Navigating the Agent-Client Relationship

When you’re in the querying trenches, the goal is clear: Get that agent. But what happens after you have an agent? How are you supposed to work together for the next stage of your publishing career? Big thanks to Lucia for suggesting this topic, because I think it’s an important one and it’s useful to share my experience so that fellow authors have another data point to reference when trying to navigate their own agent-client relationship.

I recently saw a tweet that cautioned authors about how they viewed the agent-client relationship. The OP mentioned that many might view this the same way they would a romantic relationship, but it’s key to remember that ultimately it’s not that – it is a business relationship. Solid advice. Your agent’s job is to help you sell your books and get them on the shelves, and to negotiate the best possible terms for you so that your writing career gets to where you want it to be. Of course it’s a bonus if your agent can double up as your BFF, but that’s not necessary. I got lucky with my agent, because she was truly a good fit for my work and working style. Here are some green flags in my working relationship with my agent:

  1. Being able to meet my expectations of what an agent should do in this partnership.

    It can be pretty nebulous when you’re querying, but if you sit down and have a think, you can probably come up with some pointers about what you expect from an agent. For me, I knew that I wanted an editorial agent who would be able to give meaningful suggestions that aligned with my own vision of the book, and someone who would know where to place my books in the market. Every agent has a different working style, so it’s important to establish whether or not your agent’s style fits your own. Not every agent is editorial, and those who are can edit to different degrees. I’ve heard of agents who hang on to books for >6 months for heavy edits, and others who put books on sub almost immediately. You’ll never know for sure if an agent is a right fit based on one call, but you can lay out your expectations from the get-go and find out as much information as you need about the agent’s working style in order to help you make a decision.

    When speaking to my agent on The Call, she said that she would do a quick round of line edits for my YA fantasy (because it had already undergone heavy structural edits through PitchWars), but subsequently she also gave me structural edit notes for my next book, a YA contemporary, so I was really happy that she was able to tailor her edits according to what the books required. One thing that worked really well for us was also that she took the initiative to set certain expectations. For example, when she was going to work on edits for my MS, she would tell me “hey I’ll get this back to you in two weeks”, and when two weeks rolled around there would be a prompt update in my inbox. Sometimes she needed more time and that’s okay, but she would always keep me updated on progress so I wouldn’t have to twiddle my thumbs wondering why there’s radio silence from her end. As a first-timer in this, I don’t know how long timelines are in the publishing world. How long should it take for your agent to give you an edit letter? How long should it take before editors respond on sub? How long should the publishing house take to draw up a contract? NO IDEA! So I loved it that my agent was open with volunteering all this information and proactive about keeping my anxious ass regularly updated.
  2. Respecting my choices for my work and career.

    I think mutual respect and trust is an important mark of a balanced relationship. I say “balanced” because when you’re a querying author, the power imbalance is so real. All the power be to agents, and as authors we just want someone to love us and our work so badly that sometimes we’re willing to overlook many red flags. It’s a mindset that I had to rework once I had an agent, because I realised that this should be a partnership, not a teacher-student or parent-child type of relationship. We are working together to get my book where it needs to be. When making editorial comments, my agent would always position them as suggestions, not directions. I never felt pressured into making any of the changes if I didn’t agree with them, which made the entire pre-sub process a lot more comfortable. When it came to sub, she also made sure to ask for my views with regards to the sub package and the sub list, even though I’m sure she’s far more experienced in this than I am. Of course, I respect her experience in the industry as well and trust her advice on what she thinks will be best for my books. Bottomline is, when working with my agent, it always felt like a two-way discussion, and I think that’s how it should be! Your agent should not be calling the shots on everything and you should never be made to feel like your views and opinions don’t matter, because ultimately it is your book and your writing career that you’re working on. Likewise, tap on your agent’s expertise to figure out what’s best for your book, instead of hanging too tightly to any assumptions and pre-conceptions you may have about the industry and how publishing works. Your agent is your champion, not your boss! You should never be afraid to engage with your agent. If you are, then perhaps that agent is not the right one for you.
  3. Caring for my writing career and experience and not just the $$ and the sale!

    This is so important and honestly not something that struck me until I went through the sub process and experienced it for myself. My agent was a former editor, so she knew what it was like working on the other side of the fence. During sub, it became quite clear to me that when she said “we’ll find a good home for your book”, this “good home” did not just mean a publisher who was willing to splash the most money on the advance – it meant finding an editor whose editorial vision and style aligned with mine, and a publishing house with the most comprehensive publication vision for my book. More money is always good, and it’s to your agent’s benefit to negotiate higher advances, but given that you’ll be working closely with your editor and their team for the rest of the publication process, the whole package is actually incredibly important!

I’ve been blessed with a smooth agent-client experience so far and I am so grateful for this. I know this isn’t going to be everyone’s experience, and is very particular to me and my POV, so make what you will out of it. Every agent-client relationship is different and there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all. That said, there are green flags and red flags to look out for when working with your agent, so know how to recognise them when you see them and don’t be afraid to seek opinions from fellow authors when you’re not sure!

Amber is a PitchWars ’20 alum and a Wattpad Creator. One of her Wattpad novels, The Cutting Edge, has recently been adapted for television and is streaming on meWATCH. She is represented by Anne Perry at The Ki Agency.

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4 thoughts on “Navigating the Agent-Client Relationship

  1. “It’s a mindset that I had to rework once I had an agent, because I realised that this should be a partnership, not a teacher-student or parent-child type of relationship. We are working together to get my book where it needs to be”

    This is one of the truest things I’ve read on the Internet today. This is an amazing topic. I’ll be bookmarking it. Thanks for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love having a look into the agent-client partnership 🙂 often us waiting in the trenches spend a lot of time wondering what it’s like. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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