Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Agent Communication

I’ve stressed over and over the importance of communication between an agent and her client, but what is very interesting about communication is that for everyone it’s something different. One of the most interesting things I’ve had to learn as an agent is how to adjust my own communication style according to the person I’m communicating with.

I was asked recently about Client X. The client who is not necessarily a dream client and not a horror client, but falls somewhere in between. She’s the client I just don’t get. I’ll admit, I’ve had clients I communicate marvelously with and those who I find it’s a struggle. Clients who I feel I need to work extra hard to communicate with and understand. Does that mean it’s not a relationship that can work? Not at all, I think people with different communication styles can work very well together as long as they can both make the effort to adapt their styles to match each other and find a middle ground.

For example, I tend to be very direct and up front and I hope that other people feel they can be the same way with me. But for obvious reasons, not everyone knows how to be as up front as I am or is comfortable doing so. With those types of communicators I make an effort to curb my own comments and to coax them into feeling comfortable saying what they need to say to me.

In the end, what it comes down to is this client’s career, and if I feel we can communicate in a place to reach the success this author dreams of and I imagine for her then that’s exactly where we need to be.



Anonymous said...

I wonder, do you figure this out immediately when you talk to a client? Or is this a "trial and error" process?
With a variety of personalities out there, it's got to be interesting trying to deal with them all.
I'm sometimes amazed two people will have the same agent, not just because of the vast difference in writing style, but because of dissimilar personalities.

Mark Terry said...

Don't you find that as your relationship with your client progresses the communication style changes? And I don't necessarily mean gets easier, because I think the whole communication relationship can get more complicated as you go along due to various crises, misunderstandings, successes, and struggles along the way.

Keri Ford said...

Oh, I like Jennifer's questions. Please answer!

I've always had the thoughts that, I'm the new one at this agent-author communication, so why not do what YOU like? I'm the newbie here. It'll be easier for me to adjust.

But then, I'm all about trying to be easy. But I guess everyone's situation is different.

Anonymous said...

Being direct and up front can come off as being pushy, obnoxious, and hurtful. Not all writers are business people; as a matter of fact very few are. It is a learning process. Most writer's are emotional people who are better expressing themselves on paper, rather than in person. That's why the pretend you have 5 minutes alone in an elevator when giving a presentaion on your book kills me. Writer's are listeners, deep thinkers, who tend think before they express themselves. Patience and wisdom should be the first things that come out of your mouth, always. You want to improve your understanding of your clients, become a public servant for a while, where you always have to be happy and nice. Foul words can kill the best writer's confidence, remember that when you speak to your clients, because I have a feeling the best writer's aren't very good at expressing themselves out loud.

Anonymous said...

This is a huge problem between agents and clients. I'm still stunned by my former agent's innability to communicate.

I never knew where my work was, and nothing was checked up on, ever! Certain editors had my ms for literally 5, 6, 7 months without her bothering to nudge them. When she did finally get responses back, she'd never share them until after I'd emailed her five times begging for some updates.

An agent is supposed to be on your side, not someone you have to "deal" with. This agent is considered a "name" agent too. Um, yeah, I had LOTS of names for her... :)

It was a hard lesson for me -- that such a "top-notch" agent had no real interest in being my agent: she wanted the book (which never sold) she had no interest in facilitating my career.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anon 9:43, but until you've had an agent that is indecisive and evasive you don't realize what a blessing a "direct and to the point" agent is.

Try having an agent that is super nice when you talk to her on the phone (i.e., when she wants something from you) but is awol the rest of the time. No emails, no communication, no following up on submissions, no career guidance, no nothing. It's like you don't exist at all.

Give me clear, consise, and in your face any day of the week. At least you know where you stand with those types of agents.

Anonymous said...

I hope anyone dealing with a less than stellar agent utilizes your release option. don't wait around just do it. Thank goodness mine is a real gem, but you can bet if she wasn't giving me the attention I think I deserve, and really, it's just common courtesy to keep you update and to actually try to sell your ms, well, I would be looking for someone else. This business moves at the pace of a snail anyway, why make it so much more agonizing and waste time working with people that dont' deserve you?

Heidi Willis said...

why does direct and up-front have to be related to pushy and obnoxious? Or hurtful? If six editors reject my manuscript, I want to know that. Nicely, of course, but I want to know it.

