How Many Clients Do You Have

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 22 2011

Anytime I offer representation I’m asked how many clients I have. It’s a fair question and I get why authors ask. The problem is that there is no right answer. The other problem is that I refuse to count up my clients. I don’t want to know. I don’t need to know.

The problem with this question of how many is too many has so many variables that it really doesn’t matter.

For example, what is the agent like? I’ve known some agents who are superagents. They can seemingly jump giant publishing conglomerates in a single bound while juggling hardcover tomes, reading a novel, and editing a masterpiece. I’ve known others who can barely get their pants on in the morning without help. How organized an agent is can make a big difference in how many clients she can handle.

What are the clients like? I have clients I literally haven’t heard from in years. I still consider them clients, but at this point they are either busy with other things or quietly working on their next books. I have clients (especially nonfiction) who have written one or two books, and while they’re still clients and we’re still seeing money and working on foreign sales, I don’t hear much from them either. I have clients who call or email almost daily. I have clients I edit for and those I don’t. . . .

The answer to this question isn’t about how many clients an agent has, it’s about how the clients feel about the agent. Do the clients feel that the agent is too busy to answer emails or attend to their needs or do the clients consistently feel like they are the most important person on the agent’s list (or up there anyway). Maybe this isn’t a question you ask the agent, but instead you ask the client how the agent makes her feel and how well the agent attends to her needs.


15 responses to “How Many Clients Do You Have”

  1. Bingo! As a writer, you have to be comfortable w/the level of attention/response time you're receiving from your agent. Is she doing what she said she'd do by when she said she'd do it? (For example, reviewing your ms, getting edits back to you, etc.) Discussing these issues is key, but if they're not resolved you need to move on. Leaving your agent can be the scariest thing of all, since there are no guarantees you'll find another. However, having an agent who isn't doing what they said they'd do doesn't serve you at all.

    So, although, "How many clients do you have?" is a natural question to ask, it doesn't really tell you anything. Like Jessica said, talking to their clients and discovering what they're like to work with is far more important than a number. You may also want to speak w/newer clients as well as older ones, since client/author relationships can be wonderful at first, but fade with time.

  2. Avatar Colin Smith says:

    I think the question pertains more to the agent's experience, and the likelihood that the agent has the requisite skills and contacts to secure a publisher for the author's work. The perception being that an agent with many years' experience and a client list that is either large, or contains well-known authors, is more likely able to find someone to get the author's novel published.

    You are right, IMO, to indicate that the question may be simplistic, since there are other factors that make a good agent, and a large client roster isn't necessarily the best indicator of that.

  3. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    One of the best things I did was to talk to the clients of each agent who had made an offer. This is where writers' conferences benefit (again) because I had passing acquaintances with several writers I could speak with, or those writers could point me to the agents' clients.

    I'd expected each agents' clients to give me top-of-line input, but was pleased to find that most were willing to really talk in depth and honestly about what worked for them and why they were with a certain agent. It was really interesting because some of their "pros" were definite "cons" for me, and I did get a solid look at how I could work with a particular agent.

    I'd even expected each agent's clients to be biased toward their own agent, but that wasn't the case, either. Some would listen to what I had to say about agent A and say, "Wow. She sounds like a great choice for you. You may want to go that direction."

    I think some authors hesitate to contact an agents' clients after an offer because they feel like it won't make a difference or the clients will be unwilling to share, but in most cases I've heard, it's just the opposite.

  4. Avatar Bri Clark says:

    I agree. While all the meanings behind the question are prevalent a straight forward approach is best. I tell those I work with from the beginning there's no games here. I'm blunt and haven't the time for beating bushes. My editor is the same way. Makes a volatile but great working relationship. LOL

  5. thanks a lot for the post!!! liked it!

  6. I agree with almost everything you say. The answer is certainly different for everyone, but it's the author's question. If I asked that question and the agent told me she could not answer–or worse told me she would not answer–I would not agree to representation from that agent. She assumes that any answer will be the wrong answer, which is a horrible presumption of the writer's character and then denies the writer requested information. What other information might the agent feel the writer is incapable of handling at a later date?

  7. Avatar Caleb says:

    so the question we should be asking is "How do you put your pants on in the morning". If they say "I don't", you can determine whether or not you're comfortable with the answer or not 🙂

  8. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    If an agent has too few clients, I'd be concerned that she's not into her job. If an agent has too many clients, I'd be concerned that she can't give her full attention to everyone. It's all about finding a balance.

  9. Avatar wry wryter says:

    I deleted my first comment which was stupid. Funny how something I write just before I dash out the door seems funny and then a few hours later just plain dumb.

    Personally, I don’t care how many clients my agent has. If the agent is the one I feel is right for me, (I do), than the only client I care about IS me. Self-centered? Naïve? Clueless? Perhaps, but if I worried about all the other clients he has I’d go nuts.

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  11. Excellent post, Jessica! You are very right. It really doesn't matter. Everyone deals with people differently and like you said you haven't heard from some of your clients in a while.
    Never thought of it this way. Thank you so much!

  12. On top of considering the agent's working style and capabilities, it's more important to consider the nature of the clients than the number, I think. If an agent has 20 clients who publish a book or two a year, which is common in some genres, I might be a little more concerned about whether they could fit my work in. If some of their clients were the type to take several years per book, though, I'd have less to worry about because the work would be more spread out. It's best to just consider how YOU would work with the agent.

  13. Another reason that it's a fair question, but not necessarily a question that gives you a complete answer, is that one factor in the agent's ability to serve you is the agent himself (or herself). These "superagents" might be the kind of person who needs four hours of sleep a night. Those extra three hours can buy a lot of work. Or, the superagent could be single, and childless. Back when those two adjectives described me, I used to play guitar for an hour every night, and then still get in an hour of writing. Now, well…

  14. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Jessica knows that I'm perfectly willing to discuss my relationship with her and how I feel she works for me. Like Angie said, what are "pros" for some writers might easily be "cons" for others, but I also know that Jessica works differently with many of her clients.

    Something that's important to me is communication, and that's where I definitely give my agent an A+. No matter how many clients she has, she still has the ability to make me feel as if I count, so obviously she doesn't have too many!

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Every agent I've asked has been able to give me an estimate, if not an exact number, of their current client load.

    The answer does tell you quite a bit. Of course the needs of clients vary, but in general these variables extend across all agencies. So if all other things are equal, do you want the agent who carries 80 clients? Or the equally good one who has half that many?