A Day in the Life

People are always telling me they’d like to hear about a typical day for an agent. But I have yet to experience a typical day. When you have a large number of clients, working on a wide variety of projects, which are all in various stages of writing or publication, the days provide endlessly changing entertainment.

Of course, I’m sure there are many agents who aren’t as A.D.D. as I am, and some of them probably have routines to which they adhere. However “they” are not “me.”

I organize my days according to my priority list. My tasks for the day depend on what needs to be done, and I stay very clear on what’s important, what’s urgent, what’s both and what’s neither.

I also (very Jerry-Maguire or Ari-Gold-like) have a penchant for pacing around my office wearing my phone headset. I don’t scream things like “Lloyd, get me Vinnie Chase!” and I rarely say “Show me da money,” but I have been known to politely inquire, “Could we go any higher?” with quite satisfactory results.

When I’m not pacing around acting like a movie version of myself, here’s how I prioritize my daily work:

1. Contracts and Payments.
Fielding offers, negotiating deals, scrutinizing contracts, discussing clauses and terms with publishers, walking clients through their contracts, making sure the contract gets executed properly. Following up on advance and royalty payments, making sure publishers pay clients in a timely manner, examining royalty statements for accuracy.

2. Submitting projects to publishers.
Working with authors to prepare their proposals and manuscripts; preparing lists of editors to whom we’ll submit; getting projects out to publishers; following up appropriately.

3. All other client-related work.
Answering random questions; reading their latest work and offering feedback; coaching on marketing, promotion, career planning; brainstorming ideas for future projects; handling interaction with their publishers on everything from titles to book covers to extended deadlines and more; being a listening ear whenever necessary.

4. Finding new clients.
This includes careful consideration of all incoming queries, reading requested partials and full manuscripts, sometimes offering detailed feedback whether or not I’m saying yes to representation. It also includes proactively pursuing authors I’d like to represent.

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of tasks that might come up on any given day. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have my priority list! I tend to handle tasks in categories 1, 2, and 3 during business hours. Nights and weekends are for incoming queries, reading manuscripts (clients and potential clients), and blogging.

If you’re an unpubbed writer, you might be dismayed that reading incoming queries is the bottom of the priority list. I do need to keep up with them because I don’t want to miss a potentially great writer sitting in my slush pile. And yet, if I’m swamped with current clients, I’m less able to pay attention to all those potential new clients.

So when you’re seeking representation, you’re not top priority. However, that’s actually great news. It means that once you become a client, you are now the agent’s top priority.

While there’s no such thing as “typical” and it often feels more like a circus complete with juggling and high-flying trapeze acts, one thing is consistent: The needs of my clients determine the trajectory of each day.

Q4U: Do you have some kind of vision or stereotype of what you think an agent’s day is like? Tell us!

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Anna L. Walls on November 10, 2010 at 5:48 AM

    >I thoroughly enjoy your blog. I'd submit something but you don't care for fiction/fantasy so I'll remain an admirer. I am curious about one thing. Roughly (and I understand that the answer will be different for different agents), how many clients do you handle at a time and when and how do you rotate them – letting older ones go vs acquiring new ones?

  2. Marjorie on September 22, 2010 at 2:32 PM

    >Anon 1:09 PM?

    Why are you anonymous? If you have an opinion, be brave enough to own it. Otherwise, all you are doing in your comments are babyish hit and runs.

    Rachelle happens to be an agent who I think is both professional and ethical. She replies to you in sincere ways.

    All you are doing is making yourself look foolish and totally unimportant when you post a comment wearing a bag over your head.

  3. M Clement Hall on March 13, 2010 at 5:53 AM

    >Rachelle does not need advice on how to run her own blog and control the comments section, nevertheless I'm suggesting:
    a) It's your blog Rachelle, you don't have to tolerate overt rudeness, nor even the sly covert kind.
    b) I have a strong personal dislike of anonymous comments — this was discussed on another excellent blog and I was surprised (simple naive me) to find the commonest reason: they were written when the author was supposed to be working. Then there's the other kind where the author(ess) is able to hide spite behind the anonymity.
    c) Sleep, for anyone who has studied it, is not a "waste of time" but an essential "recharging of batteries" period — ask any mother of sick children, or anyone subjected to deliberate sleep deprivation.

