An Agent’s Day

circus juggler 2People frequently ask me about a typical day for an agent. I think most agents will tell you — there are no typical days!  With a large number of clients, working on a variety of projects, all in various stages of writing or publication, the days provide endlessly changing excitement.

Of course, I’m sure there are some 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.”

While agents always have a long to-do list, our most important job is to be responsive to our clients’ needs. The email box is always full, and fires erupt and need dousing with alarming regularity. So we begin each day with a “plan” and an awareness that we could end the day having not accomplished anything we’d planned. Such is the life of an agent.

Whenever possible, I organize my days according to my priority list. My tasks for the day depend on what needs to be done, and I try to be aware of what’s important, what’s urgent, what’s both and what’s neither. (Remember those categories when you email your agent. Your situation will be prioritized along with everything else on her desk!)

When I’m not handling crises and talking writers off ledges, 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.
Reading incoming queries, reading requested partials and full manuscripts, sometimes offering 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. (Although during certain times of the year, I cease considering new clients.)

If you’re an unpubbed writer, you might be dismayed that reading incoming queries is the bottom of the priority list. 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 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. […] out to be-literary-agent.html"I'd like to thank my agent." How frequently have you heard those words? You may be surprised to dis…locations them in such high esteem? Think me- authors adore their agents just as a lot as actors […]

  2. sales letter on December 7, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    It is good to know that agents day is also being celebrated on this planet earth.

  3. Are Agents Procrastinators? | Rachelle Gardner on December 7, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    […] week after I tweeted about my post on “An Agent’s Day” and another post by agent Steve Laube about “The Waiting Game,” a Twitter […]

  4. Jack LaBloom on December 4, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    Thank you so much, Rachelle. Finally, someone has explained all those rejections from successful literary agents. They are busy taking care of their clients, which they should.

    After reading your post, I have decided to focus on literary agents who have no clients. I don’t know how many there are out there, but if you know of any, please drop me a line. Becoming a literary agent’s number one priority would give me a tremendous advantage in this industry.

    Just to keep all my doors open, I think successful agents, like yourself, are really great. By the way, my address has not changed.

  5. Mark Lewis on December 3, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    Rachelle. I must say that this is an absolutely marvelous blog. With regard to how busy agents are I do have one question which has been puzzling me and I bet you can answer it.

    It refers to the “read receipt” function. I am sure agents get a lot of this since author wonder if their queries are ever received.

    Do agents get irritated by this request or do they find it perfectly normal?

  6. Peter DeHaan on December 2, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    The only thing that surprises me, Rachelle, is how you find time to blog!

  7. Bruce Judisch on December 2, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    What’s the appropriate amount of time to wait for querying status when a requested full manuscript has been submitted?

    • Bruce Judisch on December 2, 2011 at 8:38 PM

      I’m sorry, I hope this didn’t come across as a veiled query. I’m genuinely interested in the protocol. This is pretty new to me. Many thanks.

  8. Brianna on December 2, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Interesting insight. Working three part-time jobs and freelancing on the side can be overwhelming and I hoping to become better at prioritizing my schedule in 2012.

  9. Denise M. Baran-Unland on December 2, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    I’m a freelance writer. Sounds like my day, too.

  10. marion on December 2, 2011 at 3:19 AM

    Love the tightrope!

  11. Graeme Ing on December 2, 2011 at 2:46 AM

    Fascinating! I’ve always wondered about this. How many hours a day do you spend on step 4? And how many ms will you look at in a typical week?

    Despite your comment that we non clients take lowest priority, I’d like to thank you for giving up your weekends to read our material. 🙂

  12. Kristin Laughtin on December 1, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    This is pretty much what I expected from having read agent blogs for a while, but it’s always good to hear. Frankly, as much as us aspiring people wish you could read our queries all day, it’s good that your focus is on your existing clients first. There’d be no point in signing with an agent who wouldn’t do anything for the author!

  13. Jeanne T on December 1, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    This is an enlightening post. I don’t know that I have a lot of stereotypes, other than that agents are busy. And I guess that’s not so much of a stereotype as it is simple reality.

    Thanks for sharing what your priorities are in a given day. It gives me a better understanding of what you do. Your day sounds a lot like mine–unpredictable (like when a child awakens me with a fever and headache at 3:00 a.m.), teaching me to flow with it.

