Agent Expectations and Priorities, Part 1

When I first started agenting full-time in 1994 there were five other agents serving authors of faith. It was a relatively new phenomenon in Christian publishing, and not always appreciated by publishers. Some even had unwritten polices about not working with agents. Now there are about 100 agents serving Christian authors in one way or another. Today, most publishers won’t work with an author unless they’re represented.   I know many of the agents, and like most of them.  And while we all do similar work, our styles and priorities aren’t all the same.

So what should you expect from Barbara, Sarah and me (as the leader of this particular agency)?

Here’s what I’ll be doing nearly every day of the week (in general order of importance)…

  1. Negotiating and processing contracts: When a work-for-hire agreement needs to be written or a publishing contract needs working over, this is what I do first (for the whole agency). It’s what authors need and want, and what an agency ought to put on top of the stack each day.  In the last few months it seems most publishers have gone to a new boilerplate contract. That means I’ve got to renegotiate my agency boilerplate with them line by line, a time-consuming task, but it is the top priority for authors. There are typically nuanced changes that have to be made depending on whether it’s a fiction or a nonfiction contract. The rights issues in the changing face of publishing means I have to be extra diligent.  Negotiations often take several weeks because publishers put projects in line. That means after I get a draft (anywhere from 10-30 days), then I respond back within a day or two. Then it gets back in line again before they respond back, then I respond back…then it gets in line. You get the idea. Contracts take time and shouldn’t be rushed.
  2. Reading client proposals:  A close second in importance is fine-tuning new proposals.  There are always about five to ten projects I’m getting ready to pitch at any given moment (Barbara and Sarah the same).  So when you send me your new proposal, it gets in line behind the others ahead of you. It often takes two to three weeks or more before I get it back to you with edits, but publishers are expecting excellence in proposals these days, so we take our time, going back and forth with the author, to make them as close to perfect as we can. We only have one opportunity to pitch your proposal, so making it top-notch, based on our experience, is vital.  And, yes, time-consuming.
  3. Submitting proposals:  Writing or editing a pitch letter, picking out editors to send the project to, following up on the myriad of questions editors have…this is the lifeblood of any agency.
  4. Client work:  Returning client’s emails and phone calls is a huge priority with me.  My answers may be short and to the point, but I am a responsive agent, usually getting back to clients in 24 to 48 hours.  Calls with marketing directors on upcoming releases, career planning meetings and author phone calls, going over royalty reports, plus dozens of other client-related busy work details fill up a good portion of my day.

Next month I’ll share a few more of my priorities and then a couple of items that are clearly NOT what I want or have time to do.

What do you want your agent to prioritize for your career?

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About Greg Johnson

I’m the president of WordServe Literary in Centennial, Colo. and founder and president of FaithHappenings.com. More importantly, I’m married to Becky, and together we share six adult children, and are grandparents to seven. In previous years, I've been a Campus Life leader (10 years), Breakaway magazine editor (5 years), author or coauthor of 21 books. But for the last 22 years, I've been a literary agent privileged to work with a great family of authors and staff trying to make a dent for the Kingdom.

10 thoughts on “Agent Expectations and Priorities, Part 1

  1. One of the things I look for in an agent is someone who helps me think through and plan my career as an author. I’d like my agent to help me answer questions like: What would be a good ‘next step’ in my writing? What do I have to do to make this my full-time income? What networking needs to be done to build a successful platform? Who do I need to help me reach my goals, etc? I am of the opinion that if my career is successful my agent will benefit, so it seems logical that my agent should want to help me think through how to become a successful and profitable author.

    • Though I simply made it a mention in point 4, this is actually a huge part of what I’ve always done. Pitching books is fine, but if the whole process doesn’t lead to the best advice I can give for a writer’s career, what’s the point? The benefit of a long-term full-time agent is the view over the long haul. I’ve seen what writers have done right and wrong, and hopefully have a sharper instinct on what projects work, what parts of the platform to grow, and which publishing partners to pick. Of course, it’s not rocket science. There are issues within each publishing house that roadblock progress (money and turnover, mainly), seasons in the life of the author, sometimes just the overall economy can effect progress (like the last 3 years in publishing). But the value of a consistent and caring partner in the life of an author cannot be overstated.

  2. I would have listed the priorities the same way, so this probably explains why I’m happy you’re my agent. 🙂 Can we add whip-cracking in there somewhere? haha!

  3. Drats. And all this time I thought you were just working on MY project 24/7. 🙂 JOKING! But it is good for us to see the scope of your responsibilites! In answer to your question, I totally value your career guidance.

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  5. Well said and informative. I, being new to this search for an agent task, really have no idea what is expected or done by the agent. And, of course, no idea what is expected from me the author, so these posts are timely and quite helpful. Thank you for the post. I’m soaking it all up and learning much!

  6. As I read your list, Greg, I see how valuable every element is to the successful writing life of any author. If you miss one piece, we suffer. So thank you for the diligent energy you, Barbara, and Sarah put into each and every one of us who are privileged to work with you. I also know the power of prayer plays a key role in everything you do — I’m grateful for that most of all.

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