Agent Priorities

First off, I’m still feeling like I need a vacation from my vacation. I’m working like crazy playing “catchup” and hope to be back to normal in the next couple of days. Phew!

As for my micro-contest yesterday (yeah, the one with no prize), I asked you to guess how many unsolicited submissions (queries) were waiting for me when I returned to work. To those of you who guessed something like 150 or more… seriously, do you have a death wish for me??? We are talking about one week here. Keep in mind I was asking about queries only, not any other kind of emails. I had 362 emails during the week I was on vacation, and that’s with everyone knowing I was gone, and my clients ever-so-kindly leaving me alone (for which I thank you from the bottom of my suntanned heart.)

So, about those queries. The magic number was…

104 submissions. (That’s roughly 8½ hours worth of reading for me, if anybody’s counting.) Congratulations to Africakid who came closest in guessing 101 queries. Of course, the number keeps growing as I got nearly 20 more today. And no, I haven’t even started reading them yet, sorry!

That brings me to a topic I’ve been meaning to address here: agent priorities. Even though many of you have heard me talk about how agents spend their days, you may still wonder how I allocate my time. And why does it take so long to get a response on a query, and even longer for a response to a partial manuscript?

Unfortunately, the part of the process that’s most visible to you isn’t the highest priority for agents. When you send queries and partials and wait for responses, that’s all you see. But those queries and partials are only a fraction of what I see— they’re generally the work that gets squeezed into the margins of an agent’s week. (That’s why many of you have received correspondence from me on a Saturday afternoon or 11pm on a Tuesday night.) When you’re seeking representation, you’re not top priority.

However, that’s actually great news. It means that once you actually become a client, you are now the agent’s top priority.

Here’s how I prioritize my tasks:

1. Contracts. (Negotiating them, explaining them to clients, smoothing their way through the publisher process.)

2. Projects ready for submission. (Preparing proposals & manuscripts, getting them out to publishers, following up as necessary.)

3. All other client-related work. (Dealing with their publishers, or helping them to get their manuscript finished, or talking them off ledges.)

4. Finding new clients. (This includes careful consideration of all incoming queries & partials, as well as proactively pursuing authors I’d like to represent.)

As you might imagine, I need to keep up with #4 because I never 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 (and less motivated) to pay attention to all those wonderful queries. So sometimes it takes longer than other times.

I know, the waiting game is frustrating. But I have two things to say about that: (1) it prepares you to be a published author, at which time you will take “waiting” to a whole new level. And (2) your long wait can’t be any more vexing than my overflowing inbox.

So… we’re even!

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

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!


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  2. Wendy Melchior on August 27, 2008 at 9:08 AM

    >Ah, waiting, yes.

  3. Heather Zundel on August 26, 2008 at 6:55 PM

    >Wow. Thanks for showing a side of an agent’s life that we really do not get to see very often. I think authors have a strong misconception about agents being cruel query-mocking tyrants with all the time in the world as they leisurely flip through our carefully crafted queries, rejecting each with a round of maniacal laughter, just like people unfamiliar with the writing process think all our ideas flow to our fingertips while a light breeze drifts in from our open window overlooking the ocean, in between our cocoa breaks of course. Good luck with those queries!

  4. Pam Halter on August 26, 2008 at 1:49 PM

    >Post-vacation-reentry-syndrom. It will get you every time!

  5. Anne L.B. on August 26, 2008 at 11:31 AM

    >…you will take “waiting” to a whole new level.

    Funny, another writer and I were just discussing the similarities between a book and a baby. You want to believe that once months of waiting and the birth pains are over [of birthing a novel] things will get easier, but that baby’s just beginning to make demands of your patience.

    I can only imagine how grateful your clients must be to have you talking them off ledges. ;-P

    Triple-digit number of queries? Oi vey!

  6. Vicki Bell on August 26, 2008 at 9:29 AM

    >104 Queries! I’m wondering if you see multitudes of fascinating ideas, or 54 ways of saying the same thing.

    Your desire to give us explanations an keep us informed reveals your heart for the writers as well as the manuscript. Thanks for ‘seeking first His kingdom’ (your personal blog); God has obviously guided your priorities.
    It truly helps our mental and emotional journey to view this process through an agent’s eyes.

    I read that ‘waiting’ strips us of our sense of control… consider it gone. Once you’ve submitted a project you’ve worked on wholeheartedly; ‘waiting’ presents the challenge of staying driven and productive. But, to everything there is a season…. and a time to look at our priorities!

    I’m praying for your sense of ‘WOW’ as you face the stack before you. Hope your day is filled with unexpected surprises.

