. An agent might check in once in a while, and many do, but it’s just as likely that they’re preoccupied by immediately pressing business—the crush of emails and phone calls, manuscripts which need reading, submissions which need shepherding, crises which need handling—all the work they do for you when the time comes.

Clearly different agents work differently, so you will learn over time how continuous the communication is likely to be. I know I appreciate an update from a client I haven’t been in touch with for a while. And that helps create a feeling of continuity.