Now That You Have an Agent…

Last Tuesday and Wednesday I wrote about what happens when I decide I want to represent a project. I told you about THE CALL the agent makes to the writer, and many of you left stories in the comments about when YOU got the call. I loved reading those! (Go HERE if you missed it.)

So let’s take the next step. Now that you’ve gotten the call and decided to say “yes,” well, you have an agent. Woohoo! The question is, now what?

That’s a question you should ask your agent first thing, and don’t be shy about it. You need to know: what happens next? Since each agent works differently, and everyone has their own timetable for doing things, the steps will vary from agent to agent. It’s only fair for you to know what to expect. Here are some things that might happen:

1) Contract. Your agent may send you an Agency Agreement to sign, which spells out the terms of your relationship. Or they may to prefer to work with a verbal agreement to start. (Tomorrow’s post will be devoted to Agency Contracts, so save your questions.)

2) Reading. Depending on how much of your work the agent has already seen, they may need time to read and digest the rest of it.

3) Editing & Rewriting. If you’re a new (unpublished) writer, your agent might be representing you based on her perception of your potential rather than where you are now. So there may still be a great deal of work to do on your manuscript. Even if you’re an experienced writer, there’s a good chance that some editing will improve your book to get it ready for publishers. If your agent feels you need some editing and rewriting, this phase could take anywhere from a few days to several months or even a year.

4) Synopsis and/or Proposal. Your agent may also help you get your proposal and/or synopsis ready for publishers, or at least give you tips for the final polish.

5) Shopping. While you’ve been getting your manuscript ready, your agent has been getting ready to shop it. She’s preparing the list of editors, and may also spend considerable time writing the perfect pitch letter. She may be talking to certain editors to get them excited about your book or get a read from them on what the response will likely be. As soon as your proposal and manuscript are ready, and your agent has the publisher list ready, she’ll take over and begin shopping it.

6) Waiting. Now that your book is being shopped, you’ll probably be on pins and needles wondering “What’s going on with my manuscript?” Don’t expect daily updates, but DO check in with your agent occasionally if you’re not hearing anything. You may want to talk with your agent at the time of submission about how often she sends updates; whether she forwards all pass letters or saves them up to update you occasionally; whether she wants you to check in and if so, how often. As always, it’s much better to simply ASK QUESTIONS than to sit in the dark and wonder.

One of the biggest problems I see in agent/author relationships is unmet expectations leading to frustration and anger. All of this can be avoided by COMMUNICATION. Remember, your agent can’t read your mind; she doesn’t have any idea what kind of expectations you have. She works with dozens of clients and they all have different expectations. So you’ve got to communicate yours, and if they’re unrealistic, give your agent a chance to straighten you out.

Q4U: What are YOUR expectations about this part of the process? If you’ve been through it, what has it been like?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, 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!


  1. Very interesting topic , regards for putting up. “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” by Lisa Grossman.

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  3. Cicily Janus on May 7, 2009 at 1:21 AM

    >I’ve been through the entire process from query to contract and now I’m on the road to waiting for publication and delivery of my MS to the publishers..wait, I’m not waiting for delivery, that sounds like a MS delivery service like Dominoes, but I’m finishing the MS to deliver to the pub. house that bought my prop.

    Regardless, I agree with Rachelle. The key to all of it is communication with your agent. I would not have stayed sane during any of this, whether it was the non-stop revisions on my proposal or the hand-holding, Cicily’s going to sob again phone calls with my agent or the we loved it…followed by dead silence on the other end of the line moments without the open communication lines that had been established from the get go.

    And to agree with TrixieB, it’s absolutely right to not assume that your stress, paranoid delusions and frustrations will go away with the acquisition of your agent. As a matter of fact, and my dear, sweet, loving and saintly patient agent can attest that these sometimes are magnified when deadlines, rejections and bears are around every corner.

    But, to emphasize this, a GOOD agent will always be there for you in a very professional and diplomatic manner. Looking out for you and your career’s best interest is their job.

    Patience is a virtue and acceptance is even better, that’s in acceptance of where you’re at, no matter what stage of the process, is where you need to be at now. And always know that this place, no matter where that’s at, is never permanent if you keep working hard and having faith in yourself as a writer.

    Thanks again Rachelle for your thoughts.

  4. Anonymous on May 6, 2009 at 7:49 PM

    >Twiigs do not give IP addresses, you liar.

    You just decided to ignore all the VALID votes for Aaron in order to favour your pal. Shame on you, this contest was a scam and a sham from the start.


  5. heather on May 6, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    >Carrie–haha! That’s understood, of course. Plus, we’d be on the set.

  6. TrixieB on May 6, 2009 at 4:14 AM

    >Great post! I think patience is key – I have a great agent and yes, there are moments of silence but I know I need to remain patient and get on with my new book rather than losing my head. It’s tough though and trust me, when you do get an agent, this does not mean the frustrations and neurosis go away!