  7. Kim Kasch on August 26, 2008 at 9:17 AM

    >Sheesh! I thought I was guessing high at 87


  8. Catherine West on August 26, 2008 at 9:11 AM

    >I mentioned the ‘waiting’ thing on my blog yesterday, and I am glad you keep reiterating the point. There seems to be vast misconceptions bouncing around concerning what happens to a writer once they become agented. People who don’t have a clue about how this whole publishing world works can indeed be irritating…especially when they’re related to you…if I have one more person ask me when my book is coming out I’m going to…well, let’s just say it’s not gonna be pretty. Having an agent is a wonderful thing, and yes, it puts you up a few steps on the ladder, but we’re STILL in the waiting room – it’s not an automatic get out of jail free card and here’s your book, congratulations! I think it’s even harder waiting to hear back from publishers with an agent behind me (not that I’m not grateful!!) because of the expectations people now have or seem to have. And if I don’t get a publishing contract within a year they’re going to think I must be a really crappy writer. But we know it can take even longer than that, they unfortunately don’t understand it. So you see I think it goes both ways. And I’m told once that first contract comes it doesn’t get any better!
    That said, after I’ve freaked out all the new writers out there, I still love what I do and I intend to keep doing it for as long as I can keep my sanity. Maybe even beyond that :0))
    Hurry up and wait is the understatement of the year! But I think it’s worth it.

  9. Richard Mabry on August 26, 2008 at 8:30 AM

    I waved as we flew over Colorado, but then remembered you were at the beach. Hope you can recover from your vacation soon. It’s good to have you back.

  10. Sheri Boeyink on August 26, 2008 at 8:16 AM

    >Yikes, 104. I wish you the best in reading them, hopefully you find something worth representing.

    I think your list of priorities is spot on. Your current clients should be the main focus. I’m in the customer service industry and have many many clients to manage. It’s tough some times, but you have to prioritize.

    Waiting is tough sometimes, yes, but I just sit back and remind myself, “In God’s Time, Not Mine.” Then I try and work on something else–more editing or taking an online course through ACFW to keep me moving forward.

    I always used to as God for patience, well, through the Query process, He’s giving me opportunity to practice it.

  11. Courtney Walsh on August 26, 2008 at 8:01 AM

    >We always said theatre is a game of ‘hurry up and wait…’ I think writing is sort of the same way. You rush to meet a deadline and then wait six months (for a magazine anyway) to see it in print. It’s kind of fun though, in a way, by the time it reaches your hands it’s like reading it for the first time! lol

    Ok, maybe not after 15 rewrites, but I’m trying to swing this positively!! 🙂

    I am horribly indecisive at things like this. I can’t imagine the kind of work reading 101 (er, 121) queries would be! Good luck! And I can totally relate to the ‘needing a vacation from your vacation.’ After ours (on which our car broke down) – I wanted a week in a room by myself with a couple of really great books! 🙂 Glad to have you back though!

  12. Chatty Kelly on August 26, 2008 at 7:42 AM

    >I believe it was Tom Petty who said “the waiting is the hardest part.”

    You mentioned proactively pursuing authors. How do you find those authors that you’d like to pursue if they’re not querying you? Just wondering.

    And on a separate note – how do you find time to keep up with your blog? Wow. Thanks for that.

  13. Gloria McQueen Stockstill on August 26, 2008 at 7:31 AM

    >Wow! Over a hundred queries a week. I felt overwhelmed just reading the number! I’ll take the other side of the coin…waiting to hear from you…anytime.

  14. Katy McKenna on August 26, 2008 at 6:32 AM

    >I do think it takes remarkable (and admirable) discipline to walk away from your desk for a day off/vacation. My husband was gone six hours from his (home) office yesterday on a mission of mercy. It took him till midnight to catch up with phone calls/email/prep for today.

    He doesn’t sweat it when he’s away, though. He stays calm, enjoys the break, and then gets right back to it.

    I’m grateful, Rachelle, that you can take time away and then immediately run a contest about it! You’re entertaining us plus providing a healthy education about your side of the business—we need it, and believe me, it is appreciated!

  15. Jessica on August 26, 2008 at 6:05 AM

    >I’m grateful, too! It’s great to know that once I’m someone’s client I’ll be a priority to them.
    Thanks for sharing Rachelle!
    Good luck with the queries.

  16. Gwen Stewart on August 26, 2008 at 4:17 AM

    >Sorry, Rachelle. I don’t think we’re even. 😉 A few weeks’ wait on a query is not bad, and you respond to each one. Many don’t.

    I imagine it takes a special kind of “off” button to know that your job is never stopping, but be able to take time away from it. Like many folks, when my place of employment is closed, nothing is happening. We plan/prepare at home, but it’s all at our own pace.

    I think literary agents must work like stock brokers on Wall Street, always moving, doing a thousand tasks at once…just in their office or home office. I honestly can’t imagine, but I’m grateful for all you do.