Communication in the Author-Agent Relationship

Many authors (present company included) have excellent verbal skills–at least on the page–but less native skill in business and interpersonal communication.

Let’s face it: many of us write because we don’t express ourselves as well in person in the real world. Even for those with stellar skills, author-agent communications often involve a learning curve. Most debut authors have little experience working with a representative, and don’t know how to manage expectations.

With that in mind, here are some tips for managing communications in the author-agent relationship.

1. When querying, follow the instructions on the agency website precisely. 

Literary agents receive tens of thousands of emails annually. They want to find new clients, but need your query to follow the guidelines so their workload is manageable. Guidelines aren’t there to block or obstruct new authors. In fact, the guidelines exist to help agents receive the information they need to evaluate your work. Agents are individuals, and their guidelines differ by personal preference. Pay attention, and follow the proper guidelines for each agent you query.

Remember: you want agents to consider you as an individual. Your query should demonstrate you view them as individuals too.

2. When an offer of representation comes, discuss the agent’s business practices and communication preferences before you sign.

(Or, if “before” didn’t happen, as soon as possible thereafter.) Some agents prefer to communicate by telephone, while others prefer to work by email. Some are more open to friendship with clients, while others prefer to stick to business issues.

Make sure your agent’s preferences align with your own (note: this is why it’s best to discuss it before, not after, you sign the contract). If they don’t, you’ll end up feeling ignored or frustrated by the agent’s standard communications.

3. Whenever possible, use your agent’s the normal or preferred communication method.

If your agent prefers to correspond by email, don’t pick up the phone and call without a legitimate business reason. You’re not the agent’s only client, and the agent’s business practices are designed to ensure that everyone receives appropriate attention.

4. Take the time to learn to express yourself professionally (and calmly) in email correspondence. 

Writing professional-sounding emails is an art, but also a learnable skill that every author needs to acquire. As time passes, your email correspondence with your agent will probably become more colloquial, but remember this is a professional relationship. Email doesn’t convey emotion (especially humor) well – so take the time to write clearly and politely. Don’t become demanding or send multiple emails if your agent doesn’t respond to you immediately every time.

5. Be patient, remember your manners, and show your literary agent the professionalism, grace, and kindness you want shown to you.

I can’t repeat this often enough: literary agents are people–generally quite nice ones–who love authors and love books. No one likes to receive a rude, demanding, or unpleasant email, or to work with someone who doesn’t appreciate your efforts. Whether you’re querying or communicating with the agent who represents you, always remember basic manners: please, thank you, and be polite.

Friendships and business relationships build on common interests, kindness, and courtesy, and the author-agent relationship is no different. Learning to manage expectations and communications demonstrates your professionalism and makes you an asset on any agent’s client list.

And now, here’s today’s seahorse: Moya

16D13 Moya

Have questions about this or other publishing legal or business topics? I’d love to hear from you in the comments (or email me through this website).