  4. Dana on February 18, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    >I don't know why I felt lead to re-read to find out what is bothering Anonymous. It is just who I am. I hope it isn't inappropriate. I discovered why.

    Anonymous asked Rachelle a direct question and did not get an answer personally directed at Anonymous about queries. I know what that feels like but obviously getting angry is not the answer.

    I believe she answers your questions in previous blogs.

    Hang on. Keep pressing forward and as her many many blogs talk about, be patient.

  5. Dana on February 18, 2010 at 2:22 PM

    >Anon 1:09 – I have always thought sleep as a waste of time and I wonder if that makes me arrogant. I just wish there more hours in a day to do the things I like. We forget to consider that Rachelle has children too. I am a mother of three, work full time, and write. It is natural to wish you had more time.

    Sorry, but I couldn't help myself. It baffles me why people go on the attack like that but I see how often Anonymous blogs.

    I know first hand that you put your clients first and are careful to only committ when you can offer your absolute best.


    Waiting Patiently

  6. Jessica on February 18, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    >I'm glad to see those Starbucks meetings in there! 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  7. Koala Bear Writer on February 17, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    >Very interesting! I've wondered what's involved in an agent's job, beyond sending out proposals for authors and knowing what's going on in publishing houses. Thanks for the insider info! 🙂

  8. Dara on February 17, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    >Not really…I figured an agent's day would be really busy and mostly focused on contract negotiations. It only makes sense.

    It's understandable that unpubbed writer's queries are at the bottom especially if you have a rather full client list to begin with. I'm not really disheartened by it–it's just a fact of life 🙂 It just makes it to where I have to make my writing stand out even more. I'm up for that challenge 🙂

    Thank you for posting this. Even though you are so busy, I (and many of the other writers here I expect) really appreciate you spending time to put together these blog posts. So thanks!

  9. Moira Young on February 17, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    >Well, after an exquisite breakfast (prepared by your personal chef, of course), and your spa appointment with their best masseuse …

    To be honest, I've been following enough agent blogs and I've learned enough at writing conference workshops, that your described day doesn't surprise me in the least. And frankly, that makes me feel better. Should I ever manage to *be* one of those clients, I will not feel neglected.

  10. Mira on February 16, 2010 at 11:24 PM

    >Wait. I think some important things are missing here. Lunch time. Breaks. Going home and relaxing. I hope those are between the lines, because this sounds like a massively busy week!

    I hope you get 'you' time, too, Rachelle! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your day with us.

  11. Najela on February 16, 2010 at 10:39 PM

    >My stereotypical vision would be that they sit around drinking merlot and make fun of all the queries, partials, and full manuscripts that that receive. I don't believe this, but I can imagine that a movie about agents with this scene in it. lol.

  12. Timothy Fish on February 16, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    >You just had to go and ruin my image of you with a big cigar in your hand and blowing smoke rings.

  13. Crystal on February 16, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    >Thanks SO MUCH, Rachelle, for giving us a behind-the-scenes peek into an agent's day! It's very encouraging to know that your clients are a top priority. Great post! (I don't comment often but I'm always reading–and printing out–your posts!) 🙂

  14. Julie Kibler on February 16, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    >Pre-blog days, I had a far different picture of agents in my mind — that "high-powered, high-rise office" thing.

    I'm thankful many of you take the time to share about life as an agent, which has given me a picture that looks pretty much like the rest of us: human.

    I need a lot of sleep, and I hate that, too. I guess many of us have a love/hate relationship evil Mr. Sleep. 🙂

  15. patriciazell on February 16, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    >Rachelle, I bet you never slept in until noon as a teenager, did you? (That's what I considered the best part of summer when I was that age.)

