Stewarding Your Career and Your Agent

Good agents take the privilege of shepherding authors and projects very seriously. We’re hugely selective and typically only make a “yes” decision on a client if we love (not just like) their project, and then see them as a good potential relational fit.  Life is too short to work with people if they’re demanding or mean…no matter what the potential payoff.

But make no mistake, agents work FOR their authors, not the other way around. Yet with the lightning-fast changes in publishing still happening, nearly every agent I know is telling me, “It feels like I’m working harder than I ever have before, and still closing fewer—and smaller—deals.”

Welcome to the new normal in publishing.

What this means for the client/author is potentially less time interacting with their agent because the agent is trying to stay in business. What’s an author to do in this new normal to make sure their own projects still receive a high level of attention?

  1. Take more control of your career.  The path to finding readers has never been clearer—or more time-consuming. “Get involved with Facebook Fan Pages, blogging, tweeting, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, and networking with other authors (such as this Water Cooler),” is the familiar mantra from publishers and agents alike.  In this new world where social media IS the most influential advertising resource,  if you’re not selling books and finding new readers, it’s no longer your publisher’s (or agent’s) fault.  If you don’t feel you can come to play in marketing your own creative blood, sweat and tears, don’t even ponder a career as a writer. Look in the mirror: You are your publisher’s best PR agent.
  2. Craft, craft, craft. I tell new novelists that I don’t want to see their manuscript until 5 to 10 “non friends and family” have read and critically appraised their work.  I’d rather authors take a full year to rewrite their manuscripts than almost anything else.  If you write nonfiction and you have a strong message and a good regional platform, then be relentless on making every paragraph zing. Don’ tell me “it picks up in chapter three.” It better engage me from paragraph one or you’ll be getting the dreaded “not for me” letter. If you’re a seasoned writer, be diligent in making your prose as professional and engaging as possible.   Constantly read books on writing craft; find a mentor or critique group. Be a lifelong learner on writing well and you’ll have a good chance at being a lifelong author.

Along with taking control of your own career and staying committed to the craft, here’s how to help your agent help you.

  1. Respect his or her time.  Since you want them to stay in business, bunch questions for a once-a-week email.  If possible, use clear bullet points with clear simple questions to make it easy for us to see and answer, rather than lots of loaded, dense text.  Mondays are good. If your questions are more complex, better to talk by phone than email.  But do set a phone appointment (by email) instead of calling with hope that we will answer.  The agent is there to serve you, very true, but time is the coin of the realm. Be judicious in how you spend their precious minutes and hours because ultimately you want us out there pitching your projects!
  2. Press the panic button. I spend a good portion of my week fighting fires for authors. Bad covers, wrong titles, heavy-handed editors, proposals that MUST be out the door this week, family or personal crisis…all of these and more are what I’m here for.  When you really need me to jump on something or lend an ear, this is absolutely what I want to do. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or send me a “call me ASAP” email.  You’re not “bothering me” (ever); I work for you and love (almost) every minute.
  3. Pray. It’s not trite, it’s essential. Really. If I’m distracted, off task, ill or in a personal crisis myself, what am I not doing? I’m not tending to the details of what I should be doing for you. The very thing I want to do most is often what the enemy doesn’t want me to accomplish. I need to stay spiritually sharp and steady for you to feel fully supported.  And I’m not bashful to say I need your help in doing it. I covet and appreciate your prayers for me, my work and family.  I also love to pray for you, so never hesitate to zip me a prayer request during a rough patch.
  4. Share the goodies!  I love hearing how your work has impacted others in the world, or a great opportunity that has come up for you to share your book.  Forward me one or two of your best notes from readers every month and any news that is exciting to you concerning the marketing of your project.  We love to hear how the end result, your book, is impacting the world.  It is why we do what we do.

What more can you do to serve your own career? How would you feel even more supported by your agent?