Friday, February 01, 2008

When the Client List Is Full

Often I’m asked how many clients I have on my list, and until now I’ve never thought of it, but I guess I’m not sure what the asker is hoping for in my answer. Are you fearful that I have too many clients and no room for more? Are you concerned I have none and therefore not an impressive track record, or is it just a matter of curiosity?

Whatever your answer, mine is always that I’m not sure. I’ve never taken the time to actually count my client list and I don’t intend to now. As an agent who represents both fiction and nonfiction I have a lot of clients. Some are busy under contract, writing away, others sold their first books years ago and I haven’t heard much, if anything, from them since. All are still considered clients until someone sends the Certified Letter stating otherwise. So if five years from now Very Quiet Nonfiction Client appears with a book proposal, I’m more than happy to take a look.

I don’t believe there’s an exact number you can put on how many clients any agent should have, especially since every agent is different, and every client is different. I have met and known agents who have the organizational abilities to handle only one or two clients and I’ve met authors who want, need, and demand so much attention they might very well take up the space of two clients. On the other hand I know agents who have 40, 50, or more clients and each one feels special, loved, and as if they are the only ones on the list, and I know and have clients who are very quiet and undemanding.

Like life, agenting has times when things are quiet and low-key and others when it’s nothing but chaos. Luckily for us, no two projects are ever in the same place at the same time. On Monday I might be fully engrossed in one author’s career, with no time to think of anything else, and on Thursday it might be a completely different author with completely different issues.

The key isn’t in a number, the key is in the feedback you hear from those clients. Do they feel that the agent’s time and attention is lacking, or do they honestly feel that the agent is there whenever they need her? I also think the key is knowing what type of client you think you might be. Are you willing to work with someone who might have 40 other clients, but give you all the attention you need to feel like the only one? Or would you prefer to be one among only four or five?



Julie Weathers said...

Thanks for commenting on this.

I might ask an agent how many clients they have. If they tell me they've been in the business seven years, but they don't have any clients yet, that might give me pause. If they tell me they have 500 clients and a strict don't call me, I'll call you when I want something, that might also concern me.

I would like to think I am fairly low maintenance. Not to say I wouldn't enjoy a call or e-mail from my agent occasionally, but I don't need them holding my hand every day.

I would be perfectly content being in that 40, but feeling like I am special. A good horse trainer knows what it takes to make each horse reach their potential. It's seldom the same formula for every horse. I would think a good agent has that ability to sense what works best for each of their clients also.

Kate Douglas said...

I have no idea how many clients Jessica has. I only know that I am one of them, and when I call she answers the phone and when I email she replies. I don't think I can ask for more than that. I believe that as long as an author feels properly represented, there should be no reason for complaint. Of course, Jessica may have a little voodoo doll named Kate that's full of pins, but I don't really want to know for sure!
Damn, my back is KILLING me.....

Aimlesswriter said...

I agree with Julie on all her points. I always look to see how many client they have and who those clients are. Do I see successful writers on their lists?
I've often wondered if I'm a small fish in that big pond of writers will I be forgotten?
All these agent blogs help for us to see an agent's work ethic better. I've found some that I've moved up on my list to query due to how they talk about their work. And there's been one or two I've axed because of things they've said. I also see the agent's clients posting on the blog helps me feel better too. I can see she is loved and forms a good relationship with her writers.
I don't see myself as high maintenance, as I like to be left alone to write, but if I have a question I'd like it answered in a timely manner(even if its just an email). And as a newbie I'd probably appreciate some coaching on self promotion.

Chris Redding said...

I would imagine that clients can be a little like children. Only in a good way I mean.
Each child is different and you need to raise them discipline them and love them each differently.
So each client needs to be treated differently. I would think some need more hand-holding that others.
And some need to feel they are a big fish in a little pond.
That might be behind the question of how many clients an agent has.
I'm a big fish in a little pond type of person, but then again I probably have a different definition of a little pond than another author.

Anonymous said...

You don't know how many clients you have? Give me a break! Way to answer the question without answering it. I see the exceptions you put in your answer, but even accounting for that, you can still give a range, i.e. "Between thirty and forty." Something like that.

Kate Douglas said...

bran fan, I think you have to define "Client." There are and will always be any number of writers who sign with an agent and then write only one book, or never finish a given project. On paper, they can still be considered clients, but as far as actively pursuing a career as an author, they're nothing more than a name on a list. I was one of those for a few years: I'd signed a contract with Jessica for a book that we couldn't place anywhere. I went on to pursue other projects for quite awhile before coming up with something worth submitting, so while I was, for all intents and purposes, a BookEnds client, I was not one who threw any work Jessica's way for a long time.

