Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is president of WordServe Literary in Colorado. An agent for fifteen years, Greg first started in publishing more than twenty years ago. He has represented more than 1,700 books (including more than 200 CBA bestsellers) and negotiated more than 1,200 contracts to over sixty different publishing houses. Greg is also the author of twenty-three nonfiction books and 200 magazine articles. To learn more about Greg, please visit

Be Your Agent’s Dream Client

One thing authors wonder about is how to “behave” once they have a working relationship with a literary agent. Especially if it’s your first time, you want to be the kind of author an agent wants to keep as a client. Agents understand that—and we want to be the kind of agent you want to work with, too! In fact, I tell my authors that the best partnerships are when the agent and author are president of each other’s fan clubs. That takes time, but it shouldn’t take years if you are intentional about making the relationship great.

The secret to a good agent-author relationship isn’t a mystery. It’s like any other relationship: kindness counts; communication is key; and sometimes it takes a little work to keep things running smoothly. If you follow this commonsense advice, you’ll be well on your way to a positive long-term association with your agent.

We’ll start with the negative: The single most difficult thing that agents deal with is authors’ unrealistic expectations. These expectations fall into lots of categories—everything from the size of your advance to the amount of marketing the publisher will pay for to the speed of the process (or lack thereof). It’s important that you develop realistic expectations in all of these areas. How do you do that? By talking with your agent, networking with other authors, attending conferences, and keeping up with happenings in the publishing industry (through key blogs and other news sources). If your expectations are impractical, your publishing journey will be unfulfilling. You’ll be disappointed and likely end up resentful. Keep those expectations in check!

In addition to managing expectations, it’s extremely helpful to agents when you communicate well. There is a fine balance to good communication—we don’t want you to be afraid to call or e-mail if there’s an issue, but daily phone calls can actually slow the process, stealing time from the things an agent does behind the scenes to get clients’ work to publishers. As a general guideline, check in once a week with questions and updates. Most important, when issues do arise (and they will), go directly to your agent rather than to the publisher, your critique group, your Facebook page, or your blog. Keep the lines of communication open and talk things out. If you’re not happy with your agent, this may be hard to address directly, but it’s the best way.

Trust is the essence of any relationship, and agents need their authors to trust them. Agents handle the business details so you

can focus on your writing and marketing, and we appreciate when you allow us to do this without second-guessing every move. If you’re confused about something, always ask, but unless it’s proven otherwise, trust that your agent has your best interest at heart in all actions, negotiations, and decisions.

Today, authors have to be marketers and promoters of their work, and agents are ecstatic when their clients understand this. Many agents offer advice and can steer a writer toward good ideas for platformp building, but what we really want is for our clients to have a commitment to the self-promotion mindset, and a desire to learn more about it and get better at it as time goes on. An agent doesn’t have the time to handhold you through every step of your marketing process, but your agent can be an enthusiastic partner and savvy advisor along the way.

Agents appreciate clients who care about the craft of writing and are always striving to learn and improve. Attend conferences and writing workshops, and work hard to learn from the editorial process. Your value to the industry increases as you improve as a writer. And this probably goes without saying, but we really like it when clients meet their publishers’ deadlines! Failure to do this can (sometimes) seriously damage your chances for future contracts.

Don’t forget the basics: be kind, cordial, and professional. And when it’s warranted, feel free to express gratefulness for a job well done.

Of course, chocolate and Starbucks gift cards help. Wait—I didn’t say that out loud, did I?