Communicating with Your Agent

One of the primary questions my clients ask when I first sign them to the agency is “How should I expect to communicate with you?” This is a GREAT question by the way, and one that should always be addressed in a new agent-client relationship.

While each agent will have their own preferences, I believe most of them have the same general philosophy as I do:

1. Email is the preferred method of communication.

2. There are times when it’s necessary to talk something through, and it’s especially helpful at the beginning when you’re first getting to know one another. So don’t hesitate to call if necessary (if your agent has indicated that it’s okay) or even better, email to set up a phone call.

3. Once you have an agent, you shouldn’t feel guilty or hesitant to contact them. I’ve noticed clients are usually very considerate, not wanting to “bug” their agent, and it’s appreciated. My philosophy is that, once I’ve agreed to represent you, I like to keep an open line of communication, so don’t avoid contact when you have questions or concerns.

4. If you have several minor questions or comments, you may want to save them up for a once a week email. Write your questions in an email, save it to “draft,” then later when you have more things to say you can add to it.

5. Many agents are on Twitter and/or Facebook. It’s perfectly fine to have casual conversation with your agent via social networking sites (including blogs). But if you have something important to say, it’s best to do it through email rather than a Facebook message or a Twitter DM. Here’s why: My email inbox is my top priority each day. It’s one of the ways I keep track of what needs to get done. Twitter and Facebook are not anywhere on my “to do” list during the work day, and I may not be checking them. If your communication is important, I really need an email.

6. When in doubt about how best to communicate, ask your agent what he/she prefers.

7. If you’re having trouble reaching your agent, i.e. you’ve emailed a couple of times and haven’t heard back within a few days, there could be an email glitch. In this case it’s appropriate to try another method—phone call, Twitter, Facebook—and ask if they’ve received your emails.

What about communicating with an agent who is not your agent?

→ Email only.
→ Twitter and Facebook are fine for casual conversation, but don’t always expect a reply.
→ Don’t call on the phone or stop by the office (yes, it happens).
→ Do not add agents to your newsletter or other mailing list.

Refer to my post on Email Protocol for more detailed advice on communication.

If you have an agent: How’s the communication working for you? Is there anything agents can do to make it easier?

If you don’t have an agent: What are your concerns about communication?
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!


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  2. Anonymous on February 23, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    >The relationship I have with my current agent is silent, silent, silent. Her predecessor (who left their agency and handed me over to another agent there) was more communicative, but until I found your blog (and followed the breadcrumbs to others), I had no idea an agent-author relationship could be so rich and ongoing and mutual. I had no idea an agent would/should/could help an author build a career. I had no idea the two could work together in the present to build for the future. Thank you so much for your various posts that show me what's possible!

  3. Kate Thompson on February 23, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    >This was a helpful post and discussion for me, Rachelle and everyone. Thanks. I may be moving in the direction of needing a new agent, so the information you give is useful.

  4. Julie Weathers on February 23, 2010 at 5:29 AM

    >Rachelle, thanks for posting this.

    I like the idea of having an ongoing list and emailing once a week or two. I can't really imagine having that many questions, but it's a good idea.

    Preferred method of communication is one of those questions a person should have on their list when they are "interviewing" a prospective agent. That sounds kind of pompous, but it should be viewed as a partnership. I'd rather know upfront an agent will only contact me when there is a sale or they completely despise rodeo and ranch people and are doing all in their power to abolish both.

    I had an agent for my children's book. She was awesome. When she got a rejection from an editor or comments, she forwarded them on to me. A few times she called and we discussed some changes. I don't recall ever contacting her because she kept me up to date on what was happening and that was the most she could do.

    Anon 2:21, 2:22, 2:25 etc. I would just assume when the author and agent were discussing these things, it would be really easy to say, "I don't really want to hear from you until you have a contract or I prefer conference calls with the entire staff once a week, preferably with cupcakes and in person."

    I know one person who is so terrified of her agent she doesn't want to hear from him because he completely intimidates her.

    Sorry, that wouldn't work for me. I don't want a personal call every week, but I don't want to feel I have to avoid my agent out of fear either.

    Just figure out a good working relationship that works for you and keep in mind, you have one agent and the agent has dozens of clients who also have needs.

  5. Anonymous on February 23, 2010 at 1:13 AM

    >Rachelle, Anon 2:25 here: This wasn't directed at you–you don't seem like a prima donna or control freak at all! Rather it's aimed at the agents out there who seem to operate like Kings and Queens and we writers are their serfs, forced to meekly obey their every command…OK, you get the idea.

  6. patriciazell on February 22, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    >I don't have an agent, yet, but maybe someday I will. At the present, I don't have many concerns about communication after I sign with an agent, but I do about lining one up.

