I give a lot of writing advice on this blog, but today I wanted to talk about the process of being an agent from a writer’s perspective. I’ve gone over what an agent does and what we do on a daily basis, but sometimes writers think it’s a good idea to pursue working in publishing, specifically agenting, in order to help them get their book published.
These are two very different sides of the publishing business. I know agents who are writers–that’s no problem at all–but it’s different if you are an aspiring author and the purpose of working in publishing is to get published.
Publishing is full of book lovers. And agents actually do a lot of writing: proposal writing, pitch letter writing, marketing plan writing and more. This job is full of writing, but it’s not generally creative writing.
It’s hard to get a job in publishing and if you don’t have the credentials (a publishing degree or diploma, or relevant industry experience) it’s going to be even harder. It’s extremely hard to be a professional writer and beat the odds. However, working in publishing is not going to give you any shortcuts.
When I was interviewed for my first job in publishing, a literary agency assistant, one of the first interview questions was: “Do you write?”
At first I thought “Is that a prerequisite for the job? Do I need to be a good writer to work in the business?” But I soon realized they weren’t asking to make sure I can craft an edit letter, they were asking to make sure I wasn’t going to be pitching my projects within a month of working there. Getting a job at an agency is not going give you a leg up on the competition. Reviewing manuscripts isn’t just reading, it’s also critically evaluating them. It’s not all fun and games at an agency, it’s a lot of hard work, tough decisions, and long hours.
A literary agency is a determined, focused, purposeful side of the business. And one of the most rewarding, in my opinion. Our sole agenda is to represent creative talent, secure them the best deals possible, and manage their brands and careers.
Agents get into this business because they care to advocate for author rights, are great talent spotters, and understand all the inner workings of the publishing business.
There are no shortcuts to making it in this business, or making it as a writer–sorry to break it to you. In order to follow your dreams (to be an author or work in publishing) you have to be ready to work hard. I’m not doling out revolutionary advice today, but a reminder not to get off track. I’m definitely not saying that you can’t do both (write and work in publishing), but I’m warning writers against thinking they will get special treatment.
The only way to get published is to write a fantastic book and get it into the hands of the right people–the right people for you.