  7. T. Anne on May 5, 2009 at 11:41 PM

    >Rachelle if you take Catherine shopping can I come too? šŸ˜‰

  8. Catherine West on May 5, 2009 at 4:56 PM

    >Dang. I thought #5 was going to say you were taking ME shopping…
    If I were to give anyone advice, I’d have to say don’t be shy about calling or emailing etc… My issue is that I don’t want to be a bother. I just figure if there’s any news, I’ll hear it eventually. In the meantime I turn into Cruella DaVille’s twin sister and become next to impossible to live with.
    I’m working on improving that area of my personality. Maybe. :0)

  9. Caroline on May 5, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    >Thanks for this post, Rachelle! I’ve always felt a little ‘in the dark’ about what goes on post-query stage. Your posts are always helpful and exactly what we need to hear.

  10. Lea Ann McCombs on May 5, 2009 at 2:20 PM

    >Heather had it mostely right, however I had pegged George Clooney for my lead. I keep waiting for him to get back to me… I thought I’d play the female lead, you know, just so it goes exactly how I wrote it. I’m sure the movie people won’t change a thing! I’m sure my illustrious agent can arrange all that for me. They are supposed to work miracles aren’t they, for that 15% commission?

  11. Dawn on May 5, 2009 at 12:26 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. This was very helpful.

    It would be important to trust that my agent believes in me and is doing her/his best to help me build my career.

    I wouldn’t need or expect frequent updates – but I would desire straight foreward, honest communication. šŸ˜€

  12. Carrie on May 5, 2009 at 12:22 PM

    >You forgot the part where Johnny Depp (or, in my case, Christian Bale) wants to come hang out with you for the weekend to get a better sense of what you had in mind for the character…

  13. heather on May 5, 2009 at 12:02 PM

    >The moment your procure an agent, you sit back (because she’s deemed everything “brilliant–don’t change a thing!” and wait for approximately 3.28 days for the phone call. “Big Publisher Man loves your story and is throwing oodles of cash your way. Oh, and I’ve sold the movie rights for more oodles of cash. Johnny Depp will play the lead. Hope that’s okay with you.”
    And we all live happily-ever-after.
    That is how it goes, right?

  14. Lois Lane II on May 5, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    >=-( I haven’t even gotten to that point yet.

  15. Jill on May 5, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    >Thanks for another great post.

  16. Yamile on May 5, 2009 at 11:10 AM

    >I’m an unpublished author, and I’m loving this series of posts! I love reading authors dedications and acknowledgments, and when I see the thank their agent and/or editor, I can tell they have a good relationship. I’d like to feel my agent and I are part of a team, working towards the same result.

  17. Judy Schneider on May 5, 2009 at 10:32 AM

    >I make it a practice not to over-communicate with my agent, only contacting her when I have a question or concern. I know she’s extremely busy, so I get straight to the point after a very brief “how are you?” exchange. If I’m contacting her by email, I let her know (in a short paragraph) what writing endeavors have been occupying my time and then dive in.

    She answers promptly, without fail. And I deliver on deadline, always. We have a mutual respect that fuels the relationship. It is professional, and that’s a good thing.

    Word gets around if you’re the writer from hell, whining and worrying and complaining all the time. The good news is that word also gets around if you’re professional and prompt.

    Here’s an example. I was once at a conference in New York and recognized the name of a senior editor at Grand Central (publisher of my book), but she was not my editor. I attended a panel session she did and introduced myself afterward. She asked me what I was doing at a fiction conference, because she knew my book was nonfiction. “I’m writing a novel,” I told her. And you’ll never guess how she responded. She said, “I’ll read it.” Just like that. She didn’t ask for the pitch or the premise or anything at all.

    Lesson: Professional, non-pain-in-the-butt writers are valued. Be one. Do your job as a writer — do it well and on time — and let the agents and editors do theirs. It’s that simple!

    Thanks for an engaging post, Rachelle! This is such an informative blog!

  18. Serenissima on May 5, 2009 at 10:04 AM

    >Thanks for this post Rachelle — and all your posts! I’ve recently gone through these steps and am now on #6. What you’ve written reflects my experience.

    Now if I could just figure out a way to reduce my carb intake during the waiting phase…

  19. Anne L.B. on May 5, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    >Rachelle, I wish this post had been on your blog when you took me on as a client. Many times early on, I didn’t want to “bother” you with questions, then languished in my own misperceptions.

    I’m truly blessed. I’m sorry to make anyone jealous, but you’re absolutely the best agent a client could have. And for those who aren’t your clients, you bless them anyway if they’re willing to receive your sound advice.

  20. lynnrush on May 5, 2009 at 9:40 AM

    >Great post. It’s an exciting journey indeed. I think communication is key.

    But how often? Yeah, that’s good to decide up front. Once a month check in via email? Maybe quarterly phone calls? Not really sure if that’s realistic….so I’ll be back to see what others say as well.

    Sorry to hear about the polls being tampered with…:-( The contest was fun to read though.

  21. Kim Kasch on May 5, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    >The journey is exciting.

    Writing is the easy part, working on revising is fun (in some ways) – seeing something change and develop is rewarding but waiting . . . that’s the hard part.