    I always learn so much from your posts. Thank you.

  14. Colin on December 1, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    The number of times I’ve seen agents on Twitter exclaim “I love my job!” And I believe it. Yours is not a 9-5, 40-hour-a-day job. It has stress, frustration, joy, and excitement all mixed up and in varying proportions every day. You’ve got to love it to keep doing it! And those of us who are writers are grateful for all the hours of your life you put in to helping us put our work into readers’ hands.

  15. Maureen on December 1, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Question, do you work from home, or go to an office? Didn’t see that specified, just wondering. Your blog topics are encouraging and inspiring – thanks for all your hard work!

  16. Bret Draven on December 1, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    Under no circumstances would I ever want to be or become an agent. It’s hard enough to tone-down my own “Diva” qualities! Throw in an additional 40-50 DIT’s (Diva in training), and I don’t think I’d even make it out of the bar!

    Cheers to those willing to take us on!

  17. joan Cimyotte on December 1, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    My prejudice of agents comes with them complaining that they are so bogged down with all these queries. It sounds like wining. “We are so busy rejecting you so called writers we just don’t know how we’re ever going to deal.”

    But I am fine with the reality which is; There really are a lot of so called writers out there. Our English teachers should be proud. I am sure it is quite a chore to sift through all the slush to find someone who is worthy of your time.

  18. Ginny Martyn on December 1, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    I’m glad there isn’t a “skinning writers alive” segment to your day. So unlike other publishing people I’ve heard of.

  19. Buffy MacDonald Crabtree on December 1, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    Have your friends nicknamed you “Super Woman?”

    Or “The Juggler?”

    Amazing what a BUSY gal can accomplish!

    May God continue to give you strength.
    And a sane mind. Whew!

  20. Diane Yuhas on December 1, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Whew! I’m tuckered out just thinking about your day. So where does reading comments come into it? 🙂

  21. Joanne BIschof on December 1, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    This really makes me remember how much work my agent does each day. Whenever I need to shoot her an email, I always think of how full her box must be and am so thankful that she still takes the time to get back to me. Being an agent can be no easy task! But they sure bless the writers they represent 🙂

  22. Marilyn Yocum on December 1, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    Loved this inside peek. I think it says a lot about who you are and can be counted on to be.

  23. Wendy on December 1, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Love this inside look into your working life. I get the A.D.D. approach. I just dropped off my 4yo at preschool to learn it’s picture day. Yeah, I let her pick out her own outfit today. Chalking it up to a Ramona moment.

    I’m grateful for how hard you work! And when I picture you in the trenches, I most often envision you reading. In my own misguided fantasy, agents read all day. 😉
    ~ Wendy

  24. Joe Pote on December 1, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    I’m just glad for you, knowing you have a Starbucks on your route to work! =^)

  25. Ann Bracken on December 1, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    The line about having a plan and getting to the end of the day not having done any of it, despite being very busy, made me laugh. We have a joke where I work: if the lights are on, then priorities are changing.

    As an unpubbed author I’m actually happy to see that reading queries is at the bottom of the list. I understand it means that once I get representation then the focus will be on publishing. It also means that a request for a manuscript after reading a query is really a big deal since the agent feels it’s worthy of their time.

    Thanks for the information!

  26. Lindsay Harrel on December 1, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    This is really good information for an unpubbed author to know. It puts things in perspective and helps us to see why it takes so long to receive a response to a query seeking representation.

  27. Heather Sunseri on December 1, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    When you start throwing around words like contracts, negotiations, and ledges, it really takes the glamorous image I had of you away.

  28. Janet Bettag on December 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    Thanks for the insightful blog post. Just for the record, I don’t want to change jobs with you. ; )

  29. Richard Mabry on December 1, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Although I’m grateful that current clients are high on your daily priorities list, I’m sad to see my illusion of a day filled with bon-bons, Starbucks, and daytime TV shattered.
    Thanks, not just for your efforts, but for the unselfish way you share your wisdom with us.

  30. Kathryn Elliott on December 1, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    I picture a coffee infused IV and jumbo bottle of TUMS.

  31. Deborah Serravalle on December 1, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    And here I thought you were just sitting there waiting for my brilliant manuscript!

    Actually, I enjoyed reading this post. I hadn’t realized how an agent’s day would play out. It’s good to know.

