Tag s | Communication

The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

Karen Ball

Okay, okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is hyperbolic. Kind of. But let me explain why it’s not that far off the mark to say you really can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t–live without it. Also, let me explain why I’m addressing something that Tamela addressed a mere 3 months ago.

So far this week, I’ve had no fewer than seven conversations with writers, agents, and editors, all of which hit on the same topic: finding out important information long after they should have. The conversations covered a broad range of information:

  • An author calling to say s/he was going to miss a deadline—a week before the deadline.
  • A client receiving an extension on a deadline from an editor
  • A publishing house moving a pub date without letting the author know
  • A book arriving with a cover that was completely different from what the author approved

My response in every case was utterly profound:

“Are you KIDDING me??”

So though Tamela addressed the following in March, let’s talk about it again. Because friends, this is important stuff. (And because you know who will address it next: Mr. Steve. And he won’t be as nice as Tamela and I are! <insert evil grin here>)

First, it’s easy to look at that list and see why numbers 1, 3, & 4 are bad. But what’s so bad about the second one? Well, let me ‘splain (as Ricky Ricardo loved to say to Lucy). Suppose you’re an agent. You know what your client’s deadlines are, which means you not only know when the manuscript is due to the editor/publisher, but when the money will be coming in. So you have these dates marked on your calendar. Now supposed it’s several weeks past the date when the money was supposed to arrive. Guess what you’re inclined to do? Yup, call the editor and find out what the problem is. Imagine your surprise—and chagrin—when you discover said editor gave your client a two month extension, but said client didn’t say boo to you!

Friends, your agents are there to protect you, to ensure you’re taken care of, and to go to the mat for you when needed. We’re not there to interfere in your relationship with an editor, but we are the ones who step in when there are issues. Far better to have us deal with the hard things than to have you enter an adversarial role with your editor. Especially when it has to do with money. Which means, plain and simple, agents need to know what’s going on.

So here are some guidelines for you to keep in mind:

If you’re going to miss a deadline: TELL ALL. Yes, tell your agent, but do it as soon as you even think you’ll miss it. Don’t wait, thinking you can get caught up. Don’t be afraid to say something because your agent will angry or disappointed or whatever else you think may be the agent’s reaction. When you give your agent the information as soon as it’s a possibility, as you equip him or her to work on your behalf and minimize the negative impact should it come to pass.

If you work out an extension with your editor: TELL ALL! Tell you agent as soon as that happens. Too many things ride on deadlines being met, and the agent needs to know what’s happening to track them all and make sure you’re covered.

If (or to be more realistic, when) the title on your book changes: TELL ALL! Why does your agent need to know that? Because they have to match the title up with the checks! And the title your agent has is the one on the contract, which, let’s be honest, is seldom the title that ends up on the book. Which can play havoc with accounting.

Other agent TELL ALLS to share, as soon as possible, include if you:

  • Are moving (kind of important to know where to send the advance/royalty money!)
  • Are going out of town for any length of time
  • Are facing any kind of crisis, be it family, health, financial, or spiritual (no, we’re not your “Father confessors,” but we are your champions, and we need to know if you’re facing serious issues because of a troubled child or your spouse has lost a job, or you’ve gone into a clinical depression…whatever. When we know what’s happening, we can help you—and your editors/publishers—deal with the situation as well as possible)
  • Have been injured. I fell off a ladder several years ago and broke two ribs. Little did I know breaking ribs meant you couldn’t breathe without excruciating pain. As for working at a computer? Yeah. Not for several weeks.
  • Are frustrated with your editor or publishing house. Don’t rant at them, rant to your agent. It’s our job to help you sift through the emotions and find a viable solution.
  • Have received cover comps from your editor, and your agent hasn’t been copied on the email (unless your agent has told you s/he doesn’t want to be involved in that process)
  • Are going through marital struggles, especially if you’re facing impending separation or divorce. Yes, these things are personal. But friends, they can’t help but affect your writing. Agents need to know about such things.
  • Suffer a computer crash. Take it from someone who just had her iMac, MacBook Pro, and iPhone all die in a space of three weeks, these events can be nightmares! (Happily, thanks to AppleCare, my situation was resolved easily and quickly—and without cost to me. Thank you, Apple!) But nothing can bring your writing to a screeching halt like a computer crash.
  • Change your phone number or email. Yes, seriously. I’ve had it happen twice now that I’ve called a client, only to get that hateful recorded message that the number is no longer in service. Aside from the fact that it’s unsettling, it makes doing business with someone hard when you don’t have their phone number.
  • Experienced a loss, such as a death in the family. Grief is one of the most powerful emotions we ever face, and it can utterly kill creativity. When my mom died 10 years ago, I was in the middle of writing a novel. The grief incapacitated me for nearly 6 months. And even when I did start writing again, it was far harder than before she died. It took me several years until I was back on target. (One note: I know people who have been devastated by the loss of a pet, too. Don’t be afraid to let your agent know if a beloved pet has died and you’re not recovering well. We understand!)

