Please, Pick Up the Phone

True confessions time: I’m a man, and try as I might, I can’t read my wife’s mind. I know that must be shocking to all of you female authors (or not).

A few weeks ago I’d fallen asleep early, but by 11:15 I woke up and noticed Becky had her robe on. “Are you cold?”


RedPhoneSince I’ve got great circulation, I know I can warm her up in less than 10 minutes. So does she. But instead of giving me a nudge or rolling over next to me, she played nice, didn’t want to wake me up, and tried to do the job herself. That’s a lovely thought, but shortsighted. I love spooning. And I fall back to sleep very quickly.

“Scoot over next to me and let me warm you up.”

When I’m sound asleep, and Becky’s shivering cold, whose job is it to let me know my circulation is needed for her warm-up? Since I can’t read her mind when I’m awake, I certainly can’t while sawing logs!

When I or any agent takes on a client, we’ve chosen to say, “I’d love to serve you. I’m betrothed to you literarily and hereby am very excited about managing your career; talking to you about your book (or books in general), the industry, your upcoming release, the future, your kids, the weather…”

Look, we all know every agent on the planet is busy. If they’re not, something is wrong. We get about 100 (or more) emails a day that typically ask us to tend to something. We’re editing proposals, creating or tinkering with contracts, talking to editors, staying abreast of the rapidly changing book industry…doing our job. All that, and often looking at our inbox fill up with 100 to 200 queries a week (notice I didn’t say we actually open these queries).

I’ve got several clients who give me a call at least once a week (or every other week). “Got a minute?” they’ll ask. And 98 times out of 100 I’ll say, “Of course!” They then tell me what’s going on, chit-chat about the weather or their book, I answer a few questions and we’re done.

I love it!

For many authors, being tucked away behind a computer for 6 to 8 hours a day is a fairly lonely life. I’ve been agenting for nearly 20 years, so I know this. Part of the job I love is being the ear they need on the other end of the line.

Please hear this: You’re NOT bothering me if you want to talk on the phone!

Do I have things to do? Always assume that I do.

Do I have time for a spontaneous one-hour call? Well, maybe not an hour. But I always have time for a one-hour call if you email ahead of time and ask for an appointment.

And here’s the $64,000 question: Whose job is it to reach out and meet your human voice-to-voice needs, to answer your questions about your book sales or writing future, even to know when it’s time to talk to marketing about your book?

There’s a reason this particular clause is NOT in any agency’s author-agent agreement: “Agent will periodically, as needed, and without you asking, call or email at just the right time to check in on you, your upcoming book, what stock Amazon has, what your publisher is or isn’t doing for you lately, your personal life, and your future.”

If you can find an agent like this, you’re in literary nirvana. Good luck. It may last for a month or two with a new agent, but it won’t last forever. Unless they have four clients, no agent can make this promise.

On a fair amount of occasions I certainly WILL check in. “Anything I can do for you?” I do this all of the time.

But most of the time, though I’m anxious to do things for you, I can’t read your mind. And while I usually do know where we are in the process, I’m not privy to every detail that every client has on every book project done between them and their publisher: the editorial process of a manuscript, having them email about marketing calls or cover questions (many don’t copy the agent), etc. If you expect for me to warm up the literary chill in your life, you really have to give me a nudge.

So I am hereby now giving any client permission to email (always best to set a time to talk if you want more than 10 or 15 minutes) or pick up the phone to ask:

“What’s going on with my book (cover, marketing, sales, or contract)?”

“Please send me an update about how my proposal is doing.”

“Can we talk about my next project I should be writing a year from now when I’m done with my current contract?”

Listen: You’re NOT bothering me! And if you are, too bad. I work for you. Don’t ever start a call with, “I know you’re busy…”

I love serving you. That’s why you’re my client. And even though I’m not dead asleep, I truly cannot read your mind about when the exact moment to check in might be. Yes, I will call or email once in a while myself to check in or give you an update, but I’m usually not that Johnny-on-the-spot. And if I don’t check in, it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about you or doing work on your behalf.

Please, don’t be insecure. I like you lots, and just because I don’t initiate a call according to when you think I should doesn’t mean I don’t care about you or your career. I want to talk. But I can’t read your mind. Pick up the phone. I’ll be there. And I’ll never say I’m too busy to talk (unless, of course, I am at that very moment).

Question: Do you think it’s the agent’s job to check in all of the time . . . or the author’s? Why?

14 Replies to “Please, Pick Up the Phone”

  1. Thanks for the great reminder and encouragement to initiate those phone calls. It’s sometimes too easy to get wrapped up in our world and wonder why you’re not calling us. This helps me to be more diligent in maintaining contact.

  2. Great post, Greg. I can’t speak for other authors, but I know for me, I’m often confused about whether I should reach out or not.

    I suspect many of us don’t want to be a bother, or to look unprofessional, so we simply say nothing at all — and let the tension build. (Much like a wife frustrated with a husband when he can’t read her mind.)

    But in my thirty year marriage, and as a professional, I’ve learned the value of speaking up when I really need something, and to exercise patience when something can wait. Open communication still works, no matter how a relationship is framed. And timing is everything. Thanks again!

  3. Greg, this is honestly the SINGLE most encouraging post I’ve read in a while (and I read lots!). In a day where authors hear nothing but “DON’T BE HIGH-MAINTENANCE!!!,” we’re never QUITE sure what that means. So we try to soften our neediness by emailing/calling less. And yet communication is SO crucial as we are trying to establish (or promote) our writing careers. Bless you for having this attitude!

  4. A great and encouraging post, Greg! Thank you for being transparent. I like how you open up the blog post by talking about the relationship with your wife. The reality is, whether personal or professional, a relationship involves open communication between two people. That’s what makes it healthy and strong.

  5. One of many reasons why I am honored to have you as my agent. Thanks for all you do.

  6. Great post, Greg! Since we should never place higher expectations on others than we place on ourselves, and since we can only control ourselves and not our agents, I think it’s best we hold a mindset that says, “It’s my responsibility to reach out.” Although it’s really the responsibility of both the agent and the author, if we authors mentally and actually absorb the responsibility, we’ll ultimately experience more inner peace and satisfaction with our agents and ourselves.

  7. I am a new author who was picked from the slush pile, so I am without an agent, but it sounds like I had similar worries regarding contacting my publisher. Now I email when I have a pile of questions and we schedule a phone call once to twice a month to review our to-do lists. With my next book, I’ll search for an agent, as I imagine this will get trickier to handle with more than one publisher. This was a great post – now I know a bit more of what an agent will expect from me.

  8. Another gold star to Greg Johnson, for a fun post and for the spirit behind it. Thanks for being a great agent! I certainly need help in this, not only knowing that it’s OK to “bother” you, but also hearing suggestions on what to “bother” you for. Expect an email today. 🙂

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