Literary agent Janet Kobobel
Grant founded the Books
Literary Agency in 1996 and represents several best-selling
winners of the Gold Medallion, Christy Award, and RITA. Previously she
was a book editor for more than 12 years, an imprint editor at
Zondervan, managing book editor at Focus on the Family, collaborator on
17 books, and writer of two books. As a result, Janet knows the
publishing world from the perspective of a writer, an editor, and an
The Care and Feeding of an Agent
Over the years, on a number of loops, I’ve read discussions among authors about how to keep the relationship with an agent feelin’ groovy. What does an agent want from his or her clients?
Gifts. (Just kidding.)
While it’s fun to receive a gift (sometimes for no reason besides to celebrate the relationship), what agents really long for is much more basic: Keep me in the loop.
I’m continually surprised by clients who forget to tell me they’ve relocated (where did they think I was going to send their checks?); left their day jobs; or written an entire proposal or even manuscript without conferring with me.
Why should I care about these events? First, if a client doesn’t keep me up-to-date on her whereabouts, it communicates to me that she doesn’t think much about her writing career. It’s an off-handed approach to a business that requires everything you can give it and then asks for more. Such casualness makes it harder for me to apply myself to generating momentum in a career.
Now, if you decide to leave your day job, that’s a momentous decision you’re unlikely to have made quickly. Please include your agent in that decision because the agent can shine a light into some dark corners that you might not have noticed. Often an author leaves that regular-paying job prematurely because of an infusion of cash from an advance check for a multi-book contract. But an agent knows that the check is going to have to last far longer than the writer might realize.
Agents feel pressure when a client severs the ties with a paycheck. Because that means the client expects to make a living off writing. And that means the agent had better pull out a magic wand to make additional contracts appear—quickly and
regularly. Since few authors actually can live off of advances and royalties, the agent has to be swift of foot and mind, and the author must be able to write fast and well and have a lineup of great projects to make this new financial plan work. Instead, what often happens is that the client starts writing faster to keep the money flowing, but the quality drops, which leads to fewer contracts and poor reviews. At that point the client’s writing career is on spin cycle, and the only way out is to go back to a day job. Just the kind of defeat none of us wants to face.
It might puzzle you that agents want to hear from their clients about their manuscript ideas before any writing takes place. Wouldn’t an agent like it if a client just handed over something ready to sell?
The problem is that the author might not have chosen the right project to invest his time in. Say the muse visited the author one midnight, and he pounded out a novel quickly. No sense bothering the agent with it until it takes more shape, right? But what if the agent knows that the storyline is uncannily similar to an upcoming Karen Kingsbury book? In the glaring success of Karen’s book, no one will pay attention to the lesser-known author’s work.
Or the client might have written an entire manuscript that has a linchpin storyline flaw. Since agents read lots of manuscripts, often we can spot a problem that the creator can’t. And we could catch that flaw by reading the synopsis or even by hearing the essence of the story explained to us.
The question really is why wouldn’t a client keep his or her agent in “the know” about moving, about a major life change, or about the latest idea the writer wants to develop? These are all integral communications in any relationship that’s working well. Don’t hesitate to let your agent in on these elemental aspects of your writing life. We really do want to know.