    Last June, at the Write-to-Publish Conference, my eyes were open to the untenable position I was in as far as any opportunity to see my non-fiction book in print was concerned. But, when I went home, I thought a lot about what you and others had said, and I sat (and am still sitting) at Michael Hyatt's feet. Following everyone's advice, I began writing my book on my blog and should be finished early this summer.

    Now, I really need wisdom on what to do next. I still want to see my book in print, so I am asking God for direction and an open door. Hopefully, that will include an agent. So, please be praying for me–I do want to share the power of God's absolute love. Our world needs His love so much!

  7. Rachelle on February 22, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    >Anon 2:21, 2:22, 2:25 & 2:49: Very good points. I think I do work it out with my clients according to their needs as well as mine. Maybe I thought it went without saying that I'd do that. I have some clients who aren't on their computers as much and they prefer to call me when they're driving or whenever it's convenient. That's totally fine with me. This is a relationship, a partnership, and I certainly don't expect clients to conform to my needs.

    But everyone has preferences, and people are always asking me about communication protocol, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to share some thoughts on how most agents work.

    I understand that no matter what I say, some will take it wrong and see me as something different than what I really am. Bottom line, I try to meet my clients needs each and every day. As I said in my post on "A Day in the Life," the number one priority driving my to-do list everyday is whatever my clients need that day.

  8. lynnrush on February 22, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    >Great post. It's important to keep the lines of communication open otherwise it's just no good.

    I'm an email girl, so I mostly talk with my agent on email. We call each other when something "bigger" than email comes up, but we email each other saying that we need to talk and what time works the best.

    I LOVE that. She emails me the times she's free to talk via phone either that day or the next so it totally works!

  9. paulgreci on February 22, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    >My communication with my agent, Jennifer DeChiara, is excellent. I don't hesitate to drop her an email if I have a question or have something I want to discuss. One thing Jennifer does that makes it easy to work with her is that she always gets right back to me with some type of response. Sometimes answering my question, or just saying, let's talk soon, but I know I've been heard because she's responded. And we have fun working together. We are a team. I feel fortunate to have her working with me.

  10. MT on February 22, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    >I don't have an agent yet. However, I do have a concern. I've heard about authors bashing their agents (this is obviously a sorry thing to do). I've also observed agents bashing new authors (on twitter). We don't need that. New authors are usually unfamiliar with the publishing world and harsh comments or nasty venting about how "stupid" we are don't equal a healthy agent/author partnership, nor do they provide agents with a very good reputation.
    There, I'll get off the soap box! Have a great day! 🙂
    Michelle Teacress

  11. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    >This is Anon @6:31…Thanks for the supportive comments and advice. I know it's time to find a new agent, I just have to figure out how to extract myself with the least damage to my book. And as someone above said, this bad experience will make me better to recognize a good agent when she comes along.

  12. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    >This does seem odd. I'm a lawyer and I expect my clients to contact me however they want. I can't imagine them feeling odd about calling me–it's my job to make sure they don't feel weird about it. Even if I'm rolling my eyes, because nothing has happened with a particular matter, I assure you, they will never hear that in my voice.

    I don't have to take on any particular case, but once I do, the client and I are more equal than this kind of agent/author relationship appears.

  13. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    >When I select an agent, I want one who has my best interests in mind, who isn't a prima donna or a control freak. Respect and open communication are important–plus a positive attitude and sense of humor would be icing on the cake! Is that too much to ask?

  14. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    >How about the AGENT determining the AUTHOR'S preferred method of communication? This way the AGENT could better serve his/her AUTHOR'S needs.

  15. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    >How about the AGENT determining the AUTHOR'S preferred method of communication? This way the AGENT could better serve his/her AUTHOR'S needs.

  16. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    >How about the AGENT determining the AUTHOR'S preferred method of communication? This way the AGENT could better serve his/her AUTHOR'S needs.

  17. T. Anne on February 22, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    >Way back when I had an agent we had the initial conversation and that was it. Honestly, I figured she was doing her job and I didn't want to bother her. AS months dragged into years I picked up that phone and no she wasn't taking calls. I'm glad to put that all behind me, and am looking forward to working with someone who believes in communicating with their clients.

  18. Gina on February 22, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    >It is hard when you're not an assertive person, as Anon@6:31 says. I can't seem to shake the guilt feelings.

  19. jasouders on February 22, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    >Thank you for this post. I just signed on with a wonderful agent and that was one of the questions I don't remember asking, so now I'm going to gave to email to find out. Because I'm like most of the people in the comments. I don't want to come off as high maintenance. : )

  20. Rachelle on February 22, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    >Anon 11:57: I can't specifically answer the question "how often is okay?" But I can say that if there's any news worth reporting, your agent will be in touch. If it feels like it's been a long time, just send a quick email, but rather than ask "any news?" (since the answer is obviously "no") you might want to say something like, "It's been awhile since I heard anything. Is there anything I should be doing during these waiting periods?" or something else equally forward-pointing and productive.

