Things I Wish I Knew: Kurestin Armada’s First Year of Agenting

photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173Being an agent is a tough job in general. Your first year of being an agent is one of the toughest of your career if not your life! Not only are you learning as you go, you’re also acquiring clients and building your career from the ground up. I likened my first year or two of agenting to a startup. We have to pitch ourselves to prospective clients, start a brand from scratch, network all the time in person and online, work around the clock (often while having other jobs) and keep up with all kinds of reading and events while our brain expands with new industry knowledge. Not to mention we have other people’s careers in our hands! We take that very seriously.

Today, we have P.S. Literary Associate Agent Kurestin Armada with 3 “Things I Wish I Knew” about being an agent. She just finished her first year at PSLA and we’re so glad to have her. Follow her on Twitter for more. Here, she reflects on her year:

Network with Your Peers

I knew going into this that I would need to constantly be looking for ways to network with authors and editors, the two groups I’m looking to more or less “get something from” to make connections and deals. But I didn’t realize until further into things how important networking with fellow agents would be! Google hangouts, happy hours, snatching meals at a conference, and of course Twitter, all of these are ways I can touch base with other agents. We let off steam, we laugh, and I get to hear so many stories about how other agents tackle things.

Agents have many different methods and viewpoints, and we’re a remarkably open group when it comes to helping each other. I always leave these hangouts feel refreshed and energized, and maybe with an extra tool tucked into my belt for the next time. It’s easy to think of networking as always trying to get an “in” somewhere, but really, it’s also about building a support system of other people who have been in the exact same place.

Trust Yourself

Initially building my list was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience. I knew that the things I brought on had to have two qualities: 1. I really enjoyed the book and could read it five times and not be tired of it, 2. I could see its place in the market. But when it came time to go through the first wave of submissions, I kept wondering… will I know it when I see it? Will it feel that noticeably different when I encounter a manuscript I want to offer on?

The answer is of course, yes, it does feel that noticeably different. As I’ve encountered the feeling a few times now, I’ve begun to sense earlier on in a manuscript when I’m probably going to offer on it. There’s the feeling of excitement that hits, when I start to think “Oh please, let the second half of this book be just as good!” If I get to a certain point and haven’t felt that flare of excitement, and I feel like I could put the book down and never care what happens next? I know then that it’s not going to work out long term. FOMO (fear of missing out) is always a ghost over your shoulder, but at some point you just need to trust the taste, experience, and skills you’re bringing to the table.

Protect Your Time, and Don’t Feel Bad About It

This is one I’m still working on, admittedly. Working on creative pursuits, or working from a home office, or having a flexible schedule can all lead to people thinking you’re eternally free and available. It can be difficult to enforce the boundaries around your work time gently but firmly, but it’s also incredibly important. Just because you’re in the next room, doesn’t mean you can help solve every family dispute!

I also need to protect my time from myself, oddly enough. Since I work from home, it’s very easy to get drawn into doing just one more hour of work, until suddenly it’s 12pm and I need to go to bed. For a while I was doing nothing outside of work, literally no other activities besides eating and sleeping, and that was really bad for me. Now I make sure I spend a certain number of hours in a week reading “for fun” (which is really necessary market research!), and I stop working a couple of hours before bed so I can knit or watch TV. I try not to feel too guilty about these times, because I know I’m overall in a better state of mind (and thus more productive in my work hours) when I make time for relaxing. Sometimes I even take a whole day off on the weekend!

Kurestin Armada began her publishing career as an intern with Workman Publishing, and spent time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency before joining P.S. Literary. She holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, as well as a publishing certificate from Columbia University. Kurestin is based in New York City, and spends most of her time in the city’s thriving indie bookstores. She reads widely across genres, and has a particular affection for science fiction and fantasy, especially books with a fresh spin on a familiar trope. Query her at query(at)psliterary(dot)com.

Time, Fear and Talent: Why You Need All Three Tenets To Make It as a Writer

There are no magic formulas that agents are hiding from writers. Or secrets that published authors are hiding from unpublished authors. But there are a few things that can act like a key to unlock potential. I believe these three things are all it takes to make it in this business.

Time: Books don’t write themselves. Last week I asked people if they have a writing schedule. It was unanimous that while some people have strict schedules (up at 5am to write!) everyone believed you have to find a way to get the words on the page at a regular basis. While most people thought that a writer doesn’t have to write everyday to be a writer, they DO need to buckle down to get it done.

Fear: No matter how important it is to be fearless in your writing, you’re always chasing your fears away. For most writers, they never disappear. I encourage writers to write from a place of questions, not answers. What scares you about human nature? How can you persevere through those fears to write something meaningful? What makes you feel uncomfortable? Writers are also really good at wanting to improve with each book. Writing a thoughtful novel isn’t easy! If it was easy everyone would be doing it. Learning how to dig deep and think honestly about humanity and morality is the grit it takes to bring your writing to the next level.

Talent: It’s inherent, but it can also be taught to a certain extent. It’s also something unique that all published writers find their own way to discovering: their voice and their talent. Watch this video from Ira Glass on how you have to get through those early first ideas or first drafts to get to the raw talent on the other side…

Q: What do you think of these three tenets?  What would you add?

Q: Does a virtual presence ACTUALLY help you get a literary agent?

Social MediaElizabeth A. Havey asks “Does a virtual presence on the net help find an agent?”

This is the question on most writers’ minds when they think about the intersection of the book business and social media.

The simple answer is for non fiction authors it’s a MUST and for fiction authors it doesn’t matter at the time of querying.

I’ve covered the topic non fiction platform ad nauseum here, here and here. But the authors commonly asking about platform are debut writers looking to break into the industry.

Debut Fiction Writers: Focus on your Writing

Agents repeat over and over again: it’s the writing that matters. Don’t spend energy on social media that could be spent towards finishing your first draft, brainstorming your next novel, or going through copy edits. Your commodity as a writer is your craft. No editor ever signed up a serious debut fiction author based on their 140 character tweets. Yes, we look at your Twitter feed, if you have one, but it does not make or break you.

The Value of Twitter for Fiction Authors

So what is Twitter good for then if not wasting time? Twitter is a place for authors–who live a very solitary existence–to engage with other writers going through the same experience, follow industry veterans, follow writers they admire, and learn about how the book business works. It can be a black hole that sucks all your time and energy, or it can be a tool that makes writers feel less alone and help them feel like they have control about the outcome of their career based on research (i.e. following agents and editors).

Why You’ll Need Social Media AFTER A Book Deal

Yes, your publicity team will want you to be on Facebook or Twitter to let your network know you have a book out. If you have a mailing list from your blog or newsletter, they’ll want to know you can send out a blast when the book comes out. But if you don’t write a terrific book to begin with then your network won’t be helpful in spreading the news word of mouth. Normally, from book deal to publication is about a year. That’s 12 months to build your platform. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough followers when you submit your novel to agents. Let us know that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make the book a success and that you’ve started.

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