    All kidding aside, I see agents as people who really like what they are doing. Otherwise, why would someone take the financial risks that are inherent in agenting?

    I also think one of the perks of your job is the pleasure you get when you close each deal! Those moments must make all the hassle worth something.

    Enjoy each and every day you spend doing what you love!

  16. Susan DiMickele on February 16, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    >Thanks for putting your clients first and fully admitting there is no typical day. Ditto. The average day of a lawyer is actually quite similar in that 1) Clients rule; 2) Coffee is essential; and 3) No naps. I don't think I've ever taken a nap since I became a working mother — yes, sleep is overrated!

  17. Rachelle on February 16, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    >Anon 1:09 pm: I'm so sorry that I apparently keep offending you! I'm puzzled and fascinated that you equate my dislike of sleep with arrogance. I assure you, it has nothing to do with any perceived sense of self-importance. I've disliked sleep ever since I was a small child and my mother had the darnedest time getting me to bed. I don't think I was arrogant and self-important at age 5!

    My dislike of sleep has more to do with the fact that I simply love life and I'm grateful for every moment I have here. Plus I just love having fun! So, ever since I was a child, I equated sleep with "wasted time" and always wished I could be doing something more fun than lying in a bed!

    Trust me, I'm NOT saying I dislike sleep because I think I have so darn many important things to do. No, it's just that sleep isn't as fun for me as the rest of life. But considering we spend about 1/3 of life asleep, maybe it's time I cultivate a new attitude, eh?

    And I'd be very interested to have you explain why you're so offended by something that is simply a quirk of mine. I only mention it because I find it to be unusual – most people apparently do enjoy sleeping. Strange but true.

  18. Anonymous on February 16, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    >Sick of hearing about how you hate sleep. How arrogant! You are NOT that important!!!

  19. Rachelle on February 16, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    >SORRY, folks! Apparently I forgot to mention some of the most important parts of my day. Here they are:

    1. Coffee.

    2. Chocolate.

    3. Starbucks meetings (more coffee).

    4. Lunches at PF Chang's.

    5. (Brace yourself.) Tea. Yep, in the afternoons I switch from coffee to herbal.

    And by the way, I don't nap. Ever. I dislike the fact that I have to sleep at night. I don't need more of it during the day.

  20. Keli Gwyn on February 16, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    >When I think of an agent's day, the word full comes to mind.

    I imagine full schedules, full in-boxes, full desks.

    I think of your days as being full of excitement as you negotiate contracts and discover new talent, full of satisfaction as you answer clients' questions and share good news with them, and full of stress as you juggle your many and varied tasks.

    Because you do all of this so well, I believe that, despite the sometimes hectic nature of the job, it must be very fulfilling.

  21. Angie Ledbetter on February 16, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    >I'm saddened not to see any reference to tasty meals or nappage. Please add those (and the coffee). 😀

    Happy Mardi Gras and blessed Lentent season!

  22. Rebecca Knight on February 16, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    >Thank you for this peek into an agent's life! 😀

    Now, no matter what you say, I'm imaginging you pacing in the office, shouting SHOW ME THE MONEY! into the phone.

    Love it!

  23. Prem Rao on February 16, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    >Thanks for a great post. So queries get read during nights and weekends, do they? I guess they are the only times you can read them in peace.

  24. SM Blooding on February 16, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    >My picture of an agent is a person with a phone glued to their ear, one hand on the key board, and the other stuck to their coffee cup. Oh, and they're surrounded by mountains of paper.

    LOL! This was awesome! Thank you for sharing.


  25. tracey solomon on February 16, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    >I heard no mention of coffee– coffee is not involved? Are you sure? And no cupcakes?

    This sounds pretty close to what I expected. Minus my coffee drinking stereotype, which is now (possibly) blown.

    Funny- I sometimes pace when I'm stuck on a WIP and I talk.. but usually to myself. Yes, often outloud 🙂

    Thnx for sharing what it's really like!