  21. Chantal on February 22, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    >Wow, there's a lot of good information here, both in the post and in the comments. Now I know, when I get an agent, what to look for. LOL!

  22. claire on February 22, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    >My highly reputable and experienced agent "loved" my novel and was very responsive before I signed with her. Her current clients raved about her. But after signing, it took her at least a week, sometimes two, to respond to my emails. (Always containing relevant questions.) A little over a year later, the book hadn't sold, and she disappeared. I had no choice but to terminate the contract.

    So, how do you really know if an agent is going to treat you professionally and respectfully or not? I plan to look for another agent for my next novel, and I feel a little wiser now. But still . . .

  23. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    >This is such a tricky one. I don't have any specific questions for my agent except "Is there any feedback on the submissions?"

    I'm pretty sure I'll be told if anything important happens (i.e. an offer is made) but the long silences are hard to cope with (though your recent post on patience was excellent!)

    So, I guess my question would be: How often is it OK to ask "Any news?"

  24. Kiersten White on February 22, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    >ChrisB, I definitely view my agent (also the fabulous Michelle Wolfson–hi, Tawna!) as a partner in my writing career. We both work on my novels, just different aspects of them. I know that if I have a question on anything I can email her and expect a prompt reply. She's awesome like that. She calls if it is going to take too long to discuss via email, or if she has important/big news. I'm a big fan of this system, and of Michelle in general.

  25. ChrisB on February 22, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    >Hmm, your comments make me wonder how some people see agents:

    Is the agent the author's boss or partner?

  26. brian_ohio on February 22, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    >My new agent would rather Skype than speak on the phone… but I don't have a Webcam at the moment. Someday soon maybe. In the meantime phone and email contact have worked fine. I'm very impressed with him.

  27. Abby Stevens on February 22, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    >Dear Anon @ 6:31am –

    YA Highway posted about this kind of dilemma recently:

  28. Abby Stevens on February 22, 2010 at 12:15 PM

    >Thanks for the tips, Rachelle.

    My main concern in finding an agent is making sure I find one who is willing to communicate with me and be open about the subbing process. I don't want an agent who doesn't answer an email for weeks on end or 'shields' information from me. However, I am sure most agents are very professional and this wouldn't be a problem. 🙂

  29. Dara on February 22, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    >My concern, when I'm blessed to have an agent, would be sounding stupid. I know that's silly but I'm self conscious like that. 😛

  30. Sharon A. Lavy on February 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    >This is another good informative post. I prefer email communications so it is good to know that most agents prefer this most of the time as well.

  31. Mira on February 22, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    >This is an interesting post, but it's missing a few things. When I get an agent, I want to go to lunch with them. I want to come over to the office for drinks. I want to hang out and chat about things while they try to get stuff done.

    I'm starting to be convinced that I need to write something absolutely magnificant I've realized that I prefer to be the type of high maintenance client that agents only put up with because they are stunningly talented and sell tons of books.

    I'd better put that on my 'to do' list: become stunningly talented and sell tons of books, in order to get away with being a high maintenance client that only eats the green m&m's

  32. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    >Liz, not all writers are introverted or wimpy. When I get an agent, I want to be the FIRST to know what's going on with my book. Seems the agents and editors huddle and make mostof the decisions, but writers are left in the dark. I'd like to consider my agent a PARTNER, not a "boss" or authority figure to be feared.

    Yes, Anon, I'd get a new agent who you like and respect–and vice versa. With "friends" like that…who needs them?

  33. Tawna Fenske on February 22, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    >Anonymous at 6:31 a.m. said:
    My agent is more likely not to answer my emails as she is to answer them…

    Anonymous, I could have written your comment a few years ago. An enormously reputable agent who just didn't communicate with me, and a sinking feeling that maybe it was all just my fault.

    But I summoned the courage to end the relationship, and now that my current agent (Michelle Wolfson) has shown me what TERRIFIC agent/client communication is like, I wonder what took me so long. The thing is, I might not have realized how wonderful my current situation is if I hadn't gone through the other experience with my first agent, so I'm very grateful for that understanding.

    Do make an honest effort to communicate with your agent and to let her know what you need. But if that hasn't worked for you, you may need to make a bold move. Feel free to email me privately if you want to know how I handled things. Good luck to you.

    And thank you, Rachelle, for this terrific post. It's great that you recognize what a big deal the communication issue is on both sides of the fence!


  34. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    >Communication with my agent is not the best. And, yes, when I signed on I did ask the best ways to communicate. Emails can take days to be replied to, but more often a week or more. Which I struggle to understand why. Shouldn't first priority be to clients?

