How to Maintain a Positive Working Relationship with Your Literary Agent

Agents hope to maintain positive, long-term relationships with the authors they represent. They are not looking to sell one writer’s book and then move on to the next writer. An agent’s goal is to create a successful partnership throughout a writer’s career. Here are ways you can help sustain a healthy and prosperous relationship with your agent.

1. Do not make unnecessary demands on your agent’s time.
Your agent has many clients and responsibilities to tend to throughout his day. Be considerate and do not consume his time with unnecessary interruptions by calling him every day, sending five emails an hour, or contacting him on the weekend to see if your book has sold, yet. Contact your agent when you have a legitimate reason to do so, not just to “check-in”.

2. Understand the agent’s role.
One your book is sold to a publisher and the contract has been successfully negotiated, the primary job of the agent is done. An agent can feel frustrated if an author does not understand the agent’s role, which can create problems in the author-agent relationship. Do not expect your agent to also be your editor, your confidante, your sounding board, your coach, or your publicist. 

The role of your agent is to:

  • Sell your first book.
  • Negotiate the terms of your publishing contract.
  • Explain business issues and contract details when you have questions.
  • Act as a middle-man should there be a dispute between you and your editor.
  • Campaign on your behalf if your editor leaves the publishing house.
  • Ensure you adhere to your publishing contract by delivering the manuscript on time and following the stipulations outlined under your option clause.
  • Sell subsidiary rights.
  • Strategize with you regarding the concept of your follow-up books and the overall vision for your career.
  • Sell your subsequent books.

3. Avoid micromanaging.
Recognize that your agent is a professional with years of experience and knowledge - she doesn’t need you telling her what to do. Respect your agent and let her do her job without interference.

4. Never have someone else contact the agent on your behalf.
You are the agent’s client - not your assistant, not your attorney, not your writing coach, not your spouse, not your publicist, and not your accountant. The agent expects to deal directly with you and will quickly become annoyed if he is forced to connect with other people on your team.

5. Do not take your agent for granted.
Be appreciative of all the hard work your agent does on your behalf. Send a thank you note when she gives you advice, lands you a writing assignment, or sells your book. Remember, she represents you because she believes in you and your work. Be sure to acknowledge her efforts in your book’s acknowledgements page.

6. Share what you are doing to further your career.
Keep your agent up-to-date. Send her a short note whenever something good happens - for instance, when you receive a prestigious award, land an appearance on The Today Show or send off the final edits to the publisher.

7. Be faithful to your agent.
Your agent is committed to you, so be loyal to her.

8. Retain a positive attitude.
It may take a long time to sell your book. You need to trust your agent and have patience. Remain dedicated to your career and determined to succeed.

9. Deliver what you promise, on time.
If you are contracted to deliver an 60,000-word book, do not submit one that is only 35,000 words in length. If it is your responsibility to obtain special use permissions before your book is submitted, ensure you acquire all of them. If you stated you would supply 15 images for use in the book, make sure you do so. If your publishing agreement stipulates that you deliver your completed manuscript within nine months, do not be late.

Your contract is a legal document. You need to take it seriously because the publisher will. Do not agree to any terms that will be difficult for you to deliver. If you fail to deliver as promised, the publisher has the right to cancel your book. This reflects badly on the agent and hurts the relationship she has with the publisher and editor. The agent will not receive the remaining commission that she has earned and will be forced to return the commission she has already received. You will be forced to return the entire advance payment issued by the publisher and will most likely no longer have an agent representing you.

10. Work with your agent, not against him.
Remember, your relationship with your agent is a partnership. You are both working toward the same goal - to sell your book and establish your writing career. When your agent makes suggestions, offers advice, or recommends accepting a specific deal, work with him, not against him. If you strongly disagree with his suggestions, advice or recommendations, have a discussion with your agent regarding your opinion. Always keep the lines of communication open and respectful.

11. Be wary of offering referrals.
Do not offer your agent’s name indiscriminately to other writers who are seeking representation. Your referrals reflect on you. Only offer a referral to an author you respect and feel would be a good fit with your agent.