Before You Say “I Do”

Thirty-two years ago today I said those very words to my darling hubby, Don, in a candlelit service, surrounded by friends and family. Ours was a whirlwind courtship and marriage. From the time we met to the wedding was a total of 8 months—and we were apart for 3 of those months. Yes, we were young. And yes, in many ways, we were incredibly foolish. But now, 32 years later, I can tell you that though our journey has not been smooth or easy, it’s taught us more than I ever thought possible about love, about faith, about obedience, about grace. God has used two imperfect people to forge a strong, lasting bond, and He’s knit our hearts and spirits together as I once thought impossible.

As I thought about all this today, and about all it’s taken for us to not just survive as a couple but to thrive, it confirmed something I’ve heard and experienced: the author/agent relationship is very much like a marriage. There’s the wooing and courting, often on both parts. There’s trying to figure out how to win the heart of the desired. There’s that flush of excitement when you discover your interest is reciprocal. There’s the proposal, and the happy “I do.”

And then there’s the freakin’ hard work of the relationship.

An author’s relationship with an agent is a close and intimate thing. You share dreams and passions, callings and needs, you work close together to make those things come true. For many authors, me included, you share not just your writing life but your personal life with your agent. They become, for all intents and purposes, as much a part of your life as family. And there’s another similarity between marriage and the author/agent relationship…


Don and I came from diverse childhoods. I mean…DIVERSE. Our experiences growing up were polar opposites. Our understanding of family and marriage and love were as far apart as the east is from the west! You’ve heard of folks bringing baggage into a relationship? Well, we had steamer trunks. Big ones. As a result, we hit a lot of snags. By God’s grace, our relationship endured some very turbulent times. Time that ended up, again, by God’s grace alone, making us stronger individually and together. But I won’t deny I wish, wish, wish we’d understood more about the potentially devastating effect expectations can have on a relationship.

Again, it’s similar with authors and agents. Whether you’ve had a number of agents, or are in the process of finding your first agent, the best counsel I can give you is what I tell young couples contemplating marriage: Know your expectations. Each of you must determine what you want from the person and the relationship. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and understand that no one person can ever meet all your needs. No, I’m not saying get more than one agent. Heaven forbid! All I mean is make sure you are aligning yourself with an agent who is a good fit in personality, ability, and passion.

How can you know that? Well, there are hosts of places online to find business questions to ask a potential agent. But I encourage you to consider this relationship in light of some self-examination, understanding there’s no right or wrong to your answers. There’s just understanding yourself and the expectations you bring to the relationship.

  • Do you want someone who will get to know you and your family as well as your work, or are you looking more for a business partner?
  • Are you someone who needs to hear from the agent on a regular basis, even if it’s just to say “hi”, or are you content only to hear when there’s something happening on the career front?
  • Do you state your needs easily or find yourself wanting the other person to “read” you and know what you need?
  • How do you handle conflict? Do you pull back and get silent, letting things simmer, or do you explode and then everything’s okay. Are you willing to address issues right away, or do you shy away from difficult conversations?
  • How do you respond when you fall behind or miss a deadline? Do you let guilt eat you up and make you even less able to work, or do you keep the nose to the grindstone and work until it’s done? What do you need from your agent when this happens? Encouragement? A pep talk? A kick in the pants?
  • What is the worst thing an agent could do? The best?

These are just a few thoughts to get you started. The key here is to not just know yourself, but to understand how you need to work with an agent, and how an agent needs to work with you. And then, when you have that figured out, to make those needs and expectations clear at the outset. Especially that last one. And I encourage you to ask the agent the same thing: What is the worst thing I could do as your client? What’s the best thing I can do?

If Don and I have learned nothing else through all these years, we’ve learned the importance of knowing and communicating as clearly (and unemotionally!) as possible our needs and expectations. Doing this with an agent will help avoid unneeded problems down the road, and will help you deal with problems when they come. No blame or shame needed. Just honest communication, steeped in kindness and truth.

There’s no better basis for any relationship.

18 Responses to Before You Say “I Do”

  1. Sharon A Lavy December 21, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    This is so true. Finding the personality click between writer and agent. Is it good to have a lot of things in common? Or is it better to be opposites so the partnership is balanced? There is no one size answer fits all.

    It would be wonderful to sign up with one agent for life, but when I look at my friends careers that does not always happen.

    And sometimes it is hard to actually pitch for fear. . . what if he likes me at first but then it doesn’t work out? Would I be to crushed to go on? What if she likes my work but then I can’t follow through?

