Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Query Question: how many clients is too many?

I should say first, for the record, I have an agent who I love. I am completely happy with her, and I have no complaints at all. That being said, she is fairly new (4 years in, now) and has a growing list of clients. I noticed that you have 20 or so clients listed on you sidebar on the blog. I think my agent already has more clients than that.

I know there's probably a balance you strike between further developing your clients careers and signing new clients (vertical versus horizontal development), and I know that I personally want an agent who has time to dedicate to my work, and I am sure most authors would agree. I also understand some clients may only write one (perhaps non-fiction) book, while others may require much more time and effort.

My question is this: at what point (if any), for my friends who are currently seeking representation, should an author be concerned that an agent is signing too many clients? I wonder whether newer agents might sign too many clients (perhaps some who aren't really ready to have an agent) and therefore not have enough time to really represent any of them very well? Should a prospective author even worry about that?

Of course a new author IS going to worry about that. Writers are woodland creatures who worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about. Particularly attractive worry targets are things over which they have no control. This is one of those things.

There is no way to know when an agent has "too many" clients. 15 may be too many for some. 105 may be just right for another.  And 105 one year might be 75 the following year.  Client lists ebb and flow like every other living thing. I've been as high as 44 and as low as 0 (although that was the year
I decided to come over to the Dark Side, not at any point during my far anyway.)

The only thing you can measure is how your agent works with you. Is she prompt on replies? Does she get work turned around quickly, or at least on a timeline or schedule? Can you talk to her about these things?

I will tell you that I'm so behind on email and reading right now I'd probably fail this test if asked to take it.  It's going to get better soon, but like all living things, my inbox and To Do list waxes and wanes.

Worry only about things you can control. Assess a prospective agent's behaviour, and talk to her existing clients.  Evaluate based on information received, not worries churned up to distract you from
the plot hole on page 300.


mhleader said...

Dang! How did you know about my plot hole on page 300???

Oh...wait. As QOTKU you know about everything.

Whew! I was worried for a moment that said plot hole was sending beacons of light out to notify the Orion Cluster of its existence.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sometimes the best teachers have the most students, the best parents the most kids. Sometimes the best companies to work for have the most workers and the best leaders the most followers.
Keyword, “sometimes”. Like they say, (who the heck are “they” anyway), if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

I thought there was no waning in publishing, oh sorry, that was no whining. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

Susan Bonifant said...

"Writers are woodland creatures who worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about."

I don't know of anyone who could liken us to chipmunks with holes in our plots and make it sound so CUTE.

jack welling said...

Plot hole? I normally order two of those with coffee on Wednesday. Makes the morning better.

Colin Smith said...

"It's going to get better soon..." I was going to ask about the cloning project. Apparently it's going well...? :)

And "behaviour"! I smiled. You're trying to make me feel at home, aren't you? :D

Susan Bonifant said...

In my comment, I meant to say "I don't know of anyone ELSE," instead of just "anyone." Did anyone notice that? I did. I noticed it. I thought, "I should have put that ELSE in there." I was going to let it go, but I know better. So, for the record, it should read:

"I don't know of anyone ELSE who could liken us to chipmunks with holes in our plots and make it sound so CUTE."

I hope that's clear.

DLM said...

Colin, just wait till she tells us about her paint again and calls the shades "colours" ...

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice to be like Alfred E. Neuman? Or, what if there was a magic elixir (no, not alcoholic bevs, although they work temporarily) that could make us focus on the plot hole once and for all, or at least start shoveling in enough dirt to hide it?

Shoot. I spend hours playing out all sorts of scenarios and coming to outrageous conclusions. I ought to divert that energy towards the latest WIP.

Colin, aside from the "u" addition, won't you need to see an "re" vs "er" before you to get all comfy? :)

Susan, ha! Stuff like that is what takes me so long to comment sometimes. I'm so busy fixing my words and then I STILL mess up a lot. (notice I didn't write alot)

Anonymous said...

Sigh. See what I mean, Susan? I just re-read my comment and realized my second sentence, "Shoot. I spend hours playing out all sorts of scenarios and coming to outrageous conclusions. I ought to divert that energy towards the latest WIP," is left hanging without clarity.

What I MEANT to imply there is related my own internal monologues about my agent and what's happening or not, etc.

*Gulps coffee. Contemplates liquor cabinet*

Colin Smith said...

Donna/DLM: To see "colour" would make me grin. But using "-re" instead of "-er" might get her US citizenship revoked! ;)

I have noticed our beloved Shark using Britishisms from time to time. Makes me wonder if she's just an Anglophile, or if there are deeper influences. Lee Child, perhaps? :)

Unknown said...

