How to Be a Dream Client
By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent
Congratulations! You have signed with a literary agent (hopefully one of us here at Keller Media!). You are one HUGE step closer to achieving your publishing dream. But what happens after everything is signed and made official?
Hopefully your book proposal is in good shape. If it needs some work, your agent will likely tell you what additional information or rewrites they need before moving forward. Once you both agree the proposal is in the best condition possible, your agent will then start pitching you to editors at various publishing houses. These are editors who have been carefully selected because they acquire books that are similar to yours.
After lots of follow up, your agent will let you know once an offer comes in. It is ultimately up to you whether or not you take the offer, but your agent will give you their advice on how to best proceed. Once the deal terms are closed, your agent will negotiate the long-form contract with the publishing company before arranging for your signature. Your advance will likely be paid in thirds – one third upon signing, one third upon delivery of your manuscript, and one third upon publication (minus your agent’s 15%!).
This is where the agent becomes more hands off in the process, because you will be working with your editor to establish a delivery schedule for your pages and discussing the material as you submit it. If problems come up, your agent will act as your liaison.
When it comes time for publication, your agent will likely toast you with champagne (wine, Diet Coke, coffee) and talk to you about when you might be ready to write your next book.
So what can YOU do to make this whole process – from signing to publication – as painless as possible?
1) Establish the best method of communication early on. Hopefully you will have an idea of your agent works even before signing with them. You will know if they are easier to communicate with via telephone or email (I’m guessing email), and they will know just how much you would like to be kept in the loop. For instance, do you want periodic updates on the pitching – or do you just want to hear about it when it is all over? Do you want to know what the editors say when they reject or pass on your project? You need to make this clear from the beginning.
2) Be open to thinking outside of the book and be open to change. One of the reasons why we advise authors to complete their proposal BEFORE their manuscript is because this leaves things open. If an editor asks if you are willing to make a few tweaks, are you really going to say no? If your agent suggests some ways to make your project more commercial or more appealing to editors, are you going to assume you know better? You are the expert in the field you are writing about; your agent is the expert in the field of publishing.
3) Stay on schedule and do the work. If your agent gives you a deadline, you should be very clear right away if you do not think the date is realistic. Just like you need them to stay on top of things when it comes to reaching out to editors, they need you to stay on top of things when it comes to doing revisions, providing additional information, and so on.
4) Ask questions and don’t make assumptions. Your agent likely has several other clients, and part of an agent’s job is figuring out how to give each client the amount of time that they deserve. You should never get lost in the shuffle, of course. However, you need to keep in mind that a voicemail that isn’t immediately returned doesn’t mean we’ve dropped the ball. If you have real concerns, talk to us! If you’re confused, talk to us! We can clear a lot of misconceptions up before they become resentments.
5) Trust us to do our job. We get it, rejection and/or waiting is tough – it is difficult for us, too! We want your book to be published just as much as you do – because we love the book, but also because that is the only way in which we’ll make any money off of the deal. If your book sells, we’ve essentially done a lot of work for free – and free doesn’t pay for a trip to Hawaii! We’re open to ideas (just as we would want you to be), but you need to presume that we are using every tool we have at our disposal to get things rolling. Yes, we’ve reached out to Random House. Yes, we’ve followed up. Yes, we’ve waxed poetic about you.
6) Be nice. Please. Sending angry, abusive emails doesn’t do anything but hurt your cause. Assuming you know more about the publishing industry than us makes us wonder why you felt you needed an agent in the first place. We have a common goal – selling your book – and you and your agent will both need to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
We have worked with many of our clients for years (some even decades!) because we have established, cultivated, and nurtured successful relationships with them. You deserve that, too! Work side by side with your agent to create a publishing dream team.