Obviously, that’s not an inclusive list, but I hope it convinces you to think about what’s happening in your life and in your career, and take a hard look at what you need to share with your agent. Always remember, the more informed your agent is on the things that affect your writing and career, the better equipped s/he is to help you navigate—and even circumvent–what could become terribly turbulent waters.

So help us help you!

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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 over 150 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.”

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A Few Things Your Agent Needs to Know

You have an agent, but want to be low maintenance. You value your agent’s time and hesitate to fill her in-box with lots of chatty emails or tie him up on the phone all day. I’m sure your agent appreciates you for being considerate.

Still, writing is a serious profession and a business. Therefore some personal events and occasions in your life are critical for your agent to know:

Happy Event

If you are the bride or groom, the parent of the bride or groom, expecting a new life in your family, are taking a month-long vacation to Hawaii, or have another major happy event planned, let us know so we will be aware that you might not be around for stretch of time.

Death of an Immediate Family Member

If you don’t tell us about a death that affects you in a major way, we won’t understand your emotional state. Also, consider that if you are responsible for executing a will and disposing of an estate, it’s best to let your agent know you are involved in time-consuming, heart-wrenching work that could affect your productivity.

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Are We Speaking the Same Language?

by Karen Ball

I love languages. I started studying French in the 7th grade (“Bonjour, Monsieur DuPree. Comment-allez vous?), and by the time I had my double college degree in multiple-languages and journalism, I’d studied French (12 years), Spanish (5 years), and Russian (1 year). But I confess, I never expected to have to learn a new language when I entered the publishing world.


I remember the first time I realized words and terms had very different meanings in publishing. As a PK and PGK (preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid), I knew my duty to widow and orphans. It was right there in the Bible. So you imagine my astonishment when I discovered it was now my goal to kill the widows and orphans. Then I learned that bleeding in the gutters had nothing to do with murder, that picas weren’t fuzzy little forest animals, leading wasn’t something done to stained glass, fonts weren’t receptacles for baptismal water, a kill fee wasn’t about hiring a hitman, and a galley wasn’t the kitchen on a ship.

It all reminded me of a line from a poster I had up in my college dorm room: I know you believe you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure that what you heard is what I really meant to say. Or the poster in a friend’s room that said, “I’m not as drunk as some thinkle peep I am.” (Okay, it has absolutely nothing to do with that last one. I just put it in because it makes me laugh…)

It’s taken years of study and practice, but I’m finally fluent in Pub-Speak. Or so I thought until a few days ago when I had a discussion of editing terms with the illustrious Steve Laube. It went something like this:

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Barriers to Effective Communication

By Steve Laube

It has been said that ninety percent of all problems in the universe are failures in communication. And the other ten percent are failures to understand the failure in communication. In the publishing business, or any business for that matter, this is so true. There are a couple common barriers to effective communication, assumption and expectation.

But I Assumed

Often one party assumes knowledge that the other person does not know. Or someone without knowledge fails to admit their lack and try to fake their way through the situation for fear of being found ignorant. Simple to fix. Just ask if you don’t know and alternatively make sure the other person knows what you are talking about. I learn something new nearly every single day and hope to continue that streak for the rest of my life.

But even  worse, and more common, is assuming the other party is mad at you for some reason. The fear of that “assumed anger” prevents an open dialogue or at least delays it.

Much of our business comes down to relationships and fear or anger prevent them from being healthy.

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