  32. Marielena on December 1, 2011 at 9:15 AM

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

    Vision: Buried up to your eyeballs in the slush pile.

    Stereotype: Schmoozing editors over cocktails.

    Reality: As stated in your blog. Working steps 1 through 4, most likely repeating the cycle if necessary, all while putting out some fires in between.

    But — bet you wouldn’t trade it for anything else, would you?

    Wishing you a good day this day, Rachelle!

  33. Sharon A Lavy on December 1, 2011 at 7:59 AM

    I want to give you a Christmas Gift of an untypical day.

    I wish you one whole day with nary a crisis and when none of your clients are threatening to jump of the roof.

    One whole blissful day.

    I wish you a day when 12 publishers come through with contracts for 12 different manuscripts for your client list. (12 days of Christmas must be a magic number)

    I wish you a day filled with joy.

    I wish you a day when your daughters both receive an award and you have to go out and celebrate and they know they are as important as your clients.

    I wish you a day when your dog does not make one mess. Not one.

    I wish you a day of love being showered down upon you from God in the human form of your husband and your children. May they rise up and call you blessed.

  34. Jodi Aman on December 1, 2011 at 6:41 AM

    If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it!
    Lucille Ball

  35. P. J. Casselman on December 1, 2011 at 6:40 AM

    There’s a ton of multi-tasking to be done. No wonder most of the agents are women. If I were an agent, I’d wind up sitting on top of the copy machine, drumming my fingers over my lips as I hummed “Hi ho, hi ho!”

  36. Stephanie McKibben on December 1, 2011 at 3:46 AM

    I think we wonder about an agents day because we either want to be one or find the process so mysterious. Maybe a prize of a contest should be “go around with an agent for a day”. That might satisfy curious cats! Or maybe there needs to be a reality show–Literary Agent–dun,dun,dun! Watch how Rachelle dives into the fray, slays the publishers, vanquishes evil contracts, uses a bull-horn to talk her writer from throwing the computer down four stories, makes dinner for her family and marks down scores of red mark corrections on clients manuscripts while reading queries!

    Wow, I might have talked myself out of being an agent.

  37. Kay Camenisch on December 1, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    It overwhelms me just to think about the number of people an agent represents–and how much each manuscript submitted IS priority to each of those people, as is each question or concern they e-mail about. In addition, how long each manuscript is that the agent must consider carefully to offer valid feedback and suggestions, and how many people the agent must speak with as he/she seeks a publisher for each and every book, and how difficult it is to reach people on the phone, and how many different things there are to keep track of with each book, and, and, and . . . Whew! Let me catch my breath. I think it’s more like juggling while keeping plates spinning on top of the poles. You’d have to love your job to be an agent. Otherwise, it could never pay enough.

  38. Arlee Bird on December 1, 2011 at 2:22 AM

    I couldn’t get past the illustration–if you’ve seen my blog page I guess you know why.

    But no, all of these agent chores don’t surprise me–they make total sense. Like everyone else who’s successful in business you got to keep all of the balls in the air so you aren’t scrambling later to pick them all up, or even worse get kicked out of the center ring because of not doing your job.

    Are you looking for a juggling author to represent?


  39. Botanist on December 1, 2011 at 2:21 AM

    I had no preconceived idea of a day in the life of an agent, but your description doesn’t surprise me.

    In fact, I can relate to so much of what you said. In all respects other than the actual work itself, it sounds just like a “typical” day in the life of an overworked IT services manager 🙂

  40. Adam Heine on December 1, 2011 at 1:45 AM

    “So we begin each day with a “plan” and an awareness that we could end the day having not accomplished anything we’d planned.”

    Sounds like being a parent.

  41. Beth K. Vogt on December 1, 2011 at 1:14 AM

    I think some writers think agents spend their days avoiding writers — both their clients & wanna-be clients — at all costs. I don’t think this — but having walked the writing road for a while, you hear the talk, the grumbling … At some point you have to decide not to take all of “it” so personally. Or at least decide not to take it personally for longer than 5 minutes.
    Love the agent-in-a-tutu look, courtesy of the picture for this blog! LOL!

  42. Bri Clark on December 1, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    Oh boy do I relate to this. Sounds like a typical day for a publicist too. I think it is a great idea for a reality show. We could call it Agents Revealed:They Are Busy