Balancing My Work

Great discussion on “balance” in the comments yesterday! Everyone deals with this question and we all have our own challenges.

Just to give you a little insight into the life of an agent, I wanted to write about how I try to organize and balance my work itself, separate from family and other considerations. This, I’m finding, is no easy task.

Since I’m a new agent, most of my clients are at about the same phase—preparing their proposals and manuscripts for submission. (And by the way, if you’re one of my clients in this phase, get ready. I’m about to start submitting every one of you.) This phase is pretty intense as we work on editing and polishing manuscripts and getting proposals ready. I’m also preparing my submission lists—the editors to whom I am going to send each project. For some projects, I’m making phone calls to certain editors, getting them excited about it and/or gauging initial interest.

One of the most time-consuming parts of this phase for me is composing the pitch letter. It’s so important to get that letter just right, even though it’s usually quite brief. It’s the first thing the editor will see when I send them the proposal, and I want to pique their interest and make them really want to see the project.

When some of these projects start to receive offers, I’ll move into contract negotiations and all the other things that go along with that phase.

At the same time as I’m handling the pressing needs of my current clients, I have quite a few potential clients waiting in the wings who have sent me their partials or complete manuscripts in response to my request, and they’re waiting for me to read them and make a decision about whether to offer representation. Right now, this is the hardest part for me as considering these is extremely time consuming. It’s obviously an important decision, and it takes much more than simply reading each proposal & sample. For each one, I go through a process that includes some or all of the following:

a Assessing whether the writing itself is of publishable quality.

a Deciding whether I personally can get behind the book, believe in it, and passionately advocate for it.

a Looking at whether the author seems to have a long term, multi-book potential, and whether they also have a speaking ministry or any other kind of platform.

a Asking myself whether I think there is a felt-need for this book (nonfiction).

a Researching the market to see what other books exist on the topic (again, nonfiction) and whether this book is sufficiently unique to warrant publication.

a Figuring out which publishers, if any, are currently looking for this type of book, whether fiction or non.

Right now I’m behind the 8-ball with over 50 potential clients waiting in the wings. I know it’s hard to be patient if your proposal is in my stack, but this is my reality right now. There are only so many hours in a day!

Of course, then there are the queries that come in everyday. I try to spend a block of time about three days a week to go through incoming queries. This never happens during regular daytime working hours; it’s usually about 9pm when everything else is done.

Now, how do I fit the blogging and the contests in? Again, I never do it during the work day. It’s my reward at the end of the day when the kids are asleep. Instead of watching TV, I’m usually working on the blog, or lately, reading contest entries.

Amidst all of this is the email correspondence that is a pretty heavy load itself; I try to set aside three periods of time each day for email, and keep it turned off otherwise. But this doesn’t always work, so I’m frequently tied to email throughout the day.

I am learning that the idea of “balance” is important within my role as agent—balancing the needs of current clients (which is my priority) with the other task of continuing to find new clients. I definitely don’t always get it right! I’m still trying to figure it out, and consequently, I’ve had some people frustrated with me. I apologize for that… my intent is to give the best possible service to everyone I can.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a little insight into how things are for a new agent. I’m still as excited and happy as ever about this job, and still kind of overwhelmed by it. But mostly, I’m pleased as heck about all the people I’ve met and the terrific clients I’ve signed, and I look forward to lots of fun and exciting things in the future.

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. Suzanne Hartmann on April 6, 2008 at 4:58 PM

    >Rachelle, thank you so much for this peek at the life of a literary agent. As one of the 50 potential clients waiting in the wings, it helps me to be more patient (I REALLY am trying!(o:)


  2. Becoming Me on April 5, 2008 at 9:50 AM

    >Rachelle – I enjoyed this post and the insights it offered. Thank you. Angela

  3. Anonymous on April 3, 2008 at 11:18 PM

    >This is so not a CBA book I tremble to mention it here, but there’s a novel called Blind Submission that’s like The Devil Wears Prada in a literary agency. The novel’s over-the-top, but it does show how busy/crazy an agent’s life can be.

    (Randy Mortenson)

  4. cballan on April 3, 2008 at 9:21 PM

    >Even though you juggle what seems to be an 18-wheeler, a flaming baton, and a boulder all at once, your excitement, energy, and passion for your God, your family, and your work are always obvious.

    Thanks for providing hope through your humility about all you do and desire.

  5. Terry Brennan on April 3, 2008 at 11:41 AM

    >I’m a day late … but, about balance and other items …

    When I wrote my first ‘real’ book, I was working 50-hours a week plus as a senior executive, served on the Board of Trustees at our church, was active in men’s ministry and we hosted a small group in our home. For me, the only way to write was every Saturday.

    Our kids are grown and my wife’s a saint. Andrea’s only request was, “Come out once in awhile and say Hi.” Sometimes I remembered.

    When God has given you a gift, and you are passionate about using that gift, those around you know it and join in your joy. So, we all participate in the work.

    About only having 7 to 9 years with your kids? Meg is 25 and her mom is her best friend. Meg, who lives in the Bronx, says she doesn’t want to go on vacation with anyone but us because, with us, she always has fun. Matt is 24 and came back to live with us when he transferred to college here in NYC. Three years later, he’s finally getting his own apartment next month. When you love ’em with all your heart they know it, and stay close.


  6. Catherine West on April 3, 2008 at 9:35 AM

    >Get ready? How does one get ready for such a terrifying prospect?
    I’m feeling a little like I did on the day I dropped my first born off at preschool.
    It’s a scary world out there and I’m not sure if my baby is ready. Or maybe I’m the one who’s not ready. :0)
    Way to get my blood pressure up…
    And just when I was starting to relax…
    Does anyone else hear the theme song from Jaws playing in their head?
    Oh yeah, this is what I WANTED, right??
    Sigh. Pass the chocolate.

  7. Rachelle on April 3, 2008 at 8:17 AM

    >Katy, there are books and websites and workshops and conferences devoted to “How to be a published author” but alas, none on “How to be a successful agent.” Luckily I have my mentor, Greg, who helps me work through all the issues, and a few other agent friends who’ve given me pointers… and I have many years of working WITH agents so there’s a built-in awareness of how it all works. Still, it’s a learning curve like everything else. Thanks for asking!

  8. canvaschild on April 3, 2008 at 7:38 AM

    I really appreciate this post. It helps me understand where you’re at and what you’re facing. May God give you strength!

    Emily Wierenga.

  9. Katy McKenna on April 3, 2008 at 7:27 AM

    >Rachelle, I have been curious about how one gets into the rhythm of agenting when first starting out. Do experienced agents give lessons? Are there books on the subject of how to start the process of seeking and choosing clients, how much time to spend on what, etc? You seem to be doing a marvelous job of it! Were you helped along with guidelines about how to successfully structure this stage of your career, or does it come somewhat intuitively for you? Thanks for all of it!

    Katy McKenna