Direct means someone doesn't avoid the issue, and up-front means they're honest. I wouldn't want an agent without either of those qualities.

We writers may tend to be on the more sensitive side (although I've met my share of extroverted ones!), but if we can't realize the agent is the one on our side, the rest of the process, including reviews when we are published,is going to be brutal!

Robena Grant said...

When it comes to business, give me a straight shooter any day. It takes so long in this biz to get from A to B. Being direct isn't mean and you can always soften a blow by giving the compliment sandwich (you know, the filler is the bad stuff but the bread on either side is a reinforcement of the persons worth or ability). I get a lot of those. Grin.
Many writer types are introverts. We live in our heads all day making up stories. We can take a comment that is vague and work it twenty-seven different ways trying to discern its meaning. Who has that kind of time? Not me, I'd rather be writing.

Kate Douglas said...

I love the fact that Jessica is blunt and upfront--I also appreciate that, even with her busy schedule, she ALWAYS answers my questions in a timely manner, and I would never expect anything less in an author/agent relationship. I try not to bother her too much, though there are times I'm definitely needier than others, and she's always come through. Most of the time, though, I try to leave her to do her job and she lets me do mine. It seems to work.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I think the key to good communication in any relationship is realizing the other person's style, and accepting it, working within the parameters you both have, to make it work.

Everyone should be willing to bend and adapt, though no one should have to do a 180. If you're direct and your client beats around the bush, and you both accept that and learn to work can work.

It's if the client would insist you beat around the bush and you would insist the client be direct, that you'll come to blows.

It's learning to read addition to everything else that helps us with all our relationships, business and personal.

Sabina E. said...

if you don't feel comfortable with Agent X and has no rapport, then why bother keeping her/him as a client? Why don't you just drop him/her? Just wondering.

About Me said...

Anon 9:49 has a real agent horrible story. As a writer ("pre-agent"), I hate to think I have to worry about my agent's behavior.

Jessica's style seems great. I mean who doesn't want someone who is direct and up-front with them. In this business, it is a must to have an agent who's like that. And this is a business relationship, not a friendship (not to say that a friendship can't or won't develop), so I can't see how being direct would be taken as pushy or hurtful.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I would never equate "up-dront and direct" with using foul language and being rude. I like my agent to be direct; if you like it, tell me. If you don't like it, tell me.

I'm not a fragile flower. I won't break under constructive criticism, or if my agent isn't into an idea.

Of course, if my agent started yelling at me and calling me names that would be different, but I also would call that behavior "abusive" rather than "direct".

And I don't always think before expressing myself; I don't think you can imply all writers have certain character traits just because you do. (I'm also perfectly capable of expressing myself out loud. Perhaps there's something wrong with me?)

Sorry, I really don't mean to be harsh, Anon 9:43. I'm just a little amused. And also, it's "writers", plural, not "writer's", possessive. Sorry, pet peeve.

But I do agree strongly with you that not everyone is the same, and it's nice when everyone--not just agents or editors--holds back a little until they learn what kind of person they're dealing with.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43 here. Maybe I'm not the writer I thought I was, or anyone else thought. Being direct usually isn't softened with sorry just a pet peeve. Being direct is straight on you're stupid for not editing your comments better before publishing it. Maybe Jessica isn't as direct and upfront as she thinks she is. Niceness goes a long way and so does examining what you say before you blurt it out. Direct isn't softened. Your right I can't stand procrastinators, but I also feel there is a happy medium. Anon 2:14 I'm happy you are always good at expressing yourself, and with a lot of people I am capable of doing so, but certain people make me nervous(especially the ones that hold my future in their hands or could possibly). Please be kind and ease me into the world of harsh reality and criticism. I don't need it from someone who is supposed to be helping me. PS I apologize for any grammar or spelling errors (no spell check on this site and not much time to go over with a fine tooth comb, Anon 2:14)

Anonymous said...

Anon: Anyone who needs to be handled with kid-gloves is in for some nasty surprises in this biz. Up front and direct is the BEST way to be.

Maureen said...

I had a question about agent rejections. I have gotten a few rejections from agents which include a flier from them to purchase their books. What do you think of that? I found it a bit tacky. Rejections are not the place to be trying to peddle your wares. What do you think?