Dear Miss Snark,
Last November I signed with a former acquisitions editor turned literary agent to represent my narrative nonfiction manuscript. I am her first client (she now has two). Previously I had approached agents with bigger names and garnered some interest, but no offers of representation. I was impressed by her professionalism and background in the field, and I felt she could sell my book if it was salable.
We were getting ready to send out my proposal to publishers when I learned this weekend that she was about to start a full-time office job. She has two young children to support and is taking this job to obtain benefits and a stable income while her freelance business gets off the ground. She claims that she will be able to make necessary communications with editors during breaks and her lunch hour--which will fall between 2 and 3 PM EST. She has offered to release me from my contract, but still believes strongly that she can do the job.
What do you think? Moonlighting can work in plenty of occupations, but can it work for a literary agent? What level of availability and instantaneous response do editors expect from agents? Naturally, I would prefer to make this decision before she has contacted publishers on my behalf, rather than after.
Since I don't have firsthand experience with this aspect of publishing culture, I thought I would try asking the recognized expert. Thank you for any insight you can provide.
It's entirely possible she'll do a fine job. Editors rarely expect instantaneous answers.
Why I think this is a bad idea is the answer to a question you didn't ask but I'm going to answer anyway.
You'll always be third. Her kids needs will come first (and I'm not saying they shouldn't). Her job will come second (and were I the one paying her that salary and bennies, I'd fully expect and demand that too). You, the client will come after. Always.
There are days, and more than a few, when the fecal matter hits the whirly bird. I've learned to plan only four hours a day at most, because the other 8 are generally taken up with things that pop up and need to be dealt with promptly. Yesterday it was negotiating a contract point that I'd thought was settled but the editor didn't. And then there were two developments with projects on submissions that meant I had to call the clients and get them started on stuff right away.
Yes I can do that after hours or on lunch hour, and yes your agent only has two clients to juggle.
Here's the other reason: a good agent is pro-active. I read the trades every day. I read them to stay abreast of news my clients can use. I probably make 10 calls or emails a day that don't turn into anything, but that doesn't mean I don't do it. One will, and you have to make those useless ones to get the right one. I also read a lot of ancillary stuff, a lot of it on the web, and sometimes that info is of great use to my clients. And I go to readings, and parties, and other industry related events to stay in the loop.
This is the piece of the job that will NEVER get done by someone only able to work part time.
This is a hard decision and one for which there is no cut and dried answer.
Your agent seems very upfront and honest in her dealings with you. I'm sure she has good intentions. Miss Snark, fan of Satan that she is, knows well what paves the road to Hell.