    (- my WIP is "A mile in her shoes" experiencing and telling what it's really like as many different types of moms— from working to SAHM- Culturally different to Socially different…

    Think this post meets wife swap- on crack. 😛

    It's been fun busting mommy- stereotypes- left and right!

    (Which is KIND of related to this post… :P)

  26. Beth on February 16, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    >Excellent post.

  27. ninidee on February 16, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    >Thanks for giving us a glimpse of a day in your life.
    Your clients are lucky people.

  28. T. Anne on February 16, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    >I'm glad you're passionate about your work, you have one hectic career. I would imagine agents can do most of their work from home, going to the field office when needed. Is that correct? I think that would help take the edge off. Any arena in the publishing world seems exciting to me. Thank you for sharing your not so typical days.

  29. Shelley Sly on February 16, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    >How interesting, thanks for sharing. There's more to being an agent than I thought. Sounds like you work really hard! Hope you have enough time for yourself and your family, you deserve it. 🙂

  30. Marla Taviano on February 16, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    >I love this kind of post. Is your new office finished? How about a photo? 😉

  31. mikedellosso on February 16, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    >I thought agents spent their days hobnobbing with celebrities, lounging around in plush offices full of leather and old books, counting their millions of dollars, and hollering at people on their iPhones. You disappoint, Rachelle.

  32. Sarah on February 16, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    >When you were mentioning the fact that unpubbed authors might be dismayed at the fact that finding new clients is at the bottom of an agent's priority list my first reaction was actually to be thankful. Just like you said, that only means that once you do land an agent, that means that they will be focused on you as a top priority.

    This is very wise to have your day broken down into priorities like that. As my boss says: "You have to choose which hills you're willing to die on." Those are the things that must be done, and done well. Focus on those things, and the rest will fall into place.

  33. Cassandra Frear on February 16, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    >In my mind, I imagine an agent sitting behind a large, dark wood desk, gleaming under the light. An old typewriter sits on a shelf nearby, along with some books — a tribute to days gone by. On the desk are various piles of manuscripts, files, and letters. At the left front corner is a slush pile of new queries by unpublished authors.

    In this small space, the new unknown works, the pages written by established authors, and the quiet reminders of the literary past brush against one another, nestled and bunched up like rows of folded chairs before a concert. And this is appropriate, for it is at the agent's desk that past, present, and future blend together into a virtual symphony of many lives, separate and connected.

    When I think of you, I imagine you small and fit and energetic, alternately on the phone, reading papers, or typing on a laptop.

    But whenever I think of an agent, there is always a desk, large and dark and gleaming, with piles of papers.

  34. Richard Mabry on February 16, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    >PS–I just noticed the tiny sliver of a net showing in the corner of the poster. I'd have let that error slip by, but my agent would have picked it up when she read my manuscript, probably while stamping across the room shouting into her headset and reviewing the work on her Kindle.

  35. Richard Mabry on February 16, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    >I think it's telling that the circus poster you chose to illustrate this post shows trapeze performers working without a net. What many of your readers should realize is that most of what you do has significant long-term consequences–economically and professionally–for all concerned, including you. As the old saying goes, "You gotta be fast, but you gotta be right." And you balance it all beautifully. Thanks for sharing.

    Now, are we still on for that 2 AM client conference to discuss what color hair the protagonist of my latest book will have?

  36. Heather Sunseri on February 16, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    >I must admit, I think, probably, your life as an agent is very similar to mine as a CPA. I spend a lot of time at my computer and on the phone taking care of my current clients' interests, while in the back of my mind, thinking of ways to find new clients to build my practice. We both read contracts and other legal documents, we explain to our clients what those documents say, and then make sure our clients' interests are protected. The differences are 1) new clients are flooding your inbox and 2) the subject matter.

    That's probably way over simplifying it, but I would think that being an agent is like working in other service industry jobs. At the end of the day you still want a few minutes alone with a hot bath and a glass of vino. Or, maybe that's just me.

