Monday, May 11, 2009

Established v. New Clients

A reader on the blog asked how agents prioritize clients. Do established clients always get my attention first over new clients or do bestselling clients win out over those making me a little less money?

I had to think about how to answer this, not because I was afraid of offending anyone (by now you should know better), but because I’ve never thought about it and I guess it’s like a lot of things in life, I’m not sure we always analyze how we do things as much as we just do them.

The one thing to keep in mind when thinking about an agent’s day is that, luckily, we don’t have to deal with each of our clients on a daily or even a weekly basis. At some point during the year certain clients take precedence simply because of what’s happening in their careers. I think in the end, though, I never think about bestselling v. not selling or established v. new. I think I look at it in terms of each individual circumstance. For example, if three different clients send me manuscripts all in the same week, all of which need to be read, I am going to need to figure out which goes first because I’m just not going to get to them all in the same weekend. I do have a life sometimes. But I might plan to get to one. Do I take the one that came in on Monday or do I take the one that’s under deadline? I’m going to prioritize the author who needs the feedback first. So, if Author Ann is under contract and needs to deliver her book in one week, but wants my feedback first, she’s going to get priority over Author Bee who is sending her next book for review before it goes on submission, or even bestselling Author Cee who is sending her manuscript at the same time it is going to her editor and just wants my feedback for her curiosity. In that case I’m afraid Author Cee is probably going to be the last of the three I read. I know her book is just as important as the other two, but I need to focus on one at a time, and in that case, I’m going to first look at the one that’s the most pressing.

I’m not sure an agent can be really successful if she always prioritizes based on who’s making the most money. Often the authors making the most money need the most attention simply because there’s that much more work to do, but one of the things I’ve noticed, and that few really discuss, is that the clients who tend to get the most attention are those who communicate the most. It’s true, the squeaky wheel really does get the most grease. That doesn’t mean these authors complain, they just do a really great job of always keeping their agents in the loop and checking in, they aren’t afraid to give so-called deadlines when they send in a manuscript and they’re never afraid to check on status.

Of course, each agent is different. I can only tell you how I do things.



Anonymous said...

This quote was really interesting to me: "...I’m not sure an agent can be really successful if she always prioritizes based on who’s making the most money."

I'm always stunned how mature the Bookends blog is. I had a previous agent who told me point blank that she was much to busy with her "star" romance author to keep answering my emals -- uh, I was sending like one email a month! And I was only sending that because the agent wasn't telling me anything about where she'd subbed or if we were getting rejects.

Bah. Humbug!

Made me think I had to be a bestseller to get my own agents attention. I imagine the work load for a bestselling author may be bigger (the stakes higher, at least) but how terrible to know you are only the back-burner client for your own agent.

Anonymous said...

Oops, that was "emails" not "emals"!

Stephanie said...

Wow, anonymous, that sounds really awful! Yikes...hope they start treating you better!

Thanks for this incite...I really love learning all I can about the publishing business....hoping someday soon I will need this info!

Anonymous said...

"they aren’t afraid to give so-called deadlines when they send in a manuscript."

You mean your clients give you a deadline?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Anon 9:57

Yes, my clients give me deadlines. I know they are under time constraints themselves and actually ask for them. If a client is under deadline and needs my feedback for revisions I need to know when she needs it by. Sometimes we need to negotiate a bit based on my schedule, but I do ask that they let me know what works for them so we can come to a date when we both expect my feedback to be in by.

I didn't always do this, but find it seems to work best.


Cyn Bagley said...

I appreciate the information that I get at this website. I am not new at writing, but really new at publishing (for money). :-)

Kate Douglas said...

This post really resonated with me. I have always felt I got the attention I needed from Jessica, even before she was able to sell anything I wrote. If I had a question or concern, she always got back to me--not necessarily with what I wanted to hear, but definitely with what I needed to hear!

Now that I'm published, she still gets back to me, and yes, she does ask for deadlines. And, she meets them. (She might grumble a bit, but it's worth it, because her suggestions always make the story better)

Agent/author communication is VERY important. If your agent doesn't communicate, you need to find one who does.

Kimber Li said...

"they aren’t afraid to give so-called deadlines when they send in a manuscript."

That's good to know. I have a husband with an ever-changing work schedule and four children. I live on an uber-schedule! If an agent only has a cat and can't keep up, she'd drive me nuts to work with!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I figured it was something like this (or should be--I'm sure there are agents out there who do prioritize money, if Anonymous' post is anything to go by). It just makes sense. If a new client needs feedback within a week, it doesn't make sense to first attend to the bestseller who doesn't need anything for two months. Whatever's most urgent should go first.

Besides, ignoring new clients in favor of more lucrative ones would hardly help the newbie's career--and they'd never have the chance to become one of those money-bringing, established clients!

Anonymous said...

Great post. Likin' the comments too. Didn't know about the deadlines...makes sense though.

It's really a partnership, isn't it? Working with both schedules, trying to put out the best projects....

I'm likin' it.

Anonymous said...

Q: For us seeking agents, how are we to judge an agent by their response time? If they get back to us ASAP or not, does that indicate how they'll be to work with later?

After all, that's all we have to go by so far...and I'm not impressed by agents who take two or more months to read a short partial, much less a full. If they do become our agent, will we have to beg them to read our mss. then? Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:45,

I don't think you can equate query response with client response. I think the agents do the best they can in terms of time management of everything.

If an agent got back to you with a request after a month or two, would you balk at sending your material?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Anon 3:45:

I'm not sure response time to partials and queries correlates with response time to clients. Presumably clients always come first and if I'm busy responding to my clients, working on their material and negotiating contracts I don't have time to worry about partials. Frankly, they are at the bottom of my priority pile. Hopefully you'll get an agent who feels the same way, that the client comes well before partials and queries.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica & Anon! That all makes sense, but I wish some agents wouldn't respond so quickly to queries, then sit on the mss. for months...
At least they should give us a time frame on their website so we'll know what to expect--then stick to it. Every agent who has my ms. has passed their so-called "deadline"--now what?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:20. Unfortunately, you have to get used to it. I'm on the other side with an agent now and it never ends, the waiting. Waiting for her to get back to me on revisions, waiting to hear back from editors on submissions. It sucks but it is what it is. You really need to develop (or fake) patience.

Ricky Bush said...

My vote goes to the way you do things, Jessica. I love honesty. Anyway--