To Call or Not to Call…

…that is today’s question.

A lot of people wonder when it’s okay to call an agent or editor on the phone. The simple answer is: When they’re YOUR agent or editor.

Let me start off by saying, if you’re my client, I LOVE talking to you. Don’t be afraid to call. Don’t get into the old “I don’t want to bother you” or “I don’t want to be a high maintenance client.” If you need to call, call. If I can’t answer, I won’t. Leave a message, I’ll call you back.

For anyone who’s not represented by an agent and not contracted with a publishing house, then it’s almost never okay to call an agent or editor on the phone. I say “almost” but honestly, I can’t think of an exception. This is why God created email, right? Don’t call to ask questions about submissions, definitely don’t call to follow up on a submission, don’t call to chat or pitch your project.

I spend a LOT of time on the phone. I’m talking with clients and editors everyday, and often these phone calls are long and they’re one right after the other. Like today I was probably on the phone four hours. When my phone rings and it’s someone I don’t know, someone looking for an agent, someone wanting to ask about submissions… something inside me just wants to explode. I know I’m not the only agent who feels this way. It just feels like a presumptuous and colossal mis-use of my time. It gets me off my train of thought, and it makes me beholden to your schedule, whereas with email, I can answer according to my own availability.

Just so you know, my schedule is different from most traditional agents. I did a mini-survey recently and I couldn’t find another female agent with young children at home. Honestly! I’m the only one I know. (If you know of any, tell me who they are!) My point is, I work odd hours, otherwise known as all hours. I have about six hours a day uninterrupted when the kids are at school. Then I make up the rest in the evenings, late nights, early mornings and weekends. That means if I have to answer unexpected phone calls during the prime work hours in the middle of the day, I’m using my most valuable kid-free time and I might not be super happy about it.

When is it okay to call? (Besides if you are my client, that is.) If you and I are personally acquainted, and I don’t mean through my blog, then it’s fine to call. OR if you are a multi-published author looking for new representation. By multi-published I mean two or more books with commercial, mainstream, royalty-paying, non-vanity, non-subsidy, non-POD, actual-paper-and-ink publishers.

Okay, so, to call or not to call? YOU answer the question.

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. Anne L.B. on April 28, 2008 at 4:08 PM

    >I’ve found phone appointments are a great way to reach people who rely on Email and have very limited phone time. I Email a request for a phone call and include when I’m available. Even if I get a reply Email instead of the phone call, it’s more helpful than repeatedly reaching voice mail or listening to a silent phone.

    This can even work for urgent or personal situations. I can Email at 6am with “please phone ASAP” and may get a call at 7am, but I wouldn’t feel okay about actually phoning before 9am.

    And phone calls are always more productive when it’s a good time for both of us to talk.

    Since Rachelle’s post is two days old I don’t know who may see this, but I hope it’s helpful to someone out there. ;D

  2. Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton on April 28, 2008 at 3:04 PM

    >(sigh) I’m so glad I took the time to come to this blog. Been meaning to do so for some time, but life gets away from me rather quickly. Then again, who doesn’t have that happen?

    Anyway, I appreciate and celebrate your honesty and frank openness. Aspiring authors and even multi-pubbed need to be informed of the procedures and proper ways of going about things. I cringe when I hear the “horror” stories of those who make the memorable faux pas that is repeated over and over again in the industry.

    Publishing is a tight-knit group. Folks talk. You don’t want to get on the bad side right at the start. So, do your research and go about it the “right” way. The payoff will be more than worth it in the end.

  3. Twill on April 27, 2008 at 11:08 AM

    >Interesting. I guess different things set off different people.

    I would expect to do most communication by correspondence, but I would not expect an agent to be perturbed by a polite, reasonable phone call.

    I would expect to use the phone only when there was urgency involved. For example, if your favorite prospective agent had a partial and another agent was already offering a deal.


  4. Georgiana on April 25, 2008 at 1:55 PM

    >Four hours on the phone? I’m shuddering just thinking about it. With small children myself, I can appreciate where you’re coming from on the kid-free time.

  5. Richard Mabry on April 25, 2008 at 11:02 AM

    >Okay, so, to call or not to call? YOU answer the question.

    Oh, not…definitely not. I agree with Kathryn that agents and editors are at the top of the Do Not Call list.

    There are certain things an aspiring writer should not do: phone an agent or editor when you have no business doing so, make a pitch in the rest room, insult their family, make fun of American Idol. So many rules, but these are the obvious ones.

    Once more, thanks for the honest glimpse inside your world. And if the phone rings, it’s not me.

  6. Anonymous on April 25, 2008 at 9:08 AM

    Is that why I kept getting a busy signal yesterday? Call me. We need to talk about your audition. The number is 1-800-555-IDOL.

    Ryan Seacrest

  7. Pam Halter on April 25, 2008 at 8:24 AM

    >Thanks for being honest. I think people do things they shouldn’t, like calling, because they’re desperate.

    We should always err on the side of courtasy.

  8. Kathryn Harris on April 25, 2008 at 8:22 AM

    >I’m covering my eyes and shaking my head in embarrassment for all of the people who have done this. They’re giving a bad name to the rest of the unpublished authors out here following the proper procedures.
    Who doesn’t know agents are at the top of the DO NOT CALL list?
    I think this goes back to doing your homework. It doesn’t take much research to learn this is one of the biggest breaches of etiquette in trying to get published.
    I think if an unpublished author is vain enough to believe he or she is going to make a stellar impression with a phone call, that unpubbed author still has a lot to learn about the business and probably isn’t ready for the query process, much less publication.
    I’m curious to know whether or not there are people out there still submitting entire manuscripts without being asked by the agent.

  9. Anonymous on April 25, 2008 at 8:04 AM

    >As a multi-published author, I didn’t call you. I sent an e-query with a few pages. I found this interesting because I’ve read this in other blogs, and it begs a question: Do you qualify for that phone call if you are a multipublished nonfiction writer (major houses) who is trying to break into fiction?

    I never felt comfortable approaching someone about a fiction project when nonfiction is my primary qualification.

    I recently discovered your blog through Kristin Nelson, and I find it intriguing. Even more so with your devotion to your children; obviously, you know what’s important.

    Our children are out of the nest but every time we get together we share wonderful memories of soccer practice, band concerts, plays, etc. They grow up fast, and when the last left my wife and I asked, “Is there life after high school/”

    There is, it’s called grandchildren and we’re building wonderful memories of soccer practice, band concerts, plays and something new, equestrian competition all over America.

    My prayer for you is that God keeps you and yours safe from the evil one.


  10. Catherine West on April 25, 2008 at 7:03 AM

    >Once again, I shake my head and wonder about people. It would never have occurred to me to pick up the phone and query a prospective agent or editor. In fact, I avoid the phone at all costs when it comes to talking to people I don’t know. My daughter and I call it phonophobia – when she is home we argue over who will call to order pizza – and she is far more outgoing than I am! I would make a terrible telemarketer. I’m sorry people are so pushy. I guess the best thing for you to do is just keep the answering machine on and go through the messages once every few hours and return the calls you need to. I have my phone right beside me, and if I don’t recognize the number or name, I don’t pick it up.