The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

Karen Ball

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!

14 Responses to The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

  1. Avatar
    JennyM June 27, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    All of these make perfect sense. I spotted the editor extension right away, because that’s like getting a bucket of candy on October 30th. It might be great, but it messes up all the other little kiddies.
    As for the troubled child. Sigh. The one we doubted would ever blink wrong is off in Prodigal Land. We’re waiting on the road outside the house, with a robe in our hands and a steak chilling, just for her. Writing allows me to fix everyone in my WIP, when I can’t fix her.
    Just typing that choked me up.
    Clinical depression? Yup. See above. My doctor told me that the human brain can only take so much before it misfires and starts going into survival mode. Between 15 years of chronic pain and open rebellion and the fight to keep 3 boys from not hating their sister…hello meds.

    All through this mess, God has blessed me with being able to write and a spouse who totally gets that writing is critical right now. One of the greatest blessings is to be able to take the pain I’m in and put it onto the page.

    One day, my agent will have access to my GPS chip. But for now, I’ll just email my schedule to you. Along with the knowledge that I shaved 8000 words off my WIP and have taken your words of June 13th DEEPLY to heart.


    Alright…well…THAT was much cheaper than an hour on a couch, wasn’t it, Dr Ball?

  2. Avatar
    Richard Mabry June 27, 2012 at 5:33 am #

    Karen, Great advice. Like many writers, I was in awe/fear of agents and editors until I acquired representation and a contract. It took a while afterward for me to realize the need for communication, and to stop prefacing my communications to my agent with “Sorry to bother you.” Thanks for sharing the things we absolutely, positively should communicate freely.

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    Diana Harkness June 27, 2012 at 5:37 am #

    The agency process must work differently than when I practiced law. As the agent for the client, everything passed through me, the attorney, and I was responsible for notifying the client if it was something that concerned the client and not the litigation or negotiation process. Recently after my mother’s death, my probate attorney functioned similarly. I provided the information, he produced the documents and I signed them. The case will progress without any input on my part because my attorney will handle it all. It seems that the best idea to keep a literary agent in the loop is to allow that agent to access my calendar and to be sure I calendar all events that my agent should know about.

  4. Avatar
    sally apokedak June 27, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    My one thought as I was reading this was: Writers are apparently terrible communicators.

    My reaction was the same as yours. “Are you KIDDING me??”

  5. Avatar
    Jeanne June 27, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Karen, good communication between a writer and an agent seems like a no brainer. I appreciate the life circumstances that agents need to know about in the lives of those they represent. Your post makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Avatar
    tcavey June 27, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    Wow, some of those things I hadn’t even realized an agent would WANT to know. While I don’t have an agent yet, it’s good to know they are worth gold! Thanks for this heads up, I want to make sure I foster a trusting and productive relationship when I finally do sign on with an agent! This post makes me excited to get started, I want someone who has my back and cares this much about me as an individual and a writer!

  7. Avatar
    Jennifer Dyer June 27, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    I really appreciated this. I tend never to want to bother people. Their time is valuable. I almost died a few years ago after having surgery for cancer because I didn’t want to bother my doctor with pain he had told me was fine. Twelve hours later I asked Jesus for an extension on my life. 🙂
    It is nice to know what kind of communication won’t bother/seem superfluous to an agent. 🙂
    Thanks again.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Dyer June 27, 2012 at 7:58 am #

      BTW, I did keep my editors informed about my illness. Lol … Sorta 🙂

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    Meghan Carver June 27, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I had no idea the author-agent relationship was so extensive or personal. Thank you for the information. I’m filing it away for (hopefully) future use. It’s comforting to know that it is more like a personal relationship than simply exchanging paychecks. All the more reason to choose each other carefully.

  9. Avatar
    Nichole Hall June 27, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    As I began reading this post I thought most of this seemed like common sense to me. But as an unpublished writer maybe I am just ignorant to the process. I think sometimes I have the problem of over-communicating. But then I ask myself, is there such a thing? It seems in an industry inwhich it takes so many people to make the world go round, being a ‘team player’ is essential.

  10. Avatar
    Phyllis Sather June 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Thanks for this article. I had no idea that you should communicate about all these personal areas with an agent. I thought business was business and personal was personal. Good to know the ground rules.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube June 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

      It is important to clarify that these personal details are ones that can affect an author’s ability to write or conduct their business in a coherent manner.

      If you barrage your agent with every detail it could become background noise.

      Our problem is when big issues that create turmoil in the writing life are not communicated. Then it becomes a scramble to figure out if there is a problem or if there is a solution.

  11. Avatar
    Vicki Cato June 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Karen, thank you for reminding us about the importance of good communication. I plan to copy the list to use for future reference.

  12. Avatar
    Kara I July 2, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    Hi Karen,

    What happens in the case of number four? Does the author just have to accept it? Is the publisher required to pulp it and reprint with the agreed cover? Does it depend on how much the author dislikes the wrong cover that has been used?

    I can’t even imagine how devastating it would be to have gotten all that way to seeing your “baby” on a shelf, only to have it show up in dungarees when you okayed a ball gown!


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