Writing Craft

How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

I am frequently asked the question, “How do you manage so many clients?” It is a perfectly reasonable question to ask since many agencies carry a sizable list of clients. The underlying question is really, “Does or will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the website 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 more than 280 clients on our roster.

[A quick reminder to all readers. Our client list is the combination of Tamela’s, Bob’s, and my clients. We’ve chosen not to distinguish on the website who is represented by whom since everyone is under the same agency banner.]

Ebb and Flow of the Work Load

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 this: “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone showed 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, 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 the editorial, production, and marketing stages can have issues that require an agent’s 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 any author would be served immediately.

This past week I dealt with a number of issues for clients that I did not know existed when the week began. Nary a one of more than a dozen situations were on my daily to-do list. But this is normal. Each crisis was handled without delay and resolved.

“Active” and “Inactive” Clients

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 whom 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.

Responsive Communication

From a workflow standpoint, I try my best to respond to each client’s situation as soon as possible. Am I perfect? (Who is?) 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 it arises. Some days are crazier than others. Email is a tremendous tool for taking care of quick questions. Plus the phone still rings.

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 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 intention and purpose.

 

[This is a heavily revised version of a post that ran in April 2012.]

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What do you do, as an agent, when a publisher does not pay advances on royalties on time as per their legal contract?

What if a publisher is consistently late (months) saying they have cash flow problems and will pay when they can? Shouldn’t authors be able to count on getting paid the amount and on the date stated in their contract?

Is this common and is there anything that can be done or said regarding what seems to be a breach of contract?

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