How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

by Steve Laube

I am frequently asked this question. It is perfectly understandable as many agencies carry a sizeable list of clients. A prospective client or even an existing one wonders, “Will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the web site because we are honored to work with so many gifted people. Not every agency makes their client list public. It is neither right nor wrong, it is merely a preference. As of this morning we have nearly 170 clients on our roster.

Proper management of a client base is all about communication and work flow. The best metaphor I’ve been able to use to describe how a literary agency works is “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone show up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”

The writing profession is somewhat cyclical. During the proposal and contract stage the agent/author conversations are frequent. But once the deal is set the writer disappears into a cave to write. Then periodically the writer comes out with a question or a situation that needs attention. Later on the editorial, production, and marketing stages can have issues that require an agents attention.

Rarely does much of this happen on the same day. Thus the airline metaphor is apropos. If every client called their agent on the same day it is doubtful that every author would be served properly.

Another consideration when looking at a list of clients it to realize that not every author is what can be termed as “Active.” An “active” author is either writing their book, creating a new proposal, or otherwise engaged in activity that affects their work as an author which I would be representing.

However I have some clients who have retired but there is still work to be done their behalf when issues arise on their older titles. Other clients have passed away. In those situations if there is an issue with the estate and the intellectual property we are still there to handle it. We have clients who take years between projects. We keep these people on our list of clients because they are our clients, but they would not necessarily be considered “active.”

From a workflow standpoint I try my best to respond to each client’s situation as soon as possible. Am I perfect? Hardly. But generally we hope our clients are satisfied with what we can do for them. Each of us in the agency works hard to take care of each situation as they arise. Some days are crazier than others. E-mail is a tremendous tool for taking care of quick questions. The phone is still a powerful tool. (Read “The Barriers to Effective Communication.”)

Ultimately the question is not “can we” but “do we” manage a number of clients. The answer is a celebratory “yes we do!” We will not take on a new client unless we think we can sell their work or help them to achieve their publication goals. A project or an author must be commercially viable otherwise nothing happens and no one is happy. So while our client base may continue to grow it is done with intentionality and purpose.

21 Responses to How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

  1. JennyM April 23, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    You know, if you had 171 clients, that last one would behave herself ALL the time and bring a fresh new face to the line up at the check in counter.

    • Sybil Bates McCormack April 23, 2012 at 5:43 am #

      Subtle, Jenny, subtle. :-D

      • JennyM April 23, 2012 at 9:44 am #

        Thank you Sybil. Did I mention that I bake cheesecakes from scratch and am well known in my whole town for my cinnamon buns? If such items are in the luggage, they make it onto the flight. :)

  2. Lindsay Harrel April 23, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    Great post. I’ve often wondered this when thinking about which agents to query. There are many who seem “full up” but who are still taking clients. I had wondered how they could do that!

  3. Rick Barry April 23, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Steve, this is a clear explanation of how you seem to juggle so many projects without dropping any.

    I trust that your authors will never conspire on April 1 and email you, “Emergency! Please contact me!” ;)

    Thanks for this.

    • Ronie April 23, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      Rick, we won’t?!?!?!? I’ll get back to you end of March 2013…. LOL

      • Rick Barry April 23, 2012 at 8:48 am #

        Oops. The genie is out of the bottle now!

    • Steve Laube April 23, 2012 at 9:06 am #

      Thanks Rick. I think I’ll go on vacation that day…

  4. TC Avey April 23, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Thanks for this reassuring post- it is an encouragement to inspiring authors like myself!

    • TC Avey April 23, 2012 at 7:57 am #

      Not enough coffee yet this Monday- aspiring authors like me, not inspiring. Though I hope to inspire others!

      Man, I need a refill!

      • Lindsay Harrel April 23, 2012 at 11:00 am #

        I think you’re inspiring, TC! ;)

  5. Jeanne April 23, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    This post was helpful. I wondered how agents were able to work with so many clients. Your airline analogy makes perfect sense. Thanks for explaining so clearly!

  6. Steve Laube April 23, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    A quick reminder to all readers. Our client list is the combination of Tamela, Karen, and my clients. I’ve chosen, on the web site, not to distinguish who is represented by whom since everyone is under that same agency banner.

  7. Christina Suzann Nelson April 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Great post. I must admit to being curious about this topic. Your clients seem very satisfied, so you must be juggling well.

  8. Sherry Gore April 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    What a timely post, considering I wondered this morning if I was thought of as (God forbid) a high maintenance author. Whew!

  9. Nancy Mehl April 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I doubt that you’re a high maintenance author, Sherry. I’m trying hard to win that title! LOL!

  10. Cindy R. Wilson April 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    I’ve wondered about this in the past, too, so thanks for the informative post. I respect that your agency works as a team, so each client isn’t specified by who represents them but is grouped alongside the others as clients collectively represented by your agency, which has the same overall goal.

  11. Peter DeHaan April 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    One hundred and seventy clients is most impressive. I’m not sure I could even remember that many people!

  12. TC Avey April 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Thanks Lindsay- At least I gave someone a good chuckle today!

  13. JennyM April 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Me too TC, that was quite funny.

    As for managing 170…ish clients, it is nice to see that Steve wants us to know that his agency cares on both a business and personal level. Professional does not mean cold. Thank you.

    Alas, he didn’t mention the schmooze vs representation factor.


  14. Ellie Kay May 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    What? And I thought I was your ONLY client!

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