Often I’m asked how many clients I have on my list, and until now I’ve never thought of it, but I guess I’m not sure what the asker is hoping for in my answer. Are you fearful that I have too many clients and no room for more? Are you concerned I have none and therefore not an impressive track record, or is it just a matter of curiosity?
Whatever your answer, mine is always that I’m not sure. I’ve never taken the time to actually count my client list and I don’t intend to now. As an agent who represents both fiction and nonfiction I have a lot of clients. Some are busy under contract, writing away, others sold their first books years ago and I haven’t heard much, if anything, from them since. All are still considered clients until someone sends the Certified Letter stating otherwise. So if five years from now Very Quiet Nonfiction Client appears with a book proposal, I’m more than happy to take a look.
I don’t believe there’s an exact number you can put on how many clients any agent should have, especially since every agent is different, and every client is different. I have met and known agents who have the organizational abilities to handle only one or two clients and I’ve met authors who want, need, and demand so much attention they might very well take up the space of two clients. On the other hand I know agents who have 40, 50, or more clients and each one feels special, loved, and as if they are the only ones on the list, and I know and have clients who are very quiet and undemanding.
Like life, agenting has times when things are quiet and low-key and others when it’s nothing but chaos. Luckily for us, no two projects are ever in the same place at the same time. On Monday I might be fully engrossed in one author’s career, with no time to think of anything else, and on Thursday it might be a completely different author with completely different issues.
The key isn’t in a number, the key is in the feedback you hear from those clients. Do they feel that the agent’s time and attention is lacking, or do they honestly feel that the agent is there whenever they need her? I also think the key is knowing what type of client you think you might be. Are you willing to work with someone who might have 40 other clients, but give you all the attention you need to feel like the only one? Or would you prefer to be one among only four or five?