Last week, Joy gave us an amazing post on how to part ways with an agent. Today, I wanted to talk about how to have a positive working relationship with your agent. My agent, Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt Agency) is destined for sainthood. I'm very blessed to have her as my agent. She's in it for the long haul and she's completely honest about what she likes and doesn't like. She gives it to me straight. Not only does she sell my work, but she educates me on the industry and helps me to be a better writer. All that said, I wanted to give a few tips about working with an agent and how to make things run smoother from day one. If anyone has more tips to add please do!
1. Talk to your agent about how editorial he/she wants to be. Some agents are very hands-on, some do not want to edit at all. My agent is right in middle, which is perfect for me. I know she would be more editorial if I needed her to be, and she has been in the past, but basically she tells me where she thinks a manuscript can use work and I take it from there.
2. Find out how your agent wants you to submit your work to them. Does he/she want the beginning of a manuscript to see if it's something that sparks their attention or does your agent want the whole kit and kaboodle? My agent likes to see the whole manuscript, but if I ask her to read, say, the first twenty pages or so, just to know if I'm on the right track, she absolutely will. This way I have more confidence going into an entire manuscript knowing she gave an initial thumb's up.
3. Find out how your agent works with most editors. Does your agent reach out over the phone, meet them in person, or send an email? Some editors want to be contacted in a certain way by agents, but it's important to find out how your agent generally handles manuscripts that are ready to be sent to editors. If you find out your agent is more the email type vs a phone call or meeting, and you are not comfortable with that, maybe that's something to talk about prior to signing.
4. Understand that your agent is not just your agent, they represent several clients covering multiple genres, so always take that into consideration before diving into that new story. Let's say, for example, your agent represents a bestselling author who writes middle-grade mysteries and now you want to write a middle-grade mystery. You may want to talk to your agent first to make sure he/she doesn't feel it's a conflict of interest. Just like you don't want to offend your agent, your agent doesn't want to offend another client who is very successful in a certain area by taking on another manuscript of the exact same genre. This will not always be the case, but I recommend you check with your agent before diving into a manuscript that your agent might not be comfortable taking on.
5. Agents aren't robots. Realize your agent is a living, breathing human being. Agents have husbands and wives, children, personal matters, and multiple responsibilities other than just representing you. That said, give your agent time to digest a new manuscript you've sent them. It's unusual to get a very fast response on a new manuscript or even a portion of a manuscript. Think about it. Your agent has to set time aside to read it and make notes. Even if it's a mere twenty pages, your agent may have ten other writers who already gave her twenty pages, and she needs to get back to them before reading yours.
6. Be respectful. When an agent represents you, it's very important to remember, until your manuscript is sold, your agent is working for you for free. I emphasize, FOR FREE. So be respectful of their time and how and when you address them. I'm not saying you have to be all formal or brown-nose in any way. Just keep in mind your agent signed you because you have talent, but they won't make a single penny until they sell your manuscript, and no matter how brilliant your manuscript is that's not an easy thing to do.
7. BE PATIENT or at least pretend you're patient. I can't emphasize this enough. My agent knows I have the patience of a gnat, but she also knows I'm not going to pester her. Sure, I'll ping her once in a while to see if she's heard anything, but I know what her answer is going to be. It's going to be a big fat NO, because she'll tell me the minute she knows anything. Like I stated, agents don't make a penny until they sell your manuscript, so it would be downright silly for them not to get back to you ASAP. It's so hard to be patient, trust me, I know, but you have to learn the art of not peppering your agent with emails and/or phone calls. As simple as it sounds, they don't know what they don't know. I certainly have not learned patience, and I'm sure I never will, but I've learned to put things into my agent's hands and trust that she'll let me know the moment she knows anything good, bad or ugly. That's what a good agent does. :)