Christie Craig said...

Great topic, Jessica.

I agree with Chris, agents are like mothers and grandmothers, they meet the needs of each client and make each of them feel they are the favorite.

I'm positive I'm Kim's favorite. Of course, I know several other of Kim's clients who think they are Kim's favorite, of course they are simply mistaken, but that's not the point.

The point is that I think a good agent has a way of making a writer feel special. I mean, they took the writer as a client because they felt their work held promise.

And I think a good agent also understands the individual needs of her clients, like a mother understands her child's individual needs. And just like some women have the ability to raise a herd of children, and others end up like the nursey rhyme of the old woman in a shoe with so many childern she didn't know what do, I think every agent may vary in the number of clients they can juggle.


Aprilynne Pike said...

I think it also depends on whether the agent has an/a couple of assistants and what house they are at. If the agent has an assistant to help with the grunt work, she can take on more clients and still give an appropriate amount of attention. Also, if they work at a house that has a foreign rights department, a contract department, etc. then they can also take on more clients. So if a solo agent only has 20 clients and considers their list full, that may be completely reasonable. on the other hand, if an agent with a big support staff has sixty authors, they may be totally reasonable in taking on a few more. Lots of variables here.:)

Diana said...

Thanks for this topic, Jessica. I have two questions along these lines:

1. Once someone is a client and after the first book is published, does the agent follow up with that author periodically?

2. Once the author has worked with an agent and published a book, how does the querying process change for a second project? (Do you still send a standard query letter through the regular channels?)

Karen Duvall said...

For me it's all about communication. It doesn't matter how many clients an agent has as long as he or she is available when a client calls or emails. A friend of mine recently went through a very stressful parting of ways with a highly successful agent because the agent was horrible at communication. This agent has a lot of clients, some high profile ones, and though her intentions were good, she was doing a godawful job for my friend. My friend fired her and went with a relatively new agent who doesn't have a lot of sales under her belt, but who's far more attentive and is good at her job.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Carey said...

Are you willing to work with someone who might have 40 other clients, but give you all the attention you need to feel like the only one? Or would you prefer to be one among only four or five?

I'd be okay either way. I'm not attention hungry as long as I know that each side is happy doing his/her end of the deal.

K.A. Stewart said...

I just want an agent who, when I call, doesn't say "And who are you again?"

T. M. Hunter said...

I'd just like an agent who tried to get my book published with a decent house. How many clients they already have doesn't concern me.

Eva Gale said...

As long as my agent knows my name, and my book she's trying to sell s'all good.

An off topic question-

I'm polishing a story for submission. I know I'm going to start something immediately after, but should I start something in the same vein or can I dance off and write something totally different I've been itching to?

(It's a sick thing-dreading a sale because you may have to write two or three, contrasted with being thrilled you actually sold.)

Anonymous said...

Re: "It's a sick thing-dreading a sale because you may have to write two or three"

But if you write two or three, you'll be building your skills in that genre/area...just work on two or three different things at the same time...Marge Piercy said she did this, always switching between projects when she got stuck.

Aimlesswriter said...

One more thing; I think we also want to know how many because if there's one agent to 500 client-how the heck does she do all them? Is she working on the quantity over quality therory? Or if she has none but has been in business for 6 years...I think alarm bells would go off.
We see so many warnings about shady agents and publishers (Preditors & Editors, Writer's Beware, etc.) that we think its an appropriate question. I think I'd want to know what you sold lately and to who. And I'd probably see who your clients are and maybe email them. Is that appropriate? To call the other clients and get a reference? Or is that a big no-no? (Never really thought about this before.)

Jennifer McKenzie said...

I want the agent that's going to get behind my work. Whether they have 2 clients or a hundred isn't as important to me as having an agent that can sell me to an editor.
I'd like to think that if an agent doesn't like what I write (even if they think I'll "sell") won't take me on. I've had editors that really didn't like my writing. I don't want to have that in an agent.

Anonymous said...

As long as there's connection and communication, I'm happy. Hopefully, I'm signed with the person because of a belief in my work, and I'm going to do everything I can to deliver. I don't need a lot of hand-holding or constant reassurance; but I do need to know if I'm off-base on something, I do need to know the status of a project, and I need to know what additional materials are needed and when so I can get them out in a timely fashion.