    Thank you for the insightful, thought-provoking blog, Ms. Gardner.

  35. DebraLSchubert on February 22, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    >My agent is great at responding to my questions and concerns. We communicate via email, Twitter, phone, and we've even Skyped! I had the pleasure of meeting her in NYC recently (we did a vlog together – here's the link: and I feel she is behind me and my writing career 100%.

    My advice to Anonymous 6:31 is – as difficult as it seems – it may be time to find another agent. You deserve attention and respect, and it doesn't sound like you're getting much of either.

  36. Erica Vetsch on February 22, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    >The communication is good. 🙂

    I like email communication, because it gives me time to formulate my thoughts, organize things, and hopefully sound lucid when asking a question or giving a reply.

  37. WhisperingWriter on February 22, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    >Fantastic, I will keep this in mind when I find an agent. I'd be one of those people who would be hesitant about bugging them since I know they're ultra busy people.

  38. Marla Taviano on February 22, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    >As a client of yours who just had a very profitable (and painless) back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth e-mail exchange with you this weekend about a current project, I concur fully with this post.

    That was a really big sentence. 🙂

  39. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    >I appreciate you talking about this. Failure to communicate was the reason that I finally severed my relationship with my former agent.

    Nothing seemed to work with her: e-mails of any sort (including "can we talk" ones) went ignored, she was almost never in the office and she almost never returned my calls when I would leave a message.

    The few times she DID talk to me (less than the fingers of one hand over a two-year-period) and the single meeting we had at a conference, she was rushed. It was as if she had a million better things to do than talk with the writer who was actually making her money. (And I WAS making her money, not buckets, but a nice steady stream.)

    I was terrified to offend, didn't want to be a "high maintenance" client.

    Silence WILL be filled, though, and with nagging questions such as, "maybe she hates me," or "maybe I suck at writing and she doesn't know how to tell me," or "maybe …" Fill in the blank with a hundred other insecure worries.

    When your agent doesn't return your calls or e-mails, there's not really any way to talk things out, is there?

    Anonymous 9:10

  40. Glynis on February 22, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    >This is good advice for me, thanks. I wonder if I will land an agent as co-operative as you are, I hope so.

  41. Liz Czukas on February 22, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    >Nice to hear from a professional on this subject. Thanks for the reassurance. We writers are such a introverted lot, aren't we?

    I'm not agented, so I'm clearly talking through the hole in my head, but Anonymous, it sounds like you need to find a new agent. This does not sound like the match made in heaven that a good writer-agent relationship can and should be. Good luck!

    – Liz

  42. Nicole on February 22, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    >Not having an agent my concern would be being on the bottom of the totem poll, not getting enough communication from their end, not knowing how much communication is enough, and not knowing what they deem as an appropriate amount of communication. At the same time I am a straightforward kind of personality to I will probably ask them all this in the beginning so we are on the same page.
    Thank you for the advice. I hope to be using it soon 😉

  43. Nicole on February 22, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    >Not having an agent my concern would be being on the bottom of the totem poll, not getting enough communication from their end, not knowing how much communication is enough, and not knowing what they deem as an appropriate amount of communication. At the same time I am a straightforward kind of personality to I will probably ask them all this in the beginning so we are on the same page.
    Thank you for the advice. I hope to be using it soon 😉

  44. Anonymous on February 22, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    >My agent is more likely not to answer my emails as she is to answer them. I hate talking on the phone, and I'm not assertive at all, so I just let it go. I don't feel I have the right to demand attention when I haven't made her any money. I've been with this agent for 3 years with no sale. She's a legitimate agent with high-profile clients.

    I've been dragging my feet getting this current wip done, because she's waiting on it. I'm afraid this book will be swallowed up in the great black hole just like my first.

    I don't know how or when to pull the plug on this relationship. Or for that matter, if I even SHOULD pull the plug. It was so hard to get an agent in the first place, I doubt my ability to snag another. If anyone has any advice for me I'd appreciate it.

  45. Krista Phillips on February 22, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    >Great post! I think I'd fall into the "afraid I'm going to bug them" catagory, but collecting several questions and e-mailing at once sounds like a great idea!

    I don't have a lot of concerns about communication. I'm sure that might change once I actually HAVE an agent.

  46. Amy Sue Nathan on February 22, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    >I think list-making is a great idea. I do this with my editing clients and my friends too.

    Perhaps it's a function of being afraid I'll forget what I wanted to say/ask more than anything else!

  47. Jody Hedlund on February 22, 2010 at 5:57 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I'm completely with you all the way on this! :-)You do an excellent job of communicating with clients.

    To illustrate my point, just a week or so ago, I sent you an email. You emailed right back and said that the topic was something we should have a phone call about. We arranged a time, and then later chatted on the phone. And you were able to give me exactly the advice I'd needed!