How to Work with an Agent

by Tim Beals

Once you’ve secured the services of an agent, don’t expect him to do all your career-building for you. Continue making and using professional contacts, gathering information, seeking endorsements for your work, and building your social media platform. Be polite, straightforward, honest, and businesslike at all times. Sometimes the author-agent partnership turns into a real friendship, but it is first and always a business relationship.

Write or call your agent whenever you need to, but otherwise be patient and stay out of their inbox and voicemail. Instead, your agent will write or call whenever there is news to report. If you have heard little or nothing from your agent, however, it is reasonable to call or write every two months to see what has happened.

Once you have agreed to let an agent represent your next project, provide them with the following information:

  • The names of any editors or publishers who have asked to see your work.
  • The names of any editors or publishers who have read and enjoyed your earlier work.
  • The names of any editors or publishers you do not want your work submitted to.
  • The names of any editors or publishers who have already seen and rejected your project in its current (or very similar) form.
  • Where, when, and by whom part or all of the project has been previously published.

Don’t expect your agent to make decisions for you. Agents will bring you offers, answer your questions, and make suggestions, but only you can decide what to accept, what to turn down, when to ask for more. Indeed, this is part of your responsibility as an agented author. If your agent does not automatically send you a list of the people and organizations to which your project has been submitted, feel free to request it. Then allow your agent a reasonable amount of time to sell your work. Two to six months is typical.

If you ever have a problem with your agent, write or call them to discuss the issue. Be honest, firm, forthright, calm, and concerned. Remember that your agent has many other clients. Expect them to be responsive and helpful—but don’t expect constant and immediate availability.

Don’t let publishers make an end run around your agent. If you are approached directly about a project your agent is representing, get the person’s name, phone number, and employer, and pass on this information to your agent, who will take things from there. This is not only good business, it’s your legal obligation.

If you want to discuss an idea for a new project, or if you require some professional advice, feel free to call or email your agent. Ask him whether or not he would be interested in seeing your next project. He may decline to represent future projects you propose, but if you’ve been successful in the past, he should welcome new ideas. Simply send each new project to your agent with a brief message, and expect a prompt response.

Are you ready for an agent? Do you want to make beautiful music together? Come prepared, practice your craft, stay humble, and play your part. The right agent can guide your writing, present your work to the right editors, and effectively manage the business side of publishing on your behalf. Many publishers require writers to have an agent, and most successful writers work with one. So be ready to learn and your agent will help with the rest.


Tim Beals, “Agenting 101: The What, Why, When, and Hows of Literary Representation” in Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers ed. A.L. Rogers (Grand Rapids: Caffeinated Press, 2017), 116–117.