    What if can be crippling.

  2. Kathy Naugle December 21, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Anniversary blessings to you and Don! It’s nice here in the Married-Over-30-Years Club, isn’t it?

  3. Sarah Thomas December 21, 2011 at 6:57 am #

    Loved your story! My husband and I wed six months to the day after we met and we’ve been married almost 16 years now. Looking forward to doubling that!

    Also loved your best thing/worst thing question for agents and clients. That is an excellent way to come at it.

  4. Anita Mae December 21, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    This is certainly interesting. Yesterday, I celebrated my 35th anniversary to a guy I’d met in June, became engaged to in Sept and married in Dec. I was only 19 and my parents refused to attend the wedding because they said I was too young. One of my husband’s friends walked me down the aisle and gave me away instead.

    Nelson was a corporal and I a private in the Canadian Armed Forces which meant a cheap wedding on our low pay. A friend made my wedding dress, another friend took the photos, and we didn’t go on a honeymoon. We did splurge on a hip of beef for the reception meal, but a blizzard blew in and only a quarter of the quests appeared. We dined on leftovers for a month.

    You’re right. The road hasn’t been smooth especially since Nelson wasn’t a Christian for the first 20 of those years, but with tolerance, love, and a quasi-level of communication, God blessed us and we’ve lasted.

    Three yrs ago I blogged about the agent/client relationship being similar to courtship and marriage. My then-blogmates were more into casting out 100 lines and trolling to see who they could hook. I find it amusing in a sad way that we’re all still agentless.

    At least two agents have told me to contact them if I’m offered a contract for my books. However, if we’re still comparing wooing and marriage to the writing process, does that mean these agents only want to date me if someone else offers marriage? Not exactly flattering.

    Meanwhile, I sit at my keyboard dreaming up love stories while the tweets flash in the corner of my screen. Oh look, my dream agent married someone else. I hope they have a happy marriage. And do you know what? I really hope they do. I hope God blesses them immensely, as I know He’ll do for me someday when He thinks I’m ready for that big step, too.

  5. Anita Mae December 21, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    *Anita groans and shakes her head for getting so caught up in her own story that she forgot to wish Karen and Don all the best in theirs.*

    Happy Anniversary! May God bless you and Don with riches beyond your vivid imagination. :)

    Anita Mae.

  6. Sharon A Lavy December 21, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Husband and I were married very young. I had just turned 16 and he was a month away from 17. We had a stormy, rocky road ahead of us.

    But looking back at our 51 year journey we are so glad we traveled it together.

    May your coming years be blessed with God’s richest blessings.

  7. Poppy Smith December 21, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Hi Karen: I so identify with the marriage bit and appreciate the tips for working with my agent. My next book, published by Harvest House, is called “Why Can’t He be More Like Me? and deals with our expectations–that he will be like my girlfriend, see things my way,etc. I cover areas of conflict arising from different backgrounds, expectations, needs, communication, finances and sex, among other topics. My prayer is that it will help both singles and marrieds understand themselves, and men–or their spouse.

    So glad you made it through and can celebrate God’s goodness and grace. I can do the same.

  8. Hilarey December 21, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Karen, Congratulations and thank you for an excellent post!
    You are right about expectations–I always assumed my husband would take out the trash.
    About the wooing process: persistence or patience?

  9. Patrick Craig December 21, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Very helpful Karen. Thanks!!

  10. Rachel Hauck December 21, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Great post, Karen! I’m always inspired by your testimony with Don. And you are right, there’s a lot to learn in the author-agent relationship regarding expectations and needs!



  11. Ann Shorey December 21, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Anniversary congratulations, Karen! Hope your day is fantastic!

    Loved your post comparing marriage to the author-agent relationship. :)

  12. Teddi December 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Great food for thought! I think I’ll draft up a little list based on some of your questions here. Map out my expectations, list some questions to ask a potential agent. Someday it may come in handy!

    Congrats on your anniversary! God is good!

  13. Roseanna M. White December 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Happy anniversary, Karen and Don! I was so inspired by all you shared about your marriage journey during OCW, and recommended The Breaking Point to someone with similar struggles just last week. =) I myself married just shy of 19 to a just-18-yr-old after our first year of college, but we’d been dating all through high school and (believe it or not!) had realistic expectations. All things considered, these last 10 years have been pure joy!

