Q: I have an agent I love, although she's not had success (yet?!) selling my book. The ever important question: what is appropriate for an author to do for her agent at the holidays? Just a card? A gift? What kind of gift? These are the things that keep me up at night! Thanks.
May seem silly to some, but I get this question with surprising frequency, so I am going to pull on my white gloves for an etiquette lesson.
Your agent needs and expects nothing for the holidays. You are under NO obligation to spend money or time on gifts your agent for holidays, or at any time of year. Even if you and your agent are friendly... even, in fact, if you and your agent are friends.
If you are the card-sending "type" and sending cards is already on your agenda -- go ahead and send a card. That's nice. But don't go out of your way to do it if you are not "cardish" by nature. Otherwise, an e-card, or just simple greetings in regular correspondence, such as you might give to anyone you do business with, are of course polite. You may not know what, if any, holidays your agent celebrates... so I'd suggest keeping it to a neutral "happy holidays", "happy new year" etc, unless you know for a FACT that your agent is a practicing member of a specific religion. (I usually say "stay warm!")
If you have a book deal to celebrate, or if you just love to give gifts and you REALLY WANT to give your agent a present, I'd suggest keeping it small - no need to go overboard. Perhaps something bookish, or some cool token related to your book. If you are an illustrator, a small piece of art would be beyond lovely. If she works in an office with other people, some nice chocolates or cookies to share. If you know she likes a certain kind of coffee or booze, some of that would be appreciated (provided it is not too pricey). Your agent will be delighted to receive a gift... but again, she is NOT going to be expecting one, nor will she be disappointed if one does not come.
DON'T buy something lavish, particularly if your book has not yet sold. (If your book sold for a million bucks, by all means splurge on the luxe cashmere scarf ... but if your book hasn't sold yet and you are barely holding down a job at Dairy Queen, it will make your agent worry. You want your gift to inspire delight, not concern.)
DON'T send perishable items to the office over the holiday break - nothing quite so gross as a box of decomposing pears leaking onto your desk when you come back from vacation. I'd also steer away from things that have a scent (perfumes and soaps), and items of clothing that have a size.
DO remember that people go out of town and offices are closed over the holidays. Check for the best address before sending.
DO Let common sense be your guide. And DON'T worry!