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.]

22 Responses to How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

  1. Sybil Bates McCormack April 23, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    Subtle, Jenny, subtle. 😀

    • JennyM April 23, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      Thank you Sybil. Did I mention that I bake cheesecakes from scratch and am well known in my whole town for my cinnamon buns? If such items are in the luggage, they make it onto the flight. 🙂

  2. TC Avey April 23, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Not enough coffee yet this Monday- aspiring authors like me, not inspiring. Though I hope to inspire others!

    Man, I need a refill!

    • Lindsay Harrel April 23, 2012 at 11:00 am #

      I think you’re inspiring, TC! 😉

  3. Ronie April 23, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Rick, we won’t?!?!?!? I’ll get back to you end of March 2013…. LOL

    • Rick Barry April 23, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Oops. The genie is out of the bottle now!

  4. Steve Laube April 23, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Thanks Rick. I think I’ll go on vacation that day…

  5. Richard Mabry March 23, 2020 at 5:54 am #

    What about your clients who are “hybrid” authors? Do you help them in any way, or just manage their affairs for the novels traditionally published?

    • Steve Laube March 23, 2020 at 12:27 pm #


      Good question. With our hybrid authors (those who publish both independently and traditionally) we do a number of things.

      One is to make sure the author is working strategically and not stepping on their traditional releases.

      Another is to work with subsidiary rights. For some with Indie projects we’ve done foreign rights deals, large print deals, audio licenses, etc.

      Hope that helps explain. We don’t want our clients to approach their Indie projects willy-nilly. But to have a plan.

      • Carol Ashby March 23, 2020 at 12:39 pm #

        Interesting, Steve. By not stepping on traditional releases, does that mean timing or genre or what? For example, would a 1925 western historical romantic thriller and a series of indie Roman-era historicals be considered “not stepping” regardless of when the Roman novels released?

        • Steve Laube March 23, 2020 at 12:44 pm #

          Mostly it is related to timing. You should never release two new products too close to each other…No matter if they are different genres.

          The point is it is the same author. And an author has a certain following.

          Think of it as asking your “customer” to choose between two of your books. They won’t buy both. They will only buy one. So you are competing, not only with yourself, you are competing with your traditional publishing partner. Not a good thing to do.

          • Carol Ashby March 23, 2020 at 12:47 pm #

            How far apart in time is “too close?” Writing full time, I publish each new novel on a 6-month timeframe, with people waiting for the next release on the promised schedule. How would that have to change (or would it?) if hybrid publishing?

            • Steve Laube March 23, 2020 at 12:50 pm #

              Six months is fine.

              There are cases where an author released their Indie book the same month as their traditional one.

            • Carol Ashby March 23, 2020 at 1:08 pm #

              Well, that seems rather foolish. But some indies publish 5 or 6 a year of shorter novels/novellas, so I can see where that might happen.

            • Steve Laube March 23, 2020 at 1:29 pm #

              It is highly doubtful that the Indies who are publishing that frequently are not also publishing traditionally. Their only competition in that case is themselves.

  6. Jeanne Takenaka March 23, 2020 at 7:44 am #

    I’d never considered all that an agency does on behalf of retired clients–either retired from writing or from this life. It’s good to know your agency has plans and processes and a commitment to do this on behalf of your clients.

    I’m with Richard…very curious about how your agency handles hybrid authors and that publishing route?

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield March 24, 2020 at 12:17 am #

      I write in multiple genres. Would you expect that to be revealed in a query letter or a conference pitch? Would you represent an author for more than one? I’m querying a contemporary women’s fiction to agents now. Each time I send one I wonder if the agent might like one of my historical fiction works better, but I don’t mention that as an option. Is that wise or missing an opportunity?

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 23, 2020 at 6:20 pm #

    A juggling master of the cirque,
    to that an agent must aspire,
    with an nicely added perq;
    the act takes place upon high wire.
    Not for the master tennis balls
    with which he our attention draws;
    not, The Great One gives his all
    with madly roaring sharp chainsaws.
    But alone, this would be pittance;
    there’s incentive not to miss the marks
    and keep that admirable fine balance
    for below’s a tank of hungry sharks.
    Such vocation, passion, zeal!
    One slip, and you become a meal.

  8. Kristen Joy Wilks March 24, 2020 at 11:23 am #

    I’ve always wondered about this. Thank you for answering! And hopefully no one will get dragged off the plane like that one passenger on the overbooked flight a while back.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield April 1, 2020 at 7:56 am #

      I write in multiple genres. Would you expect that to be revealed in a query letter or a conference pitch? Would you represent an author for more than one? I’m querying a contemporary women’s fiction to agents now. Each time I send one I wonder if the agent might like one of my historical fiction works better, but I don’t mention that as an option. Is that wise or missing an opportunity?

  9. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. March 24, 2020 at 2:12 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this information. I was wondering about that with my former agent.

  10. sara March 26, 2020 at 4:03 pm #

    Cool. I think I’m an active type of author.

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