Pub Rants

Two Clients For The Year 2008

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STATUS: Gotta love the Denver weather forecasts. Yesterday a weather person mentioned that there might be a slight chance of flurries during the morning commute. Yeah, it started snowing at 5 a.m. and by the time rush hour hit, there was close to a half of foot of snow on the ground. Snowstorm didn’t end until 10 this morning. Slight flurries turned into about 7 inches worth of snow in downtown Denver—probably more near the foothills. Still, I’m cheery. I like a good snow—otherwise I wouldn’t live here!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD by Van Morrison

When I posted my end of year stats, there were a lot of comments on that fact that I had only taken on 2 clients for all of last year. Why only 2? It’s a good question so I did a little ruminating on the subject. I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share.

1. Yes, I took on only 2 clients for the year of 2008. But take a moment to look at the end of year stats for 2007. I took on 8 clients. That was a huge spit of growth in a short period of time. I’m only one person and there’s only so much I can do in my day to service my client list. Yes, I delegate to Sara, to my contracts manager, to my subrights people, to my foreign rights representative, to my film co-agents but all of that still needs oversight. I’ve gotten a real sense of what I can manage and still be a good agent to my clients. Two makes complete sense in that context.

2. No, my client list is not “full.” I’m still reading fulls and looking at projects but I have to say that how I look at them has shifted. I’ve got a great list. I really have to love the project to take it on.

Please note here that my loving the project is not the same as the project being salable.
I can pass on a project that another agent takes on and then sells. I know for a fact that this happened several times in 2008 so obviously I passed on some worthy projects. And yet, I didn’t sigh in regret when I saw the deals posted [except for one project and I blogged about that].

I’m not the final arbitrator on a novel’s sell ability. My NO really means very little if you think about it in this context.

3. Sara and I looked at 88 manuscripts. Several were close calls for us but ultimately, when all the factors came down to it, we were only passionate about two of them to make the full commitment.

Now I know that writers often perceive agents as gatekeepers but in my situation, it’s really wasn’t a question of gate-keeping so much as time commitment. Think of it this way; it takes just as much time for me to take on, work on, and then submit a novel that sells for 5k as it does for 500k. In this light, I should only take on the novels that will sell for big money, right? Seems cost effective … and yet I, and other agents take on “small” projects all the time—projects we know aren’t necessarily going to go to auction or sell for big money but yet we love the story; we see the author’s potential. They might not get the big money out of the gate but we believe in the growth. But you gotta have the passion for the project and the author to wait for the big pay off which, by the way, may never come. Not all authors break out.

So yes, I took on only 2 authors last year but I gave those two my absolute all without (hopefully!) neglecting other clients.

And no, don’t ask me when my client list will be “full” as I don’t have an answer to that. It balances and changes on so many factors.

14 Responses

  1. Doug said:

    Kristin, I just started reading your blog, and I have to say it is a wealth of information. A lot of it is validation of information I have heard from podcasts, writer conferences, etc. but the 2 client number was very interesting. Also, I felt your explanation makes perfect sense. I know you said that you don’t necessarily always think about monetary issues when signing a client, but I am curious about how you feel you will do with the 2 clients that you did sign up.
    Doug P.

  2. L.C. Gant said:

    I agree with Doug. Thanks so much for the breakdown on your thought process about choosing clients. It really helped put things in perspective.

    Sometimes it’s so hard for us writers to see past the rejections; we forget to look at the bigger picture. There are clearly many factors at work in an agent’s decision to take on a client, and the quality of the work is only one of them. Thanks for the insight, Kristin!

  3. Eileen said:

    This post is one reason that I encourage new writers to think about new agents. Agents who are early in their career are actively looking to add more clients for all the reasons that more established agents are reluctant to take on more clients.

    I encourage writers to look at things like if the new agent is working with more established agents or a part of a strong agency etc so they get the experience.

  4. Mike Harris-Stone said:


    Thanks so much for elaborating on the statistic. The tough odds made a real impression on me. For an aspiring writer like myself, it’s priceless being to understand all sides of the business.

    You clearly care a lot about what you do. If I’m ever accepted by an agent, I hope she or he shows the same commitment to their clients that you do.

  5. Sarah Jensen said:

    Post like this, not only make you very human, but even more likable. It makes perfect sense to take on what you feel you can handle. I’d rather have an agent who did that as apposed to one who took me on and then didn’t work for my benefit as well.
    So good job.
    Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

  6. James Buchanan said:

    I think one of the things that gets lost on a lot of writers, especially new ones, but also experienced writers, is how much of this business comes down to two factors–subjectivity and establishing a connection with an editor or agent.

    By subjectivity I mean that you may have written a very good book or have a great idea, but it has to mate with a likeminded editor or agent.

    As to connections, there are two meanings. The first is the traditional concept of having a personal relationship or knowing someone with a personal relationship with an editor or agent to get you in the front door. The other is a little less tangible and comes in the query letter where you establish your project and who you are as a writer. By being able to hit the right notes–a shared MFA program, strong publishing history, or some other means to connect you with the person–you can build credibility and attract a little attention.

    James Buchanan

  7. Madison said:

    Balancing out your client list is a very smart business move, Ms. Nelson. That’s probably one reason why you are one of the best. 🙂

    I’m glad you mentioned that sometimes agents pass on projects, but it’s not because they’re not sellable. Sometimes we writers need reminding of that, so, thanks! 😀

  8. Anonymous said:

    I think you said something like this a couple of years ago when I was submitting queries on my first book project, and it really helped me.

    The truth is that an agent has to not only think the project is written well, they have to believe in the potential of the project and the author, and then be able to think of one of their editor contacts to whom they could sell it.

    The entire industry isn’t open to each agent… they specialize, like most people do within an industry.

    And those things are a great lesson to any beginning writer–it definitely made me do my research.

  9. Anonymous said:

    “Not all authors break out.”

    Um, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but hardly ANY authors “break out” do they?

    Doesn’t “break out” imply the NYT best-sellers list? As in, lotsa cash?

    (I’m not being an ass — I really want to know…)

  10. Jean said:

    The best advice my parents gave me: “Do what you love.” It sounds like you have a similar mantra for picking projects and I admire that.

    It’s also got to be easier selling something you truly love.

    Keep on trucking girl!

  11. ink and beans said:

    How do you keep track of the manuscripts you pass on that end up getting picked up? Do you just see them on the shelves one day, or do the authors you rejected call to brag? (I’m kidding, but then again I suppose it’s possible… can’t blame a vindcated author for partaking in some petty gloating). Maybe competing agents call to brag?

    – Jim

    Who’s Your Writing Nemesis? Here’s Why James Michener Is Mine. Also: Guess My Old Nemesis and Fun Musical Prize.

  12. Dal Jeanis said:

    That analogy would only be true if there were sufficient $500K projects crossing your desk to take up your available time.

    But clearly you should only take the projects that you strongly connect to, since the time commitment for each one is significant. Life’s too short to read bad books, or champion books that you don’t love unconditionally.