Still stuck on being a woodland creature...

Dena Pawling said...

Let's see, at 250 words (approximately) per page, that makes 4 pages per 1000 words (or is it 1000 words per 4 pages?????), divided (or is that multiplied?) by 300 pages, equals....

[sharpens pencil, finds new, uncluttered piece of paper]

Carry the 2, rearrange the digits.....

[pulls hair, sigh – I hate math]

Clicks on calculator

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

carriage return

Okay, 300 pages is at the 75,000 word mark, which in my 85,000 word WIP equals....

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

89% mark, which theoretically should be at the climax

scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll

Which is where I'm knee-deep in the capstone trial of the WIP

divided by 105 clients this year and 75 next year minus 89% equals....

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

19.8 clients per plot hole!


Is that good or bad? Do I win the trial?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

you all....thank you all for giving me my laugh for the day!

How's that for good grammar?

Donna and Susan, and here I thought I was the only one who obsessed over how I grammaticize my comments here.

Dena, I am soooo guilty? Love to use that calculation distraction to figure out if my plot points and pinch points are in the right places. And then, of course, I go and revise. Sheer useless distraction but so interesting.

Oh, What's that....

Anonymous said...

"Writers are woodland creatures who worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about."

'Tis true. Like sheep who are born looking for a place to die, writers look for something to worry about.

Oddly enough, one agent on The List struck me at first because he only had seven clients listed in Query Tracker. Then it occurred to me I know he/she reps some well known literary estates, so obviously the list is incomplete. Back to the agent's website I go.

I received a note from an agent recently about my manuscript. They were still working on it, but would get back to me soon. What does this mean? They're making editorial suggestions? It's so dense they can't read it? It's so long and boring they're taking a long time to get through it? They're swamped and haven't read it yet?

My stars! What does it mean? It means they haven't rejected it and will get back to me soon.

When I started querying in November, my posse and I discussed several different agents. I mentioned one agency and they all pounced. "Yes, but not to Agent 001. He/she is too busy and will never have time for you." Someone in the writing circle who had dealings with Agent 001 agreed.

How important is it that the agent have time for you? How much time do you need?

I think more than how many clients does an agent have, the correct question would be what kind of agent do you want? This is why I haunt twitter feeds of agents, blogs, facebook etc. Every now and then you see something that helps you make a decision.

Checking things like this, what kind of agent they are and how they work is something the author can control.

Do you want an agent who is also an active author? Do you want one who goes to lots of conferences and teaches lots of classes? Do you want an agent who is hands on all the way? I do, some writers don't, believing their words are sacrosanct.

Now, the more important question is, how do I adapt Janet Reid's name to something a bit more Celtic and fantasy, but still recognizable? The chum bucket here could help with that. It's time to write that horse trading scene.

Unknown said...

To DLM/Colin: Maybe the Shark SECRETLY grey up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and that's where she gets her "colours." (See that mash-up of American/British style right there? Yeah. It drives me crazy too, but we Canadians can be an odd lot.)

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: I thought about the Canadian angle, but I've definitely seen Britishisms from her on this blog. I'm hoping she's a devout Anglophile. Given the quality of writers that hang around this blog, I'd need an edge like that should I ever query her. ;)

Of course, if you'd like to try querying Janet with a British accent, try something like this:

"Dear Ms. Reid

I do hope you're having a top-hole sort of day. I thought I'd drop you a line to tell you about this spiffing new novel of mine. It won't take a jiffy; just bear with me a moment. It's about this rather nice young lady who falls for this rotter of a man. A real cad. This frightful beast kidnaps said young lady and demands a ransom lest he do something awful to her. That's when our dashing hero comes to the rescue.

"I think it's rather good, and I hope you do too.

Cheerio, and have a simply super day!"

You'll get a request for pages with that, I'm sure!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Shade of Worry. Could be a title for wall paint. Maybe Woodland Worry or Furry Worry.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Everyone's on a roll here!

Lisa - I'm such a topnotch woodland creature of worries, I nitpick even the littlest of nits within my grammar.

Dena - Ho boy. You and that analytical mind of yours. Might you and I be long lost twins?

Colin, I remember a blog comment awhile back (not here) where I explained how "we Americans" had butchered the "old language" of our "mother land." :) I concluded we're all so hard headed not only did we decide to drive on the "right" side of the road, we inverted re to er and such...just to show our contrariness.