    Wonderful observations too! During my first agent hunt, I admit I felt like a beggar, going around saying, “PLEASE pay attention to me! Please, just look–LOOK at my work, that’s all I ask!” LOL. I was blessed to click with an agent at a conference, and blessed to have four years of trial and error with her before she retired. And especially blessed that when I found myself in the agent-hunting position again, it was with a fresh outlook and clear ideas about what I needed from an author/agent relationship.

    I think the most important thing when making a choice about a partner, be it a spouse or an agent or a publisher, is that it be the Lord’s choice. He led me to my hubby, to two very different but totally awesome agents (at different times, ha ha), and now to a publishing family. Can’t wait to see what He has in store next!

  14. Carrie Turansky December 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Happy anniversary to you and Don. I’ve always appreciated the lessons you’ve shared about marriage and admired your commitment and love. I see the connection between the author and agent relationship. Thanks for this insight.

  15. Peter Eleazar December 22, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    I beat you at seven months, including a fully-clothed dunking in a swimming pool, beneath a lunar eclipse, where she breathlessly said “yes” (or that’s what it sounded like anyway). Ours was also an up and down journey where we almost shipwrecked a few times, but we sailed through the storms until our hearts knitted – we needed something to serve as a sail, else we would not have made port.

    However, your delightful metaphor had me thinking of what it takes for a guy when he is up against a hard-to-get future wife. Reflections of our awkward attempts to woo her, aptly describe the publishing dance. The hopeful suitor dresses in his suitably garish paisley tie, grey shoes and unmatched suit, buffs his teeth, thrice, and greases his hair, and then waits in ambush for the indifferent objective of his yearnings, so he can open elevator doors or do whatever it takes to get her attention. I wonder if females in the animal kingdom also snigger to each other as males pirouette, dance, fan their feathers, bash each other’s skulls or deliver mournful love songs. Yet all of that is just to get noticed or acknowledged. Once she deigns to give him a chance he still has to follow up his first service with a great second one, without muttering or mumbling, whilst avoiding such minefields as the indelicacy of taking her to a seafood restaurant when she doesn’t eat seafood, where he smashes his oyster shells or squeezes the lemon in his finger bowl over his food and squirts the same in her eye or, worse yet, reveals the parsley stuck in his front tooth. Eventually he has to avoid burning the hand he holds over flickering candle, so she can say “yes” and then somehow not drop her as he carries her over the threshold – all, so they can live happily ever after.

    Yet, somehow, in the madness of it all God gave her such a capacity for forgiveness that most prevail if they persist, as must be true for aspirant writers. That reminds me of the counsel of a friend: “Maybe God tests you to see how much it really means to you”.

  16. Martha Rogers December 22, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Congratulations and blessings on your anniversary. Our stories are so much alike. Rex and I come from completely different backgrounds. We met in March and married in October. He left for boot camp the first weekend of April, returned in June, proposed, left again and returned October 15. We married October 24 52 years ago. Had a lot of “getting to know you, getting to know all about you” days that first year.

    I’m so thankful for my agent. I didn’t have a list of questions or anything else at the time we got together. I just liked her, and she took a chance on me. It’s been a wonderful relationship, and I know it’s because God brought us together at just the right time. She’s taught me so much about the business of writing. I love you, Tamela.

    Merry Christmas to you and your hubby. May you have many more blessed years together.

  17. Susan Gregory December 22, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Congratulations! A thriving marriage is a constant reminder of God doing the impossible.

    Tim and I were engaged within 6 weeks, married in 6 months, and celebrated 26 years last August. It has been an adventure in every sense of the word. We have loved, despised, bonded, teetered, and stared at each other in numb disbelief. Once loosely knit and easily unraveled, we have become like boiled wool – drawn together into a solid, beautiful fabric.

    Regarding the marriage/agent relationship: it is diffficult to be apart when you want to know more about the person, probe their thoughts and hear their opinions. The dearest relationships are bound in prayer and transparent in the mercy of His grace.

  18. Mesu Andrews December 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Congrats, Karen and Don!
    I loved your questions, Karen. They get to a deeper issue of agent/author relationship than many of the typical questions presented as litmus tests for compatibility. In my first agent search, I was much like Roseanna described–a beggar willing to take whatever crumbs anyone would give. I was overwhelmingly blessed by a wonderful agent–one of the best in the business–but our hearts never clicked. And because we never connected on that deeper level, it was hard to reach a level of trust that’s necessary to become a successful team.

    Your “whole family” approach to agenting seems more unique to me. (Which I LOVE, btw!) Most agents seem more “business only” oriented. Have I misunderstood the industry?

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