Columns > Published on May 13th, 2013

Ask The Agent: 20 Insights Into a Successful Agent/Client Relationship

Navigating the rough terrain of today’s publishing industry shouldn’t be a solo event. This week in Ask the Agent, I’ll explore and dissect one of the industry’s mysteries, straight from the shoulder.

Question from David

When you think of your best clients, what qualities do they all have in common?

I love this question… so I ran with it.

I’ve always tried to stress the importance that you, as an aspiring author, find an agent that meets your expectations. Agents are picky when they sign a client, why shouldn’t the client be picky when choosing an agent?

I’ll specifically answer the question first, and then we’ll go over some Twitter crowd-sourced opinions.

Great common qualities of my clients:

1. Normality. I know that the concept of “normal” is extremely subjective. So I guess… find your own normal and try to team up with someone on the same level of normal.

2. Compulsion to write. It’s important to me that my clients feel a compulsion to write. Writers must always be writing! So regardless of whether or not they are revising or working on a new project, I need to know that they are always practicing their craft. 

3. Considerate. Every single one of my clients is completely considerate of my boundaries. You have a fairly involved relationship with your agent, so it’s important to remind yourself that your agent is just a person with person-type things going on. They get ill. They have to attend weddings and funerals. They have kids and spouses, they leave the office for vacations and they like to sleep. So it’s great to have clients that won’t cross time/behavioral/personal boundaries.

4. Well behaved. It’s every agent’s fear that they will have a client who, at some point, says something totally out of bounds—usually social media related. But it could also be to an editor in a phone call or email, etc. I had to stop working with a client because he/she was offending people all over twitter and I couldn’t be a part of it. Make your agent a proud mama/papa bear.

5. Desire. Self-explanatory. (*Also see: “compulsion to write”)

6. Perseverance. It can be a long, hard road once you’ve signed with an agent. It’s not only appreciated but also necessary that clients have perseverance.

7. A sense of humor. It makes delivering bad news a lot easier.

8. Hungry for editorial advice. Whether a client loves my editorial advice or has great arguments for why it’s crap advice… I don’t think you can have a fully polished work without the eyes of others. You should never shy away from helpful critiques. 

9. Not afraid to assert themselves in the right situation. I love it when my clients are honest and open with me when it’s appropriate. It’s important that I know they will be honest about their feelings regarding the business/our work relationship/etc.

10. Self-starter. Self-starters are so refreshing to work with! For example: It’s so great when my clients start new projects or send me outlines for possible future works. 

Like I said, it's very important that your agent meet your expectations. Since I've never been and author with an agent, I went to the easiest crowd-sourcing site: Twitter. I asked "What are the best traits of your agent?" These are some of the responses I received. As a writer looking for an agent, take heed of these characteristics. 

Qualities to look for in an agent:

1. “The fact that she has as much passion for my stories as I do, which makes her insight and ideas amazing.”

2. “She makes me feel like she is always available for me for any issue/question/concern. Also her genuine kindness.”

3. “Brutal honesty.”

4. “I have absolute trust in her that she has the best career experience and advice for me and my work.”

5. “She's very knowledgeable and has an obvious passion for what she does.”

6. “Accessible and friendly, great editorial vision, and excellent taste in books.”

7. “Timely communication, dedication to a project, and advisor.”

8. “I know I can trust her.”

9. “Her no-nonsense editorial guidance. She challenges me to make my text and illustrations the best they can be.”

10. “Passionate, enthusiastic support and guidance.”

It's not just important to try your hardest, you need to have a team of people around you working their hardest. That includes passion and knowledge. Be around those that are truly on your level. 

Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor

Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 24 of Ask the Agent. Issue 24 answers will be posted Monday, May 27th.

About the author

Bree Ogden is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary and a comics/TV columnist and reviewer at Bloody Disgusting.

When she's not agenting, compulsively watching horror films, reading comics, hiding out at her local science center, or killing off her bee colonies, she serves as the managing editor of the macabre children's magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree, which she co-founded in 2011 with artist Rebekah Joy Plett.

Bree teaches query craft and graphic novel scripting at LitReactor as well as serves as the Assistant Class Director. Unless you are an exciting new piece of taxidermy, she'll probably never let you in her room. You can find her at

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