When To Call an Agent

Yellow lab with headsetA 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.

If you’re my client, I love talking to you. Don’t be afraid to call. Don’t worry about “bothering” me, and don’t worry about being  “high maintenance.” 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.

Most agents 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. (And yes, I use a headset.) So sometimes, it helps to use email to schedule a call so you can avoid playing so much phone tag.

Lately I find myself wanting to be on the phone more, because I get so weary of the hundreds of emails in my box. It can be overwhelming! Many times it’s more effective and quicker to talk through an issue on the phone with a client or editor, rather than try to compose an email.

If you have an agent, be sure to find out their preference for how best to contact them: email, phone calls, texting, Twitter, Facebook, Google+. But if you need to call them, do it. They’re your agent—they shouldn’t have a problem with actually talking to you.

What about you? Do you find you’re using other methods of communication besides phone calls these days? How do you best communicate?

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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  3. Don Weston on February 7, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    Thanks for the timely tip. I met with an agent at a conference last year and she gave me her card and announced we were friends. I think she said to call her when my revisions were done, but I was not sure.
    I planned on emailing her anyway, but its good to know the rule.

  4. Otin on February 6, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    I have an agent but I’ve never talked to her. lol

  5. Peter DeHaan on February 6, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    In general I prefer email. I can send, read, and respond to messages outside of business hours, there is a record of what was communicated, and it eliminates phone tag.

    However, for complex communications or those email exchanges that keep going on and on, I prefer to pick up the phone and get resolve quickly things.

  6. Sherrie on February 6, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    I have a question related to sending (via Airmail) the first ten pages of my ms. It has been two years since the agent requested I send them when my ms is “finished & polished”. How ill they know that this is a legitimate request? Is there something I can write on the envelope that tells them that?
    Also, how long do you think it will take for them to get back to me?
    Is there a name for this, like 2nd request? Or something? I am also trying to figure out what the letter should say since they also requested a synopsis. Maybe the letter could just be short and sweet? Or maybe it should be a modified version of the query?
    Thank you for any advice you can offer me. I must admit I’m a lot more nervous than I thought I’d be.
    Sherrie Miranda

  7. Allison Brennan on February 6, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    I agree, though there are some exceptions. When I was on an agent hunt, with 14 published books behind me, I emailed my top agent choices and asked to set up a phone call. (I had a couple pubbed friends who said I should just call, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.) One agent didn’t get back to me yeah or nay, and I really wanted to talk to that person, so I called the phone number on the website and left a message about why I was calling. She called me back the next day.

    I much prefer email. I still email first to set up chatting time with my agent and/or editor even though I know I could call them and they’d talk to me. But I also want their undivided attention so prefer if they’re expecting the call. If I call without an email first, it’s always something urgent and time-sensitive.

    @Kristi — I agree with the agent. This exact thing happened to me, too–I had offer, emailed the other agents considering, but all of them got back to me. What I didn’t do was email/call agents I queried. After I sold, TWO agents emailed me saying they wanted to read my full manuscript (this was after 3+ months they’d sat on the query + 3 chapters.)

  8. Kristi Dosh on February 6, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    I was told by an agent that I should have called when I was submitting to her after receiving an offer from another agent. Although I specified that I had an offer in the subject of my query to her, it was weeks before she saw the email – past my deadline for making a decision. She said I should have called and let her assistant know I was sending a query and already had an offer so they could be on the lookout. Not sure if other agents would want a call in this situation though.

  9. Brianna on February 6, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    I dislike talking on the phone, so if there’s another way for me to communicate, I will. However, part of both of my jobs involves talking on the phone. I’m getting better about making and taking phone calls.

  10. Jill on February 6, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    It’s always good to advertise this. I say this because I remember, a long while back when Nathan Bradford was still an agent, a snafu over a writer coming personally to his *gasp* business office (not his home, as I realize other agents work from home). I couldn’t understand the horror of a person going to a business office. I would never do anything like this–I wouldn’t call a business that I don’t have legitimate business with, or show up w/o an appointment, but not everybody has my same lack of confidence or sense of politeness. So it’s best to be upfront, rather than snarky after the fact.

