Work Life Balance as a Literary Agent

Work pre-computers is not the same as it is with them. The expectations of clocking in and out are not realistic, as most people who work in anything corporate, freelance, etc., are aware.

I am a tools/systems person. I like developing them for myself, researching them, and perfecting them. If there is a way I can make something more efficient in my life, I will do it, with gusto.

Working in book publishing–an industry that regularly refers to the Gutenberg press as if it were yesterday–has it’s limitations because any system that exists is analog to the extreme, and there are very few consistent systems across the industry even for specific types of roles. Which is frustrating when some of the mind numbing work and communications could be solved by technology. Start-ups and tech companies, for all their faults, are so new that they don’t have 50+ year old ways of doing tasks.

And here will be an ongoing list of resources and things I do to make my work/life balance possible:

  • Digital audio reading: Voicedream is the app that helps me with reading manuscripts. I put all my “to read” files in a linked Google drive folder (that is also linked to my desktop), put that email in the client folder in my email, and tell them to book a time on my calendar at least 2 weeks out to discuss edits.
  • Meetings scheduler: I use Google calendar for multiple types of meetings: client meetings, general meetings, and informational interviews. When I have a manuscript going to auction, I also make a meeting scheduler for that as well. This sends calendar invites, maintains my calendar, prevents conflicts, works with my meeting transcription extension, allows for captions, and more.
  • Brevity: In e-mails, I am big on word economy. The shorter your email the better. I also use line breaks, bullet points, and conclusions for helping me and the person on the other end with comprehension and anxiety in the email. I also encourage it in the reverse. Formality may be nice and all, but it is useless if it means the email never is read, responded to, or creates ineffective systems.
  • Reward systems: I was getting spooked by the number of emails that needed a genuine response, and my partner promised me a kiss for email I got rid of/responded to. And even though that’s not the most realistic, implementing a reward system is 100% reasonable. 10 emails is a bag of m&ms? Or a sticker? 100 emails taken care of means thai food delivery?
  • Outbox off: I turn off my email connection. I use outlook but I’m sure others have it, where you can work offline or turn off your outbox. That way there’s nothing new coming in as I’m getting things done. Some of the emails in my outbox can just be edited and amended to include things from another chain in my inbox that someone else decided to mention in a separate chain to prevent additional emails in others’ inboxes. Plus it feels less Sisyphean, because you are actually clearing to-do’s, without new ones getting added to the list.
  • No more unnecessary emails: I no longer send flowery thanks, if any sort of thanks. As nice as it is to thank people, we’re all drowning. And we’d all like to cut down on even 1% of emails just to not have the “thanks” back and forth.
  • Submissions: I am using Airtable for tracking my submissions, so clients can view the editor responses at their own time and pace and emotional will; I don’t hand hold as much, and I can just file and move on quickly without adding emails to the process.
  • Unusual work days/hours: I also have 2 days set aside for admin (no meetings if I can help it) where one is a weekend day, 2 for meetings, 2 for personal/medical stuff on weekdays (cause it’s damn near impossible to get stuff done on weekends), and then a day of real rest. This I realize is super unrealistic for a chunk of people, but I was killing myself trying to do therapy and chiropractic appointments back to back with work meetings and it was taking an emotional/mental toll to do work back to back with doctors appointments or real life errands. I have unusual work hours too, because I am not functional at 10am, but am the most functional at 7pm. As part of my email signature I include: I choose to work flexibly & send emails outside normal office hours. No need to respond to my emails outside yours.
  • Auto-response: some of the people I interact with are interacting with me not on a daily basis, but the lack of instant response causes them anxiety, when in reality I just haven’t gotten to it yet, but my response will be fine. To alleviate anxiety all around, I have an auto response on perpetually for this: This is confirmation of my receiving your email. In order to maintain some semblance of work/life balance, I do admin on specific days of the week, including most email, and appreciate your patience in awaiting my response in the meantime. Clients: if something needs an answer more immediately, please text me at [phone number] (on WhatsApp, text, or iMessage). I will get back to you as soon as is possible.
  • Alarm clock: I have an alarm clock on my desk separate from the clock on my computer so I both stop when I need to but have a better awareness of time in general.
  • Inbox processing: I get around 200 emails a week just for work. I process them by starting with any email that has “unsubscribe” and then from there my steps vary but some ways I like to go about clearing my inbox include: going a-z by folder on the left with a key search term (mine are client names, so I search their name in my inbox to process all their related emails); key words like “payment,” “contracts,” “urgent,”; as well as sorting by file size. Any way to vary the sorting helps me feel like the way I am working through my emails is not monotonous.