I was having a chat with a writer recently and she asked “what do you expect from your clients?” This is a great question for any writer to ask someone they’re considering working with. The most important quality, I think, is professionalism. This can mean anything from responding to emails/phone calls in a timely and respectful fashion to meeting deadlines and following through to using social media for good not evil. It can mean understanding the difference between a true emergency and a “crisis” that feels terrible but can actually wait for business hours. It can mean respecting boundaries. This is the business part of the publishing business equation. But let’s not forget the artistic aspect of the relationship: I want clients whose work I love, who I can fight for, and who understand I want the best for them, even if I give them edit notes that make them temporarily doubt my love for their work. It’s tough love, sometimes, but still love.
Authors should also ask agents who offer them representation the questions that will tell them if this is the right agent. In every writer’s mind is a sense of the qualities of an ideal agent. And they can be different. Do you want a cheerleader, a friend, an ally, a font of knowledge, someone to hold your hand/walk you through a process? Someone who’ll tell you the cold hard truth or who’ll soft-pedal it? Ask the questions that will help you figure out if this is the right match for you personally and professionally. For example, ‘Do you prefer emails or phone calls? How quickly do you respond? Where/how would you pitch my book? How much revision do you think my manuscript needs? How does X work? How would you handle Y? I’m also interested in writing Z, what do you think of that?’
Both agent and author should feel that they’re working together towards a common goal. It’s a bit like a marriage, a commitment that I hope to be making for a long term, a career, not just one book, and that I hope my client enters into feeling the same way.