  11. Janet on February 6, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    Initial contact: Email.

    Now, I have had an agent reply to my email saying that she would like to set up a time to chat on the phone. I responded that I would love to know when she would be available to take my call and also provided my cell phone number. I never got a call – no email response, either. So, I found myself in a quandry: Should I call? Should I wait for her to call? Should I email again?

    More than a month passed with no contact, so I just sort dropped the whole thing and moved her las email to my saved messages. I feel like the ball is in her court and she’ll get in touch with me if she is really interested in further discussion. I don’t want to bug her if she isn’t really interested in talking further.

  12. Bret Draven on February 6, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Let me get this straight… you’re saying that someone with no vested interest in me, isn’t automatically enthused at the opportunity to run-up their “anytime minutes” by listening to incessant ramblings about my “awesome-ness?” That’s weird!

  13. Kathy on February 6, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    I connect with my agent, editor, publicist by e-mail. I don’t even own a cell phone. We talk at scheduled times on occasion or meet in person when I’m in town, otherwise it’s e-mail and it suits me just fine. Must be the writer in me!

  14. Jessica Kelley on February 6, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    I avoid the phone like the plague. No faster way to stall a conversation with me than to say in e-mail, “can we set up a time to talk on the phone?”

    That said, I have started to use the phone more for quick questions that take longer to type out than to ask on the phone.

  15. Sarah Thomas on February 6, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    I prefer e-mail most of the time, though like so many others have pointed out, the phone is necessary sometimes. I loathe texting. I would, however, appreciate some tips on getting Thistle to answer the phone . . .

  16. joan Cimyotte on February 6, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    I like Email but it seems people have moved on from email. Face book is taking over communication. I have all these friends and I’m strangely in contact with people. With cell phones, texting(You don’t have to talk to anyone and hear their voice), twitter, skype, Facebook, youtube, websites, blogs…I am in contact. Weird.

  17. Ann Bracken on February 6, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    My favorite is texting. I’m forced to be clear and concise in 160 characters. After that comes twitter and email.

    I really dislike talking on the phone. Calls usually come in when I’m in the middle of something else, and I’m always afraid I’m interrupting the person on the other end when I call. I’ve been known to text someone to ask if they’re free before calling.

  18. Heather Gilbert on February 6, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Thank you so much for this “calling etiquette” post. I had an agent for six months who never ONCE called me. Though I don’t mind e-mail, it was disappointing to never hear her voice! Having grown up in the “let the boy call YOU first” generation, I feel forward calling first, even if my agent is locked in. So agents, please make the FIRST MOVE! Grin.

  19. Lori on February 6, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    When I a m home, the best way to get me is by phone. When I am at work, e-mail.

  20. Lindsay Harrel on February 6, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Hmm, I actually hate talking on the phone, usually because I like to compose my words before I “say” them, and that can’t happen in phone conversations. In addition, you can’t see the other person’s body language (unless you use Skype). I love texting, Facebook, and email. But I agree; talking on the phone is best if there is something in-depth to talk through and talking face-to-face isn’t an option.

  21. FLT on February 6, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    I’ve been told it’s okay to call if you have a full manuscript in and have an offer from someone else. You don’t necessarily need to speak to the agent, but you could leave a message, since some agents have so many submissions they might not see an email for a while. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been told is an acceptable scenario.

  22. Cherry Odelberg on February 6, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    I prefer email, because I love to write rather than stumble around trying to be articulate. The downside, as you mentioned, is the time it takes to compose the perfect email. I have always been a bit phone shy, due to the fact that you cannot see the facial response of the person you are talking with. Face to face is great, so Skype is an option. There again, you have to dress and put on your make-up and sometimes the thought (or the question) gets away. Email is available 24 X 7.

  23. Josh C. on February 6, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    I generally prefer e-mail, since my day job requires alot of phone contact (no, I’m not a telemarketer). However, e-mails can cause a problem since so much is taken out of the picture (body language, tone, etc).