  37. Amy Sue Nathan on February 16, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    >Sounds the way it should be, busy.

    I think we all benefit from priorities lists.

  38. Nicole on February 16, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >I have wondered but never inquired. I am glad to hear that you and hopefully many if not all agents put a priority on their clients. I think you have given us all good questions to pose to agents before we sign with them. Thank you 🙂

  39. Jill on February 16, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    >The Jerry Maguire mental image made me laugh. I love that scene! And now I have a whole new mental picture in my head. Thanks for starting my day with a smile.

  40. Ryan Hunter - Writer on February 16, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    >I'm impressed by your dedication and the number of hours you devote to your job.

    I imagine being a literary agent is much more demanding than most people realize and it was insightful to see it through your eyes.

  41. Jessica on February 16, 2010 at 8:04 AM

    >Cool post. I always wanted to be an agent but now that I know you have to look at royalty statements and do math…uh, I think I'll stink to writing. *grin*

    Thanks for the run-down. I always love when editors and agents give us a sneak-peak into their hectic jobs.

  42. Kristine McGuire on February 16, 2010 at 7:51 AM

    >Thank you, I enjoyed your post. As a self-publishing author who didn't make it out of others agents slush or discard pile this offers some fresh perspective.

  43. Sue Harrison on February 16, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    >Thank you for the glimpse into your life. That kind of dedication and organization is an incredible gift to your clients and to those of us who are watching and learning from the sidelines!

    One concern – when do you sleep???

  44. Krista Phillips on February 16, 2010 at 7:09 AM

    >Even though the wait for an unpubbed/unagented author is at times brutal (yes, yes, I know pubbed/agented authors have waits too… I'm not there yet though and it sounds NICE to be waiting on an editor vs an agent, ha!), I for one appreciate that you put clients first. It's as it should be. I'd rather the process take a little longer, knowing that you are taking care of your clients first and that you'll do the same if/once I get the privilege of being one.

  45. Sharon A. Lavy on February 16, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    >The way you described your planned day sounds right to me. Of course life take over for everyone but you have your priorities right.

    I like knowing that.

  46. Katie Ganshert on February 16, 2010 at 6:04 AM

    >Love the Ari Gold reference! What a great post.

  47. Jody Hedlund on February 16, 2010 at 5:50 AM

    >And as one of Rachelle's clients, I can vouch that Rachelle REALLY does keep her clients top priority! Not only does she monitor all of the little details of contracts–advance schedules, book covers, etc. But she's always available to talk to and I appreciate that! Thank you, Rachelle, for working so hard!

  48. Anonymous on February 16, 2010 at 3:42 AM

    >I sort of imagine literary agents doing a lot of different things during the day; but when I think of an agent, I think mainly of sitting in an office, scrolling through tons of queries, drinking coffee, and trying to keep sane. *grins*

    Okay, I have a question, and I was hoping that you could answer it? I guess it's worth a shot. 🙂

    If I bind a book using a website such as LuLu, so that I am able to go through the book with a red pen and edit things that way, and the website assigns my book an ISBN number even though I'm not selling it, just getting a bound copy for myself, does that lessen my chances at an agent/publisher taking my book in? I've asked around and no one seems to know. . .I figured a literary agent might.

    Any answer, at all, would be great!

    ~Anna M.

  49. Anonymous on February 16, 2010 at 3:39 AM

    >So when is a good time to submit to you–now? Are there any seasons when it's better to query agents? I know summer and holidays are busy, but when do agents/publishers most actively seek new books and writers for their pub lines?

  50. Abigail on February 16, 2010 at 2:29 AM

    >"Q4U: Do you have some kind of vision or stereotype of what you think an agent's day is like? Tell us!"

    Sometimes, I'll think that agents are in huge, cubical-like offices. xD I don't know why, though.

    Not very imaginative, but I'm not sure WHAT an agent's working…room? is like.