Strategic Relationship Management, Part 4

The Ideal Agent

In part 1 of this series, I outlined the concept of Strategic Relationship Management. So far, I have applied these principles to publishers and authors. Today, I want to apply them to agents.


I was a literary agent for six years, so I am speaking here from experience. What would the ideal, high-profit, low-maintenance agent look like from the publisher’s perspective? Here are fifteen characteristics:

Profile of the Ideal Agent
High ProfitLow Profit
1. Demonstrates a win-win financial paradigm.1. Demonstrates a win-lose financial paradigm.
2. Understands basic publishing economics.2. Doesn’t understand basic publishing economics and doesn’t seem to care.
3. Has clients who generally recoup their advances.3. Has clients who generally don’t recoup their advances.
4. Places more value on long-term relationships than short term transactions.4. Places more value on short-term transactions than long-term relationships.
5. Routinely sends us every new proposal.5. Doesn’t send us every new proposal.
6. Does lots of business with us and the volume is increasing.6. Doesn’t do much business with us.
Low MaintenanceHigh Maintenance
7. Sees the publisher as a partner (i.e., a customer), values his role, and reinforces it with the author.7. Sees the publisher as an adversary (i.e., “the enemy”), regards him as a necessary evil, and is constantly undermining his role with the author.
8. Prepares well thought out proposals and follows our proposal format.8. Sends us weak or incomplete proposals, requiring us to do his or her work before it is presentable.
9. Provides collateral sales material when it is available (e.g., audios, videos, previous books, etc.)9. Does not provide collateral sales material and seems unwilling to get it.
10. Is honest with us—tells us the good, the bad, and the ugly.10. Is not honest with us—only tells us the good and often exaggerates that.
11. Responds promptly to phone calls, e-mails, and other inquiries.11. Doesn’t respond to our phone calls, e-mails, or other inquiries in a timely manner.
12. Quickly passes on our requests to the author.12. Sits on our requests then blames us when the author complains about being rushed.
13. Gives us the benefit of the doubt and encourages his clients to do the same.13. Looks for opportunities to catch us doing something wrong and then points it out to the author.
14. Steps in and helps us when the author is not cooperating.14. Tells us (in so many words), “You’re on your own. Good luck!”
15. Expresses gratitude and encourages his clients to do the same.15. Rarely expresses gratitude and almost never encourages his clients to express gratitude.

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  • Paul Watson

    Thank you so much for your blog. It’s nice to be able to learn something new everyday in such a concise format.

    You mentioned that literary agents need to understand ‘basic publishing economics.’ What are some good resources for someone new to the industry to develop this understanding?


  • Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog

    Michael Hyatt on Relationship Management

    Question: How often can you get advice from someone who is a publishing executive but has also been a literary agent and author? Answer: Anytime you read Michael Hyatt’s blog. I wanted to call particular attention to recent series of

  • Michael Hyatt


    I wish I had a source to give you on publishing economics, but I don’t. Perhaps I will write on this at some point.



  • Scott

    Mike, I run Lemstone. I was hoping that there would be a progression from authors and agents as strategic partners to retailers and specifically, Christian retail. On a related subject, while I understand your move away from Advance, most Christian retailers would be hard pressed to take the time to visit the home offices of all the strategic vendors, should your competitors choose to follow your lead. It feels to me like an approach that will further pressure the industry, rather than help pull it together.

  • Michael Hyatt


    This is a great idea. I will look for an opportunity to expand this.

    With regard to visiting other vendors, here’s our thinking. We don’t think the channel needs two shows, period. Between rep visits to your store and ICRS, you get to connect with all your vendors any way.

    The truth is that 95% of the vendors won’t do what we are doing. The reason we are willing to paying your expenses is because we don’t want it to be one more event that you have to pay for. (I get that your time is valuable, too.)

    We want to make this an incredible experience that is compelling. But if it’s not, retailers vote with their feet (as they have done with Advance), and we’ll try something else.

    As I said in my Q&A the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results. We need to try some new things. Not everything we try will work. But the one thing I know for sure: what we have been doing is not working—at least for us.

    Thanks for your feedback,


  • Nathaniel Holzmann

    FYI, the picture on this post is missing. You also have a huge amount of whitespace in the article.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Ugh. I wrote these back with my previous blog. I guess it is about time I updated these posts. Thanks for the reminder.