Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Many is Too Many?

Anonymous Comment: you have 24 authors already, and you're opening your email for more?? are you planning on never sleeping again?
Keep in mind, Anonymous, though I don't think that it affected my clients negatively in any way, or that they experienced any lag in communication from me because of it, I have essentially been a part-time agent for the past three years. I've had a "day job" the whole time. Now that day job is gone. Though I am still helping out a few hours here and there at a bookstore, it is for fun, just because I like it and would miss it if I stopped.

The problem with answering the question "how many clients do you have?" is, if I say a number that seems low to you, you'll think I'm not popular. If I say a number that seems too high, you'll think I don't have time. But what is normal, or average? I think that most well-established agents have many more clients than I do.

But not all those clients are active at any given time!  Let's break it down. Right now my clients are:

Writing or revising a contracted book.  5
Writing or revising a book that has not sold yet. 4
Taking a "life break".  2
Incommunicado until they come out of their hidey-holes, barring perhaps one monthly email.
On submission, waiting to hear from editors.  4
Turned in option book, waiting to hear from editor. 1
Occasional email or quick phone call touch base / nudges / questions
Sold, waiting for contracts or edits. 1
Has interest, waiting for offer. 3
Waiting game with sporadic flurrys of activity till they go code red
New Book from Client / Waiting to submit (I'm not submitting anything new during August).  4
Reading, crafting submission lists, writing letters, worrying, editing, thinking about, till projects are in editors hands and it goes to code green. 
Actively negotiating contract.  1  
Daily emails and phone calls, lots of activity for short period of time, until it goes back to code gold.

Some, of course, fall a bit into more than one category.  They are all important to me, but there is nothing I can give to Code Blue-ers right now, and percentage-wise, they are in the majority. Code Green and Gold are on the radar, but there is not a great deal to do there either besides be available if there are questions, nudge the editors, send updates, and be ready for them to go red. Code Pink and Code Red are the most active, but as you can see, they are also the least amount percentage-wise.

Aside from the immediate concerns of clients, negotiating specific contracts, etc, much of my time is spent reading, doing research and getting to know editors - which I do for all my clients, and would be the same if I had three or three hundred.

Of course, this answer is personal to me, I in no way want to imply that this is "right" or that agents who have many more or fewer clients than I do are "wrong."  I just know how my own time-management breakdown works.  The long and the short of it is, personally, I've only signed one new author this year and I have time for a few more. Not a LOT more - but a few more. Now I just have to find them.  :-)


  1. Just curious, do you tend to get a flood of a few hundred queries whenever you mention that you are looking for more clients? :)

  2. Ellen - not really, surprisingly! I do get queries every day regardless, but they tend to be fairly steady. Even on holidays. :)

  3. I really enjoyed this post. As an author, it gave me a better insite as to why you or any agent can have several or many clients. It does make sense that even if you have 30 or 3 or 300 clients that they would all be in different stages and would all require different amounts of times at specific times in the process.

    This post gave me a better understanding of what it is like to be an agent and what my agent (when I get one) will go through :)


  4. I've always assumed you had a small army of minions or perhaps a clone or two...

  5. This is an interesting breakdown of agent activities. I had never seen it put that way. It gives me a better insight of how things work.
    Just out of curiosity: what percentage of your time is spent reading queries, partials and fulls?

  6. Gabriela - Queries and fulls are absolutely the last thing on my priority list - I have to take care of current clients first!

    So I do them when I am done with everything else. Usually there is about a 4-6 week lag on queries (though it is shorter now because I cleaned out the box recently), and a 3-4 month lag on fulls (on the long side now because I have not been reading while moving.) Though this time can vary throughout the year based on many variables.

  7. Oh pooh pooh, you are a literary agent! You make the rules! If anyone questions you, just break open a bottle of champagne on their head and laugh like a sleep-deprived Mrs. Howell whilst eating caviar off George Clooney's bum.

    Ya dig?

    P.S. Thanks for the information. Duly noted.

  8. You mean you're not going back to Books Inc.?

  9. "M" - The point of this sabbatical, basically the entire goal here in NY, is to spend the next year building my agenting business so that wherever I end up going in a year's time, I will be able to be a full-time agent.

    I am still doing a bit of online stuff for Books Inc. from here, and still arranging NYMBC events from afar.

    Whenever I move back to San Francisco, I am sure that I will continue to do the fun things that I have always done in terms of putting together NYMBC or whatever. But ideally, I will not have to go back to my full-time-retail-job.

  10. shelley12:37 AM

    I had no idea that you'd been maintaining a day job. Hooray that you will be able to devote fulltime to agenting.
    I believe agents when they say they are looking for new clients. They know what they can handle. I trust they know their limits.

  11. Some of them are NOT to be believed. But you can trust JL.

  12. Loved this post -- and your comments here. What a great inside look at agenting. I have been a lurker for awhile (sorry about that) but I must say that I love how your personality shines on this blog. You have a high like-ability factor that is very comfortable. You are on the top of my list once I'm ready to query my WIP.
    Have a great weekend!


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