by Steve Laube
I am frequently asked this question. It is perfectly understandable as many agencies carry a sizeable list of clients. A prospective client or even an existing one wonders, “Will this agent or agency have time for me?”
We post a list of our clients on the web site because we are honored to work with so many gifted people. Not every agency makes their client list public. It is neither right nor wrong, it is merely a preference. As of this morning we have nearly 170 clients on our roster.
Proper management of a client base is all about communication and work flow. The best metaphor I’ve been able to use to describe how a literary agency works is “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone show up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”
The writing profession is somewhat cyclical. During the proposal and contract stage the agent/author conversations are frequent. But once the deal is set the writer disappears into a cave to write. Then periodically the writer comes out with a question or a situation that needs attention. Later on the editorial, production, and marketing stages can have issues that require an agents attention.
Rarely does much of this happen on the same day. Thus the airline metaphor is apropos. If every client called their agent on the same day it is doubtful that every author would be served properly.
Another consideration when looking at a list of clients it to realize that not every author is what can be termed as “Active.” An “active” author is either writing their book, creating a new proposal, or otherwise engaged in activity that affects their work as an author which I would be representing.
However I have some clients who have retired but there is still work to be done their behalf when issues arise on their older titles. Other clients have passed away. In those situations if there is an issue with the estate and the intellectual property we are still there to handle it. We have clients who take years between projects. We keep these people on our list of clients because they are our clients, but they would not necessarily be considered “active.”
From a workflow standpoint I try my best to respond to each client’s situation as soon as possible. Am I perfect? Hardly. But generally we hope our clients are satisfied with what we can do for them. Each of us in the agency works hard to take care of each situation as they arise. Some days are crazier than others. E-mail is a tremendous tool for taking care of quick questions. The phone is still a powerful tool. (Read “The Barriers to Effective Communication.”)
Ultimately the question is not “can we” but “do we” manage a number of clients. The answer is a celebratory “yes we do!” We will not take on a new client unless we think we can sell their work or help them to achieve their publication goals. A project or an author must be commercially viable otherwise nothing happens and no one is happy. So while our client base may continue to grow it is done with intentionality and purpose.