Angie - all those are good, but I think I'm partial to Furry Worry.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: To be fair to my new homeland, I think Americans simplified the language. Some snooty Brits would say Americans dumbed it down, but seriously, have you heard the way most Brits talk? "Watcha doin'? Innit great? Fanks, mate!" Outside of Masterpiece Theater (or Theatre), there's enough colloquial variation in the way English is spoken in the UK to confuse most Brits, let alone Americans!

Besides, spelling conventions are a relative novelty. Up until a few hundred years ago, you could have spelled your name five different ways and no-one would have cared. :)

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Consider for a moment "y'all" (or "ya'll" as some have it). I think this is a great expression, perfect to distinguish between the second person singular and second person plural. And I use it for that purpose. Some may think it quaint and Southern, but English used to have a quite servicable equivalent, "ye," that goes back to Old English when English verbs were conjugated.

While I gripe and complain about bad spelling and grammar (what homeschooling parent doesn't?), one of the cool things about language is that it's a living thing, and should be allowed to breathe. It's not supposed to be caged and cataloged. It's all about communication. And which communicates without further explanation or context: "I say, would you come here?" or "Y'all come here, now!"? :)

Sorry... rambling...

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Colin, I agree re: UK and US English-isms.

My first encounter of UK colloquialisms were the brogues of the Glaswegian taxi drivers! Traveling alone, I was frantic with worry that I'd overestimated my ability to adapt (I'm also hearing impaired) to the English accent on the other side of the pond and I was going to be stuck for 2 whole weeks not understanding what people were saying to me.

But as you wrote about the Brits (I'm assuming you mean England), I encountered other Scots who confessed they were befuddled by their taxi drivers too. Whew!

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: Heavy Scots and Irish accents (Glaswegian and Ulster particularly) are very hard for non-natives to understand. Heavy Welsh accents aren't as bad (in my experience), but can be confusing to the unacclimated ear. So, yes, "Brit" to me covers the entire United Kingdom. And since I'm part Scots-Irish and Welsh, I'm literally a Brit. :)

AJ Blythe said...

So, Colin, what do you think about the way us Aussies treat the English language? My Aussie accent would massacre your letter about the nice sheila who falls for that mongrel of a bloke.

Colin Smith said...

AJ: You mean the letter about the nice bird what gets the hots for the scummy bugger that kidnaps her and threatens to do her in unless some rich toff coughs up a pile of dosh?

Depends which branch of the English vernacular you're talking about. Australian English, like US English, is just another variant of the same that evolved according to use and environment.

The Australian accent makes me smile. It reminds me of the late '80s and watching "Neighbours" with friends. :) Ahh... Scott and Charlene. A love story for the ages.

One Thumb said...

'... worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about. Particularly attractive worry targets are things over which they have no control.'

Thanks for that. Yet another writer like confirming trait that I possess

LD Masterson said...

Aha! Gotcha. My plot hole is on page 249.

But "Worry only about things you can control." is excellent advice for most of life.

Janet Reid said...

I did NOT grow up in Manitoba. *hard stare at the geographically challenged readers who think that* My roots are on the west coast. Go Ducks.

Unknown said...

Janet, we would welcome you as an honourary Manitoban any day!

Summer reports of our moose-size mosquitoes are almost all exaggerated, and a slug of Caribou keeps you warm in the winter. Go Jets.

Colin Smith said...

You sure you don't have Brit blood in you, Janet? Not even a touch of Basil Fawlty..? :D

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Man...and I had to work all day and miss all this fun. All this Brit stuff and ya'll stuff.
Just remembah, yah can't get they-ah from hee-yah.
Go Pats.

Dena Pawling said...

Yep, Carolynn, I had to work too. But I will say that way back in the dark ages, the employees at my former employer decided that I [Southern California native] out-twanged a fellow co-worker Alabama native. One of my proudest accomplishments lol

Anonymous said...

Something else for writers to worry about, apparently. How to revise the query system. "Let's do a huge data base of queries and agents can search for queries they want to read!"

*doing the zen thing to keep my smart mouth shut."

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@Dena, twang is a great ability, can you give us a podcast on your blog?

I admit to using it. It works well when you want to make yourself incomprehensible to speakers of English as a second language.

I'm still wondering what was the first book Janet sold and if at the time her walls were painted Furry Worry.

Anonymous said...

"They have a terribly strong American accent – from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other."

Excerpt from a French Soldiers View of American Troops in Afghanistan. It was an excellent read. I don't quite thing we have 50 different accents, but it was amusing.