Agent Etiquette Dos and Don”ts

I have a long list of things my authors do that make me happy to be their agent, and an even longer list of things they do that drive me to drink way too much coffee. Here are my top five contenders.

The Dos
1. Surprise me and say thank you. It doesn”t matter how authors do it — by E-mail, with a phone message, with a card, with flowers or even with a comic book — but it”s nice to get an acknowledgment for the work you”ve done. It”s especially appreciated on a really rotten day. It”s also really nice to get some kind of acknowledgment in the published book.

2. Keep me posted. You”d be surprised at how many authors have wonderful career moments that they forget to tell me about. Call or E-mail me about your invitation to speak at the Smithsonian, or send me the news clip of your interview in the local paper. Just because that book”s already published doesn”t mean that I can”t do something with the publicity or that it”s not of interest to me.

3. Help me. Get those quotes, call the local paper to set up an interview and send me a written list of your foreign publishers so I can send it on to my foreign agents. Don”t make me track everything down myself, if you can help it. It”s great when my authors are mindful of my workload and try to make things just that much easier for me.

4. Be honest. Tell me right away that you don”t want to write a book, that you don”t care about the size of the advance because you have always wanted to write a Star Trek novel or that the only thing you care about is getting as much money as possible by April 15.

5. Learn about the industry. Educate yourself about how the publishing industry works, as well as what”s selling. If you”re reading about what”s selling and what”s not, you”ll have a good idea of what your next project should — or shouldn”t — be.

The Don”ts
1. Don”t overwhelm me. This relates to everything from sending me too many projects to calling too often, to even wanting too much editorial handholding. Once you are my client, I will do everything I can to make you feel special and well cared for.

2. Don”t second guess me. I hate this. I want to sell your book for as much money as possible as badly as you do, so if things don”t seem to be moving as quickly as we thought or for as much as we thought, just accept that that”s what the market will bear.

3. Don”t kill the messenger. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but occasionally an agent has to give up on a project or accept that the only offer out there is far less than what she expected. The worst thing you can do is blame your agent.

4. Don”t harass me about money, contracts or deals. I don”t get paid until you get paid, so rest assured that I am tracking your money as carefully as you are. The same goes for the contracts. As far as getting your deals is concerned, there”s no guarantee when material goes on submission, but added pressure from the author rarely helps an agent consummate a deal quicker.

5. Don”t argue with me. My job in your life is to sell your work, so if I think you need to do more work on your book or proposal, I”m asking you to do the work so we can sell your book.

Lori Perkins is the founding partner of the New York literary agency Perkins, Rubie and Associates, which represents 150 authors and has foreign representation in 11 countries.

Excerpted from The Insider”s Guide to Getting an Agent. Copyright 1999 by Lori Perkins. Used with permission of Writer”s Digest Books, a division of F&W Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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