A Case Manager’s Thoughts on Agenting

Hi friends!

In case you don’t follow me on Twitter, I’ll share that this whole week I’ve been locked in a battle with a mouse in my apartment, and I am currently sitting on my bedroom floor behind a towel and bin at the door barricade in order to write this. For you.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking this week about agents and all the crazy things they have to do and keep up with, and it reminded me in some ways of my job. For most of my professional career I’ve worked for various nonprofits as a case manager, which is like another word for Person Who Connects People To Things, and so for this rainy Thursday I’ve come up with a short list of ways they are similar which might help you wrap your mind around the whole agent thing like it did me.

1) Both case managers and agents have limited time for a million needs

Right now I have a case load of approximately forty clients, which has been a relatively standard number in the various jobs I’ve had. Now, let’s recall that in theory there are forty hours in a workweek – this means I would have one hour per week per client, assuming I never went to any meetings, didn’t take lunch breaks, didn’t have to drive to get to any appointments, and had no other delays such as a malfunctioning computer. And that’s without adding any new clients, despite our waiting list. Now let’s imagine I have two clients. One is about to lose their home, and one needs help taking out the trash. It’s a simple fact of comparing the needs against each other that I have to help the one with the bigger issue first, and an even worse fact that that’s not a one hour issue and is going to chop into the time I might have otherwise used to connect the other client with someone to take their trash out for them. Multiply this by an entire case load and you have *explosion*.

Translating this to the agent world, many agents receive 300-500 queries PER WEEK…and none of them have anything to do with the clients they already have, who may be in the midst of contract negotiations, sending in new books, pub days, etc. Once I think about my own work week, which, let’s face it, forty hours? Please, and the number of clients I have versus an agent and the clients and hours they have, it is no longer so puzzling to me that things can take so much time.

2) Both case managers and agents are human beings

I like doing things besides work. I have bad days where I’m exhausted or upset and not as productive as usual. I like to go home and have a real meal, I like to read and work on my books. I’m in graduate school, which means hours and hours of homework. Work, while important, is just one piece of a full life.

Why would we think agents are any different?

3) Both case managers and agents are organized and deadline driven

I use no less than three calendars at work. I track application deadlines, benefit limits, appointments, meetings, follow up on tasks, emails, phone calls, and everything else. My calendar revolves around plugging in the big, important deadlines for paperwork and things that I absolutely cannot miss, then required appointments and meetings, then everything else.

Though I have of course never been an agent, I’d imagine of necessity it works the same way – first the deadlines, then the meetings and appointments that have to happen that month or else, and then everything else packed in around it.

Exhausting, you say? That’s not the exhausting part. The exhausting part of case management, and, I’d assume, of agenting, is that we work with people. People are wonderful and beautiful and kind and creative but they are also wildly unpredictable, and more often than not that beautiful schedule you created for yourself is toast by 9 am. I’ve learned to be comfortable with uncertainty and gray areas, and I’d imagine an agent has to be pretty comfortable there too.

4) Both case managers and agents can’t solve all the problems and may wrestle with guilt from time to time

When someone comes to me with an issue and I can’t help them, that’s a huge burden. Maybe the resources don’t exist, maybe they don’t qualify, or maybe they get denied for whatever reason, but the guilt that comes with not being able to help everyone with everything can be a consuming thing. There’s a sense that the work is never done, that maybe I should have just stayed one more hour, finished one more task, made one more call…and so on until I’m going crazy with it.

Take this and multiply it by however many thousands of people an agent comes in contact with, and that’s a massive weight to have on someone’s shoulders.  I’ve never read about a single agent who likes sending rejections, and the idea of having to say no to so many people every day makes me sad thinking about it. You might be angry, hurt, or offended by a rejection or other interaction, and I’m not saying you have to feel awesome, but don’t assume the world, or agents, are out to get you. You have no idea what sort of thought may have gone into that rejection, or why something is taking longer than you think it should. (and yes, there are some agents – and some case managers – who are just rude, nasty, not nice people. Because they are people, and sometimes people fail us. But the majority have good hearts.)

5) Both case mangers and agents do what they do because they are passionate about it

After all the things above – more work than we could ever accomplish in any decent time frame, the stress of managing a thousand things at once, the guilt over what we can’t do and when we have to say no, and the crazy balancing act of doing our best for everyone and staying on top of everything as best we can – why does a case manager or an agent keep doing their job?

Because of passion. Because we love people, or stories, or helping people find the one thing they need to achieve a goal, or making a dream come true, whatever. I have a passion for what I do, and even though some days I’m tired, cranky, or in dire need of a bag of chocolate, that passion sees me through. I think it’s safe to assume passion sees agents through their work too.

What do you think? Does what you do for a day job or in other circumstances help you understand some facet of publishing or writing?

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