Our take on the writer/agent relationship

JenniferFusco_cropped“Hi, my name is Jennifer.  I’m extremely goal oriented and high maintenance. I’m a Capricorn who likes to work and I tend not to take vacations. I get easily frustrated, especially when things don’t move fast enough. I’m an only child and I have about a zillion jobs.” – That’s probably what I should have said the first time I met my agent, Eric Ruben.  At least then, he would’ve known what he was getting into.

Instead, I did what most writers do. I put my best foot forward, pitched my non-fiction book and waited. About a week after our initial meeting at RWA’s national conference in NYC, I received a phone call from Eric. He passed. At the time, I was too stupid to know that an actual phone call from an actual agent was a big deal. He’d taken the time to call me, rather than send a form letter or, as some agents do, not respond at all.

I didn’t let his rejection get me down. There were other agents out there, right? So, I went back to my zillion jobs, perfecting them all in typical Capricorn fashion until I’d put the finishing touches on my manuscript and my query letter shined.

I never sent that query letter.  I didn’t have to.

Two months after Eric passed, while grocery shopping on my 7th wedding anniversary, a contract from The Ruben Agency magically appeared in my inbox. What? Certainly he’d made a mistake. Surely that contract was meant for someone else! A few moments later, my cell phone rang and I stood in the middle of the produce section talking to an agent.  MY AGENT!

He must be mental?  He didn’t even read a partial of the fiction book I was working on. But, there it was…a contract for representation.

So, how does the writer/ agent relationship work after the contract is signed?  Well, I think I’ll let my agent tell you…

Eric Ruben

So I met Jennifer Fusco and it’s true, I originally said no. But I had a set way of looking at things and, as much as I liked her, I didn’t feel that I knew her genre well enough and I wasn’t sure I was the right agent for her. Still, she was a good writer and she totally understood the business.

Soon after our meeting I saw the film Moneyball. Jennifer kept popping into my head while I was sitting in the theater. The lesson in that film, for me, was that in order to succeed in a changing world we have to look beyond the “normal” way of doing business. I called Jennifer, wrote her, and hoped her ego wouldn’t get in the way of me saying yes after no. It didn’t.

So what happens next?

It’s different and similar with all my clients. After we sign we talk. I read more and we talk more. These days publishers want series, so I make sure we have synopses for at least two more books. When we think the project is ready we discuss the houses where we think it belongs. Then I call editors to chat and ultimately submit. Then we wait. In the past, we waited only a few weeks. Now it can be months. Publishers are understaffed and overwhelmed.

The entire time it’s crucial that writers be informed. I tell them where and when we submit. If a client emails or calls, I get back to them within 24 hours, even if it’s to say I can’t talk but will and when. And the same is true for my clients. I like to be cc’ed on all emails between them and business contacts so that I can see if I need to step in at anytime and to also see where projects are going.

When the offer and/or contract comes from a publisher, we go over every aspect of it. We consider not just the deal itself, but how it relates to a career.

It’s important to remember that no two clients are the same, so the strategy and tactics are not the same. To do what I do, you need to listen and be flexible. And that’s what I do.

So friends, do you have questions for the writer or the agent about our sometimes complicated (but not so complicated) relationship?  Ask us here….

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20 thoughts on “Our take on the writer/agent relationship”

  1. We’re very similar (to describe myself I usually tell people I’m a redheaded, Irish/Italian Capricorn – I can’t help the way I am, I was born this way! ;D), except I love vacations! lol This is great information – thanks for sharing Jennifer & Eric.

  2. Hi, Eric. Nice to see you at the Scribes today. What do you think are the biggest challenges agents and writers face today in getting work traditionally published, and is there anything we can do to increase the odds (other than write a great book, of course)?

  3. Eric, so good to have you visit the Scribes. And thanks for the short story about Jen, I wasn’t aware there was a “no” before there was a “yes.” You have second thoughts and flexibility, and you are from Brooklyn. That’s my favorite part. Thank you for the agent process information. Great!

  4. Hi, guys. Thanks for the peek behind the curtain. I find Jennifer’s MOD series inspiring on a lot of levels, enough so that I’m wondering if writing a non-fiction book is a good “starter” for beginning a career as an author? Then again, some of my fave best-selling genre authors now also publish NF, but I only buy their fiction. Does non-fiction attract an entirely different audience than fiction?

  5. Thanks Jennifer, for bringing Eric along for a little Q&A. What an awesome idea! I have a couple of questions:

    1) Is there any benefit for an Indie-pubbed author to work with a an agent?
    2) Are there any agents scouting the Indie-pub market for standouts? What do they look for?
    3) How do you see the role for agents in the shrinking market of traditional publishing? is there a shift in the way you do business?

    That was a few, not a couple of questions…sorry:-) Maybe we should sit down and have a talk, LOL.

    Thanks again for spending the day with us.

    1. Indie pubbed authors can work with an agent if they have had big indie success to move to “traditional” publishing. I don’t scout but some may. I think agents are going to go from making deals to managing careers. I will be focusing on counseling writers and protecting their legal rights, navigating an increasingly complicated landscape.

  6. Eric and Jenn, fabulous post on working together. Eric – how do you see the author/agent relationship changing in the new world of publishing? So many options and so many publishers not requiring agents any longer. How does the agent fit into that world and what should authors be looking for from an agent?

      1. I think that is an excellent point – shifting from making deals to managing careers. It’s a whole new world for authors, publishers and agents. Everything is going to be different. I look forward to seeing what it brings. I think you both demonstrated the most important aspect – communication. Thank you for sharing!!

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