An Agent’s Top Ten Thoughts

We’ve all seen the “day in the life of…” posts.  In fact, the awesome Jordan Hamessley London of Pub Crawl has posted one, too–one of most popular posts on our blog.

What I’d like to do is take that idea a step further and invite you into my brain.  It’s fascinating to see what someone does, externally, on the daily.  But what are they thinking while they do it?  Well, below is what I’m thinking these days.  Of course this shifts and morphs based on external situations and forces.  For example, a few weeks ago I was thinking “Is summer almost over?  How did that happen?  I need to go on vacation, quick!”  and about 6 months ago I was on the red carpet at the Divergent premiere and thinking “Theo James looks rather dashing in his suit!”  But now that I’m back into the the swing of things for work, that’s on my mind most.  So come on over and take a peek and what’s in this crazy thing I call a brain.  These are not in order of priority.  Thoughts don’t work that way!

1.  What do I need to print to take home with me today?  It’s Friday, and that means the weekend provides some serious reading time.  I’ve been more cognizant of having a work/life balance, so I won’t take home 3 full manuscripts this weekend because it’s unrealistic and I will forget what my husband’s face looks like. I’m going to go for: 1 contract for review, 1.5 manuscripts (both which do not need line edits), and a synopsis that I’ve been working on.  And yes, I still print my manuscripts.  What’s it to you?

2. Where are we with XX contracts?  These days contracts are taking longer and longer to negotiate with publishers.  With all of the industry upheaval, each side is trying to look into their crystal ball and figure out the new and vitally important things we need to ensure are in the contracts to cover our needs.  In my case, the needs are the needs of my authors.  Right now I have 7 outstanding contracts on my personal list that I wake up thinking about almost every day, even if it’s just for a minute or two.  Of course I have a badass contracts person handling them, but we go over them together weekly.

3. Damn. B&N didn’t take any (or very little) copies of title X. What can we do to help the book get the exposure it needs for readers to find it?  I can only speak for my agency, though I know colleagues at other companies have the same worries about this.  In this ever-changing industry, it’s getting harder and harder for new voices to be discovered.  We’ve cultivated a Client Care program that focuses on: publicity & marketing (both traditional as well as school & library) as well as educating authors/illustrators to give them the tools they need in today’s publishing world.

4. This work is just not at the level it needs to be for me to take it on submission.  This happens more frequently than I think people talk about, and not just with queried project.  Even with clients I’ve worked with for a long time.  We can both do a ton of work on it, but it Just. Isn’t. There.  And I have to be the one to break that news.  But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I was sending out work that wasn’t up to snuff with the competitive market.  It would be doing a disservice.

5. This manuscript is amazing!  Where am I going to submit? This is always, always going on in the back of my head as I start to approach submission time for a project.  It’s like I’ll be reading and email and suddenly think “ya know who would be perfect for project X….” and I jot it down.  This goes on over and over until submission time comes, and then I’ll sometimes share my sublist with the team to see if they have any thoughts or ideas to add.  I love this part of the process.  It’s all about sharing a great story with the right person.

6. I should tweet/FB/pin/post about that.  “That” is referring to whatever awesome thing one of our clients is doing.  But of course, I don’t want to be just a self-promoter online, so I also try to balance it with enough social media that’s simply for funsies.  It’s a lot of work to be mindful of that balance!

7. What is the next big industry thing to happen?  Of course I don’t always have a prediction here, but sometimes I do.  And in either case, we’re always touching on the big items in our weekly meetings (at the very least) and how they affect our clients.  Right now, it’s the Amazon-Hachette business.  We have Hachette authors, and this whole ordeal has really affected their sales.  This is the kind of thought that will lead me back to thought #3! And of course we’re discussing who is going to be the next publisher that will be in this situation.

8. I can’t make the email stop; make it stop!  Yes, I actually have this thought.  Sometimes the sheer volume of email becomes so heavy that all I can think is “stop!”  At that point I usually take a walk, have a coffee, come back and plow through.  But with it being so easy to stay connected these days, the workload has shifted with a heavy emphasis on email.

9. I wonder if there’s a book in this?  I’ll be reading an article, having a discussion, reading a script, a web comic, watching a youtube video…whatever!  And usually somewhere in the back of my mind there is something connecting dots and thinking about book potential.  If I’m still thinking about it a week later, that’s usually when I’ll bring it up in our weekly meeting.

10. I need to follow up with X person on Y thing.  There is a lovely app called Mailbox, and without it, I would go crazy.  It will pop something back into my inbox when it’s time for me to follow up, based on a pre-determined date/time that I set.  I don’t even remember what I did pre-Mailbox. I think I always had 10 or so To-do lists going at a time (I still do this a little).  Either way, there is ALWAYS things to follow up on.  Where are our cover comps?  What’s the eta on the publicity and marketing materials?  Where is our payment?  Did you lock in that date with the venue?  Have you had a chance to review our contract notes? How are revisions going?  etc, etc.  A lot of the work I do is about keeping things moving.  I don’t want anything to slip through the cracks for our clients.  And also, I have an amazing, godsend of an assistant who takes over most of this follow-up so I can focus on bigger picture items.  Like “how many books are selling for title X?”  And yes, I just snuck in an 11th thought to this top ten list!

There you have it.  And that’s just the Top Ten (11)!  I’d love to hear about what goes through your mind on the daily, too.  Please share in the comments!

6 Responses to An Agent’s Top Ten Thoughts

  1. Sammy Bina Sep 12 2014 at 8:07 am #

    This is so, so, so accurate. Sometimes I’m reviewing contracts in my head before I even open my eyes. Love you for putting all of this down on paper (metaphorically, of course!), Jo!

    xo

  2. Taylor Lynn Sep 12 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    This is such an interesting post! As a writer and aspiring author, it’s intriguing to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the thought process of a literary agent and to know what sorts of things are frequently on your mind. It sounds like a time-consuming job, but hopefully a fulfilling one as well. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  3. Chris Bailey Sep 12 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Thank you so much! I downloaded Mailbox immediately. Back in the day, letters or conversation notes (on paper) went in my physical outbox on the corner of my physical desk with a note at the top such as: FU 12-1-14. No one took offense at this FU. On the specified date, the piece of paper returned to my inbox. Efficiency arrived through the employment of actual people. Along came the PC and the paperless office–yay–and my life, as organized by me, got less organized. I have high hopes that Mailbox will give me the freedom to forget future commitments for days or weeks at a time. Thank you again for the tip!

  4. Kathleen S. Allen (@ Sep 14 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I love that you are thinking about your clients and how you can help them be discovered by readers. I’m in favor of the work/life balance equation too so kudos for doing that (it’s important to remember your husband’s face, you know in case of a zombie apocalypse). I applaud you because although I am a writer who is looking for rep, I could never, ever do what you do. It boggles my mind. I agree about Mailbox, I’m going to check it out.

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