Okay, okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is hyperbolic. Kind of. But let me explain why it’s not that far off the mark to say you really can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t–live without it. Also, let me explain why I’m addressing something that Tamela addressed a mere 3 months ago.
So far this week, I’ve had no fewer than seven conversations with writers, agents, and editors, all of which hit on the same topic: finding out important information long after they should have. The conversations covered a broad range of information:
- An author calling to say s/he was going to miss a deadline—a week before the deadline.
- A client receiving an extension on a deadline from an editor
- A publishing house moving a pub date without letting the author know
- A book arriving with a cover that was completely different from what the author approved
My response in every case was utterly profound:
“Are you KIDDING me??”
So though Tamela addressed the following in March, let’s talk about it again. Because friends, this is important stuff. (And because you know who will address it next: Mr. Steve. And he won’t be as nice as Tamela and I are! <insert evil grin here>)
First, it’s easy to look at that list and see why numbers 1, 3, & 4 are bad. But what’s so bad about the second one? Well, let me ‘splain (as Ricky Ricardo loved to say to Lucy). Suppose you’re an agent. You know what your client’s deadlines are, which means you not only know when the manuscript is due to the editor/publisher, but when the money will be coming in. So you have these dates marked on your calendar. Now supposed it’s several weeks past the date when the money was supposed to arrive. Guess what you’re inclined to do? Yup, call the editor and find out what the problem is. Imagine your surprise—and chagrin—when you discover said editor gave your client a two month extension, but said client didn’t say boo to you!
Friends, your agents are there to protect you, to ensure you’re taken care of, and to go to the mat for you when needed. We’re not there to interfere in your relationship with an editor, but we are the ones who step in when there are issues. Far better to have us deal with the hard things than to have you enter an adversarial role with your editor. Especially when it has to do with money. Which means, plain and simple, agents need to know what’s going on.
So here are some guidelines for you to keep in mind:
If you’re going to miss a deadline: TELL ALL. Yes, tell your agent, but do it as soon as you even think you’ll miss it. Don’t wait, thinking you can get caught up. Don’t be afraid to say something because your agent will angry or disappointed or whatever else you think may be the agent’s reaction. When you give your agent the information as soon as it’s a possibility, as you equip him or her to work on your behalf and minimize the negative impact should it come to pass.
If you work out an extension with your editor: TELL ALL! Tell you agent as soon as that happens. Too many things ride on deadlines being met, and the agent needs to know what’s happening to track them all and make sure you’re covered.
If (or to be more realistic, when) the title on your book changes: TELL ALL! Why does your agent need to know that? Because they have to match the title up with the checks! And the title your agent has is the one on the contract, which, let’s be honest, is seldom the title that ends up on the book. Which can play havoc with accounting.
Other agent TELL ALLS to share, as soon as possible, include if you:
- Are moving (kind of important to know where to send the advance/royalty money!)
- Are going out of town for any length of time
- Are facing any kind of crisis, be it family, health, financial, or spiritual (no, we’re not your “Father confessors,” but we are your champions, and we need to know if you’re facing serious issues because of a troubled child or your spouse has lost a job, or you’ve gone into a clinical depression…whatever. When we know what’s happening, we can help you—and your editors/publishers—deal with the situation as well as possible)
- Have been injured. I fell off a ladder several years ago and broke two ribs. Little did I know breaking ribs meant you couldn’t breathe without excruciating pain. As for working at a computer? Yeah. Not for several weeks.
- Are frustrated with your editor or publishing house. Don’t rant at them, rant to your agent. It’s our job to help you sift through the emotions and find a viable solution.
- Have received cover comps from your editor, and your agent hasn’t been copied on the email (unless your agent has told you s/he doesn’t want to be involved in that process)
- Are going through marital struggles, especially if you’re facing impending separation or divorce. Yes, these things are personal. But friends, they can’t help but affect your writing. Agents need to know about such things.
- Suffer a computer crash. Take it from someone who just had her iMac, MacBook Pro, and iPhone all die in a space of three weeks, these events can be nightmares! (Happily, thanks to AppleCare, my situation was resolved easily and quickly—and without cost to me. Thank you, Apple!) But nothing can bring your writing to a screeching halt like a computer crash.
- Change your phone number or email. Yes, seriously. I’ve had it happen twice now that I’ve called a client, only to get that hateful recorded message that the number is no longer in service. Aside from the fact that it’s unsettling, it makes doing business with someone hard when you don’t have their phone number.
- Experienced a loss, such as a death in the family. Grief is one of the most powerful emotions we ever face, and it can utterly kill creativity. When my mom died 10 years ago, I was in the middle of writing a novel. The grief incapacitated me for nearly 6 months. And even when I did start writing again, it was far harder than before she died. It took me several years until I was back on target. (One note: I know people who have been devastated by the loss of a pet, too. Don’t be afraid to let your agent know if a beloved pet has died and you’re not recovering well. We understand!)
Obviously, that’s not an inclusive list, but I hope it convinces you to think about what’s happening in your life and in your career, and take a hard look at what you need to share with your agent. Always remember, the more informed your agent is on the things that affect your writing and career, the better equipped s/he is to help you navigate—and even circumvent–what could become terribly turbulent waters.
So help us help you!