Agent Questions (and cool news!)

April 22, 2010 | Written by admin

Darlene asked an agent question: "I've been working with an agent I was introduced to at a conference, but I'm not sure she knows what she's doing…nor do I know what she should be doing for me. It seems like I basically did the deal myself. Can you help me?"

Sure. A good agent should (1) give you career advice, (2) introduce you to people you don't already have connections with, such as editors and publishers and marketers, (3) offer wisdom on book ideas and writing, (4) help give guidance on your marketing, (5) negotiate your contract [and do a good job of it], (6) ensure contract compliance, and (7) be your insider — the person who knows the industry and offers some experienced wisdom, serving as your advocate when necessary, taking on the hard issues and conversations when necessary. I suppose many times the agent also serves as the author's friend and encourager, though that doesn't always happen. If you ended up basically doing the deal yourself — well, that's a shame. It happens sometimes, but you probably need to have a conversation with the agent and clarify expectations, Darlene. 

Bobbie asked this: "How do agents feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?"

Well, I TRY to get back to people within three weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I'll admit that I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). Those folks have forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Sorry if I sound cranky, but I got two of these today, from two people I’ve never heard of. My first reaction is to say something snarky like, “Okay, if you’re forcing me to decide, my answer is no. Now leave me alone.” But no, I’ve never actually done that.) So I guess following up after a few weeks in a short, polite note (maybe thanking the editor or agent for looking at it) is fine. I prefer just a quick email that reminds me I’ve got your proposal, and asking me if I need anything else. No whining, no blame, just a reminder. I will tell you that I’ve heard from a couple authors recently about some editors who have kept things for a YEAR without a reply. I find that unconscionable. You wonder how these folks keep their jobs. Look, if the person hasn’t responded in a couple months, move on. Move on emotionally at least. If they've had it a year, they're not really interested.

Susan wants to know, "How does an agent work in an author's best interest when it's also in the agent's best interest to keep publishers happy?"

An agent works on behalf of his or her client. Period. Every publisher understands that — in fact, it's why publishers prefer working with agents rather than working with authors directly. It allows the editor to talk books and contracts with a professional who knows the business and isn't tied emotionally to the project. I don't know of an agent who is more interested in making the editor happy than in making the author happy…but if you run into one, feel free to send 'em to an editorial friend. I know several editors who would love to be more happy.

And by the way, a response to the person who commented that "my editor…told me I didn't need an agent." Uh-huh. That's a perspective that used to be pervasive in the paternalistic world of old-time CBA. It stems from the "just-trust-me" style of management, since they're all smarter than you, and they are SURE to look out after your best interests, being as how they're all nice Christians who are only in it for the ministry. That thinking went out of style 30 years ago in the general market, and at least ten years ago in CBA. I doubt you'd get that same advice from…well, from any significant publisher in CBA, and you'd get it from zero publishers in the general market. (Does the term "amateur hour" mean anything to you?)

Some cool newsThis website has been selected as One of the 101 Top Websites for Writers by Writers Digest Magazine. Woo-hoo! Also on the list was Rachelle Gardner's CBA Ramblings blog [ 
]and Thomas Nelson President Mike Hyatt's blog [ 
] — two of the few sites I read regularly, offering great wisdom on a daily basis. Of course, there are a bunch of other super sites on the list for writers, including the wonderful Writer's Digest blogs (if you're not familiar with Chuck Sambuchino's site, you should definitely pay a visit at 

Cool news II: Jim Rubart's novel, ROOMS, has just released with B&H Fiction. It's a great read (think of it as a cousin to THE SHACK), and it's currently the #1 book on Kindle. Wow! Jim was also just featured in the current edition of Writers Digest, in the "Breaking In" section.  

Cool news III: Irene Hannon's IN HARM'S WAY, a romantic suspense with Revell, is on the bestseller list. Here's why that's so cool – this is the third book in her HEROES OF QUANTICO series, and all three made it onto the bestseller list. AND Irene's EYE FOR AN EYE, the first book in that series, was named a RITA Finalist as Book of the Year in the Inspirational Romance category. You rock, Irene!

Posted in Agents, Career, Questions from Beginners

  • Richard Mabry

    “(Dealing through an agent) allows the editor to talk books and contracts with a professional who knows the business and isn’t tied emotionally to the project.”
    I definitely agree that an agent is a professional and is the best person to act on an author’s behalf with editors. I have an agent myself. That having been said, though, I think you’d agree that agents have a certain amount of emotional attachment to any project of their client’s. Maybe “less emotional attachment” would better describe the situation.
    Don’t mean to pick nits with you, especially since you’ve already had your share of frustration today. As always, thanks for sharing.

  • chip responds

    Yeah, that’s a good comment, Richard. Let me clarify: An agent isn’t as emotionally tied to a project as the author is, so there’s one degree of separation. That makes negotiating easier. That help?

  • Daron D. Fraley

    This blog post is just another reason why I always take the time to read your posts.
    Thanks for what you do, Chip!

  • Sharon A Lavy

    Thanks Chip. I always enjoy your blog posts and your agent perspective. God Bless~~

  • Nicole Unice

    Yesterday I heard back from an editor about a proposal that was passed to her 14 months ago. Had I known that she was going to get to it a year later, I would have sent her a note telling her “Look, I’ve moved on. It’s really not a good enough idea. Put it in the trash.”
    It had been so long that I already had another editor in the same publishing house looking at my next (and better) project. I had to read the email twice to even realize she was talking about something so old!
    The upside, of course, is that we’ve exchanged emails about my next project, and I have a feeling this one will get a quicker read since we’ve made a connection and she realizes
    a. I can handle rejection,
    b. I’m not emotionally handcuffed to every word I write and
    c. I’m willing to try again with something else.

  • Ane Mulligan

    GIna Holmes’s blog, Novel Journey, was also selected selected as one of the 101 Top Websites for Writers by Writers Digest Magazine. :D