Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Agent Hand-Holding

I received this question via e-mail, and since the reader referred directly to the blog I thought it was worthy of a post. And by the way, while I don't mind e-mails, please feel free to ask questions on the blog at any time. In some cases I'll answer them in the comments section and in others I'll do a post at a later date.

I have a question regarding reading works in progress from current clients. As an agent, do you prefer to be kept in the loop about all new book ideas? Or do you want to discuss works in progress only when there is a partial manuscript already written? Where is the line between a client's needing too much hand-holding with their works in progress and clients keeping their agent in the loop?

To me there is no line. Each client is different and I don't think it's fair to treat everyone as if they're the same. Some clients need to talk through every thought and idea and others I don't hear from for weeks or months. When it comes to your specific question, though, I think I prefer discussing ideas and even brainstorming together. I'm sure some of my clients will be happy to share stories of our brainstorming sessions or when I take a simple one-line idea and either tear it apart or expand on it with ideas of my own.

I think that once you have an agent it's a waste of time to write a partial without discussing it first. If I don't think it's something that's marketable, wouldn't it be better to talk about it up front. On the other hand, for some people I've discovered that discussing an idea beforehand can actually hamper creativity. These authors need to flesh ideas out while actively writing the book. That's fine. My job is to work with you in a manner that is best for you and your writing.

Either way, if you have the agent that's right for you, you shouldn't have to worry about the level of hand-holding you need. A good agent—and I mean one that's a good fit for you—won't balk at the questions you ask or the attention you need. Instead she'll patiently work with you to build a career, alleviate anxiety, explain the business, and make it all fun.



Michele Dunaway said...

I'm one of Jessica's clients and this week or next she's reading just my first chapter of one of my unsold works-in-progress. I'm still fine tuning and so I sent it in to make sure I'm still on the right track with what we'd discussed. I want to do this before I continue to change the rest.

That said, for many of my category romance books, on other projects we don't talk much at all past contract negotiation. Jessica sells the books for me and all I do is copy her on the final manuscript when I send it complete to my editor. Unless I have a question, I simply write the book and turn it in. So there's my individual case! :)
Michele Dunaway

Demon Hunter said...

So for your romance, Jessica doesn't even get to read your maunscript until your editor does? Thanks for the info. Stuff I needed to know!

Kate Douglas said...

In my case, Jessica read the first story and sold my series on that alone. I don't think she's read any of the others, and I just turned in the tenth manuscript to my editor last month. Once the original sale was made, I was pretty much left to my own devices, which is exactly the way I like to work.

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the issues where it's important to know your own preferences/needs and be able to ask about this when the agent calls to offer representation. Not all agents will want to be this hands-on, and as Jessica pointed out, for a lot of authors that's perfectly fine. But it would be very difficult to learn after you've signed the contract that you and your agent have very differing views as to the amount of input you can expect.


Michele Dunaway said...

I agree very much, Chris. That's why I think Jessica's answer was so dead on. My unsold work-in-progess is an area I haven't sold in before, so Jessica's more of an expert than me and I'm still learning. I trust her judgement.

As for category, I sold 14 Harlequin Americans before Jessica became my agent, so I'm pretty familiar with the line and what the expectations of my editor are. Thus, Jessica feels confident with leaving me alone to simply write the best book possible. (That's not to say that she's not right there waiting in the wings should I have questions or need her assistance should issues arise.)

So yes, this is a very important question to ask when establishing that agent-author relationship. I have heard stories of agents who really don't read anything, and just pass it on and I certainly didn't want that. Other agents are much more hands on and want to read and edit everything (including completes) and have you revise it before submission. I didn't want that as being automatic for my category books. I saw that as one more cook trying to season the broth, and perhaps slowing my output as now one more person has to read it and that takes time.

Jessica does read all the proposals I send her before she passes them on for editor consideration, and often she has had me revise and tweak those.

Hope this helps.


Karen MacInerney said...

As one of Jessica's clients (and one who's heard agent horror stories from other writers), I can say that I have been delighted with my agent-author relationship.

These days, before I start anything, I shoot off a quick e-mail to Jessica to run it by her; more often than not, she'll come back to me with a way to make it better and/or more marketable. (Or tell me to go back to the drawing board, which is fine with me -- I'd rather know BEFORE I write the proposal.)

She recently took the time out of her busy schedule to read the first manuscript in my Tales of an Urban Werewolf series. We sold it as a mystery, and subsequently the publisher decided to publish it as romance. She made several suggestions which I think made the book better -- and I am so thankful she took the time to read it. She's my sanity check. (And has incredible instincts.)

Annie said...


I am currently with another literary agent and just some things are not adding up. I thought I would get a second opinion on some issues I am having. Please review my questions, and I would appreciate if someone could
answer them for me? Thank you.

1. What is the normal turn around time for a children's book to be printed after manuscript is received?

2. Is it normal that an author who has an agent also has to pay extra for editing, illustrations, covers that have more than one color, have writing on back of cover, and do their own marketing?

3. What is the normal royalty income for an author?

4. What is the normal amount of copies made for a book?

5. If book stores or Amazon.com wants more copies, agent does not order them but the author is required to order them for the book sales?

6. It is authors responsibility to do book/press releases?

Please let me know this, for these are only some of the issues I am having and wonder if I am being falsely led.