  22. Marla Taviano on May 5, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    >This is fabulous, Rachelle. And “woohoo!” is my favorite word.

  23. Pam Halter on May 5, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    >I think of an agent as a champion. Someone who loves my story and stands in the gap for me against the giant of publishing.

    And respect for each other goes a long way!

  24. Kristen Torres-Toro on May 5, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >My biggest expectation is trust. I want to trust that my agent knows what he/she is doing and really is working for the good of the manuscript and my career as an author.

    The reciprocal is true as well: I want my agent to trust that I am doing the work that needs to be done on my end. Communication and teamwork have to come from both sides of the working relationship.

    In the times between communication/checking in, both parties need to be able to trust that the other is doing his/her part to meet their goal.

  25. Kristen Torres-Toro on May 5, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >My biggest expectation is trust. I want to trust that my agent knows what he/she is doing and really is working for the good of the manuscript and my career as an author.

    The reciprocal is true as well: I want my agent to trust that I am doing the work that needs to be done on my end. Communication and teamwork have to come from both sides of the working relationship.

    In the times between communication/checking in, both parties need to be able to trust that the other is doing his/her part to meet their goal.

  26. Kate on May 5, 2009 at 8:26 AM

    >Another really useful post! Thanks Rachelle! I think this series of posts needs to be bookmarked by any author who is in the “waiting for the dream to come true” stage. Really valuable information here šŸ™‚

  27. Jason Crawford on May 5, 2009 at 7:53 AM

    >I only sent one query out before beginning rewrites so I haven’t gotten to the stage where I’ve really thought a lot about what I would expect from an agent.

    Off the top of my head, I would expect that the lines of communication would be open. I wouldn’t call her every other week, but I’d expect periodic updates.

    And as someone who’s not incredibly familiar with the ins and outs of publishing, I’d expect patience in answering my 1 million questions. I wouldn’t want someone to see me as a nuisance because I have questions.

    Thanks for the posts…you and Nathan B. have the most useful blogs for writers of any agents I’ve seen!

  28. Richard Mabry on May 5, 2009 at 7:09 AM

    >I certainly agree that communication should be expected–and it’s a two-way street. If the author makes contact with an editor at a conference and sees some interest there, the agent needs to know.

    I’d add “realistic expectations.” The agent has multiple clients, and his or her efforts won’t be solely directed toward your work. It’s hard to sit still while waiting for an agent to provide notes and suggestions for revisions unless we realize that we’re not the only person they represent.

    Thanks for the continuing post-graduate course in the world of publishing.

  29. Karen on May 5, 2009 at 7:04 AM

    >I am pleased to see #2 and #3 on your list. To my knowledge, the agent I had never read my whole manuscript. Marketing to publishers was done solely on the book proposal/synopsis and sample chapters. Is this a common practice or are you just an uncommonly thorough angel, I mean agent?

  30. Krista Phillips on May 5, 2009 at 6:57 AM

    >Thank you for the great information! I agree, communication is key, as is setting the expectations up front.

    I’m not sure what I expect, mostly that my future agent will be honest and communicate with me. I don’t expect daily updates, not even weekly updates unless something actually happens that week *grin* I guess as long as we set the expectation up front and that is met, then I’d be happy. I assume when we say “communicate” agents let us know who they’ve shopped to and if they’ve gotten any feedback?

  31. Jessica on May 5, 2009 at 6:56 AM

    >This is a great post. I haven’t really gone through this but communication sounds so important.
    Thanks for the info. šŸ™‚

  32. Katy McKenna on May 5, 2009 at 6:52 AM

    >When I saw that #5 is “Shopping,” I thought I’d skipped a stage! Maybe if I shop while I wait, the time will go faster? Ha.

    I do find that staying in communication with my agent (Hi, Rachelle!) even through one-liners on Twitter is important at this stage of having a manuscript “out there.” She updates me regularly about the status of my submission, and in between those more official emails, we are connected in an easy, casual way. It works for us!

  33. Carrie on May 5, 2009 at 6:49 AM

    >I am only at the querying stage, but my expectations/hopes are:

    Professionalism, as stated above. Communication is key. It’s not about how often we talk, it’s about how well we communicate when we do talk, and about knowing we will each be available when it really matters.

    Someone who loves my book, and believes in it.

    I’m early in the process, so that’s all I really know right now.

    I have a question about the stage BETWEEN querying and “the call.” Once you request a partial/manuscript, what are the odds that you’ll place THE CALL to take on a new client’s work?

  34. Teri D. Smith on May 5, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    >This gives great direction on something to do besides the touchdown gyrations when we get the call.


  35. Katie on May 5, 2009 at 5:47 AM

    >I love this series of posts you are doing, Rachelle! As an unpubbed author, I know very little about any of this. So it’s been very insightful!

    My expectations…I guess my main expection or desire – would be open lines of communication on behalf of both participants. Honesty and guidance would be nice too! I’d like honest feedback from my agent on potential books I am planning to write.