  24. Rashad Pharaon on February 6, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    Loved the picture of the lab on the phone! Thanks for the laugh. I prefer text as my means of communication. It’s both non-intrusive and allows me to formulate clear questions and answers, especially when I’m doing ten things at once. Maybe I should try SMS text-querying an agent… hmm. Come on, got to get creative nowadays, (joke, of course)



  25. Holly Russell on February 6, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    I have only called an agent once who was not my agent. That was because they had confused me with someone else in an email and sent me a bad review of my proposal. I wanted them to know that I was not the person to whom the email was addressed. It seemed like email may have confused them more.

  26. CG Blake on February 6, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Email is more efficient when you are exchanging information, such as drafts. As Rachelle suggests, when you need to brainstorm or solve a problem, talking on the phone is more effective. I would never call an agent who wasn’t representing me. It is rude and unprofessional.

  27. Katie Ganshert on February 6, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Emails or phone, but I can’t find my phone over half the time (which drives everyone I know insane…mostly by husband and my dad), so it’s usually email because I don’t often lose my computer.

  28. Lori Benton on February 6, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    I prefer email. I tend to forget most of what I meant to say on the phone and have to follow up with an email anyway. But if my agent calls me I’m always happy to talk. A face to face conversation, which has only happened once so far, was best of all.

  29. Wendy Paine Miller on February 6, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    I happen to love speaking with my agent on the phone. I laughed when I first saw this title. Visions of firemen traipsing through my house came to mind. 😉
    I’ve sent only a handful of texts in my life. I’m primarily a phone or email communicator.
    ~ Wendy

  30. Cathy West on February 6, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    “Don’t worry about being high-maintenance” – tongue in cheek?? 🙂 For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly happy getting answers via email, but do have to say that the phone call or skype, as we have done, is sometimes much better when needing to discuss more important things, especially skype because then I can see your facial expressions, which is the next best thing since a high speed shuttle between Bermuda and Colorado isn’t available yet. I do remember in the olden days before email, editors and agents listed their phone numbers and said to call after such and such a time – it’s a wonder they got any work done. I don’t like talking on the phone that much anyway, but I can see a lot of people taking advantage of having those numbers.

  31. carol brill on February 6, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    Like others, I prefer phone for more complex discussions or to really “connect”
    Email and text can be great for the quick update or check-in. Sometimes, they feel like a copout-a way to get credit for being in touch without being “in touch” 🙂

  32. P. J. Casselman on February 6, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    Facebook is a hub for about half of my communications these days. I email quite often and save the phone for interactions that can’t be done through texts. Why? The busy schedule of those I work with keeps them running with little chance to talk when I buzz their line. However, texting and emails provide them opportunity to answer when they have time. Also, an email gives both them and me an opportunity to think through our communication before putting it out there.
    However, no form of communication beats a good lunch date, especially if there’s pasta. (grin)

  33. Amy Boucher Pye on February 6, 2012 at 6:36 AM

    I always use the phone or face-to-face if it’s going to be a difficult conversation. Sometimes I have to make myself do this, but although hard, it’s such a better way to handle problems and hopefully to make misunderstandings not escalate. Then I follow up the phone call with an email on what we agreed – which we might need to reference later on down the line.

    Totally agree that as an editor, getting a call from a hopeful writer, unsolicited, is a downer and feels invasive. Much better to let the editor/agent do the phoning.

    Is that your lab on the phone? 🙂

  34. Keli Gwyn on February 6, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    I’ve recently begun suggesting phone calls when I have a something to discuss with someone. We can take care of business more quickly on the phone than we can using email. There’s also the advantage of the back-and-forth communication that email doesn’t offer.

  35. Beth K. Vogt on February 6, 2012 at 1:25 AM

    Love the photo. If only my dog could take my calls . . . or clean out my inbox.
    Email is a great way to deal with a lot of messages — if I don’t let it pile up to more than 900+ messages in my inbox. (Yep. That happened just last week.)
    But sometimes I get tired of email. It’s not “real” communication — voice to voice or face to face. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned phone call or lunch meeting.