An Agent’s Workload

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Apr 12 2010

I believe I may soon be getting an offer of representation. This agent is new, having just started representing her own clients in the past few months. I know that she has just signed two new clients three weeks ago. If I sign with her, that is three clients that she will be going on submission with around the same time. Is that a reasonable workload? How many clients does the average agent have on submission at one time?

Truthfully, there is no answer to this question. Agents all operate differently and, like the rest of you, all have a different definition for “reasonable workload.”

You say that this agent just signed two new clients and “will be going on submission around the same time.” Not necessarily true. Sure, presumably she’ll be submitting everyone at the same time, but that’s presuming that everyone is ready to submit. For all you know, she’ll be asking two of the three people to do major revisions, while the third feels ready to submit. She might go two or three rounds of revisions with one of you, while the other two are out on submission.

I don’t think there’s any one answer to this question. Some agents, just like some people, can easily handle multiple tasks at the same time, while others are better off handling only one client at a time.

I don’t think the number of clients this agent has recently taken on should impact your decision of how she might work for you. Instead, you should talk to the agent and decide if she’s the right agent for you.


13 responses to “An Agent’s Workload”

  1. Avatar Kimber An says:

    And talk to the other clients before signing.

    I know it's very scary to slug your way through the eeeevil dreaded Queryland only to sign with a bad agent. I've read plenty of stories on that one.

    Best of luck! (As Han Solo would say, 'You're gonna need it.')

  2. First of all- Congratulations! Secondly, that is something to take into consideration but as Jessica pointed out- it doesn't mean she will be too busy for you. I agree you could speak with the other clients but wouldn't it make more sense just to voice your concerns with the agent herself? Perhaps ask a little about how she operates and her work ethics and go from there.

  3. I've actually wondered that myself. Thanks for spotlighting this question and for giving us a few different viewing angles. Very helpful, especially about speaking with other clients.

  4. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    My personal feeling on this is not to worry about the agent's workload but to concentrate on your own submission. There are things we can control in this business and things we can't, and how an agent chooses to organize her time really isn't on our list of things we need to worry about.

    Instead, as Kimber An said, check with other clients, or if the agent is too new to have any you can talk to (which is essentially how it was when I signed with Jessica, who was still very new) talk to the agent on the phone or meet in person if at all possible, and go with your gut.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I assume this new agent either has a background as an editor at a publishing house, or was an assistant to an experienced agent and is now building her own client list. I can't speak to the workload thing, but do agree that it would be an excellent idea to chat with the other clients. And if you have any partials or fulls out with other agents, definitely let them know if an offer is made, so you can look at all your options. Congrats and good luck!

  6. Also, if she's a new agent she is probably in overdrive right now, like anyone would be when starting a new job. Take advantage of her enthusiasm and energy. If she has been working under an experienced agent, it is not likely she will take on more than she can handle. And congratulations.

  7. Very insightful- thanks for this!

    An ettiquette question, then: how would one find out who the other clients are, especially in this scenario when everyone is new to the game? I know that many established agents have their clients listed on websites and such, but if not…is it considered bad form to ask the agent for the references, in this case or one like it?

    I agree that new agents are likely to be full of enthusiasm and vigor, just like fresh writers. How exciting for you to be on the cusp of signing with an agent!

  8. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    It's not bad form to ask the agent. I know Jessica has directed other potential clients my way, which tells me they've asked her for clients' contact info, and I am more than willing to answer–honestly–any questions they ask.

  9. Avatar Mira says:

    Very helpful post – thanks, Jessica!

  10. It's not bad form to ask for a client list. In fact, if the agent refuses to provide one, that's probably a bad sign.

    For agents who aren't so new to the game, I would recommend also checking sites like Writer Beware or Absolute Write to see what others have said about the agent.

    That said, it seems some agents have dozens of clients. Surely they run into times where they're submitting for multiple clients at once. Chances are your agent will be in the same boat once she logs more time as an agent. Whether the agent is new or not is not indicative of how many clients they can handle simultaneously.

  11. Avatar Lisa_Gibson says:

    Great post. Valuable perspective.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don't think the number of clients and agent has has anything to do with how this person is going to be repped. It's other things. Like does she answer your e-mails and questions within a reasonable amount of time? Is she there to answer professional questions when you're curious about something? Or, sadly, is she just a drip who never responds and takes her fifteen per cent? I had a drip. The worst agent on earth. We communicated about four times in a year. Once the royalty checks came to me by mistake and I had to cut the 15% to her. It killed me to write that check. She'd done absolutely nothing to earn it because these were books I'd sold before I'd hired her. Eventually, I received and e-mail that said she was moving on to another career. When I wished her luck, she wasn't even decent enough to reply with a thanks. And at least I know what I don't want in an agent. And trust me, the horror stories only begin with charging reading fees.

  13. I am thoroughly enlightened by your comments each week. I have a question. I tried to post it earlier, so I apologize if it shows up as a duplicate.

    When an agent ask for an electronic copy of a novel after she has received a hard copy, what does that mean. She says she wants to read simultaneously. Can you tell me what stage of the process she's in.