New Girl on the Book(s)

An Internship Experience in a Literary Agency

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You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Why an Agent?

With my internship nearing the end, it sadly means that my very first experience in the publishing world is, too. In these few short weeks, I have learned so much about the industry. More than I could have ever imagined. However, of course, I’ve especially become familiar with the role of a literary agent in the publishing process.

But, there’s a question that my adviser posed to me in the comments of one of my previous posts: Does an author necessarily need an agent to get published? The answer to this is no. In today’s world, self-publishing makes companies, such as Amazon, directly accessible to writers. So, essentially an author no longer needs to go through an agent.

Here are all the alternatives to traditional publishing!

Here are all the alternatives to traditional publishing!

Yet, this question got me thinking a little deeper and reading more articles on what exactly the purpose is of an agent today. I came to the conclusion that a few qualities set an agent apart and give authors an advantage in the industry.

1.  The Matchmaking Business

First of all, it’s the agent’s responsibility to know the industry. An agent works to build connections to editors in various big and small publishing houses to find a great fit for the author. Agents know their authors and they know editors. Playing the role of matchmaker, an agent should automatically be thinking about what editor a manuscript would appeal to while reading an author’s work (as I talked about in this post). By querying an agent first, an author essentially already submits to multiple editors that will most certainly be a good fit.

2. Submissions

Going off the first point, a lot of big publishers refuse submissions that don’t come directly from an agent. So, not only do agents know the preferences of editors, they give authors access to even more publishing houses. Moreover, an agent helps editors by saving them time. By reading through all of the submissions before they reach editors, agents weed out the manuscripts that still need revising before taking the next step toward publication.

3. Contracts & Rights

This advantage is very straightforward. Publishing houses look out for their own interests in the publishing process and it’s the agent’s responsibility to ensure that the author maintains rights to his work. Plus, agents specialize in the language of book contracts, and thus, know what to look for when negotiating it.

And last, but most certainly not least…

4. The Author/Agent Relationship

From my experience this summer, I’ve realized that one advantage truly sets the agent apart in the publishing process: the author/agent relationship.

The biggest difference between an editor and agent lies in how deep the relationship goes. While an author may have great rapport with both an agent and editor, the relationships differ greatly. With an editor, the end goal is to read and revise the manuscript, sculpting it into a finished product ready to hit bookstore shelves. The author and editor work together to edit the book and ensure its success, but that’s about as deep as it goes. Of course, the focus of the editor/author relationship should be the book. But, after the book is published, then the editor’s work is done.

On the other hand, the relationship between an author and agent goes much deeper. When an agent makes the decision to take on an author, she is in it for the long-haul, so you better get comfortable. This summer, I got to witness this specifically by being an in-office intern. Hearing Paige talk about some of her authors like old friends showed me exactly what an agent’s main role is. While an agent works to get a manuscript ready to submit, her main responsibility is not to edit the book. Rather, her primary purpose is to befriend and take care of the author.

On the CMA website, Paige provides a guide to a good agent/author relationship. In short, however, an editor works with the book; an agent works with the author.

Until next time!

A[u]ctions Speak Louder

I mentioned in my last post that an agent can submit to editors in two ways, either in a wide or targeted submission. Well, I learned this past week in Intern Academy that one of the benefits of doing a wide submission is it opens up the possibility of an auction.

A is for Auction

Auctions tend to happen more for nonfiction than for fiction, because with fiction emotional  factors tend to appeal to specific individual editors rather than a whole group. Whereas with nonfiction, normally editors’ interests focus around the author.

But, what exactly is an auction in the book publishing world? An auction happens whenever an agent has more than one bidder interested in a project. Preferably, it is better if there are three or more bidders, but it does not always happen that way.

Now, how does an auction work?

The Rules of the Game

When you begin to have interest in a project, you want to start putting together the “auction rules.” This is the fun part for agents, because there are absolutely no set rules to follow. As an agent, it is up to you to create the guidelines for how the auction will operate. Everyone approaches it differently, but there are popular approaches, such as the best bid style.

Bids, Bids, Bids

The most common type of auction is the “best bid.” As the name states, this approach requires interested publishers to give their best bid amount. Typically, the project normally goes to the highest bid. However, the agent is under no obligation to take the highest financial bid. Other factors contribute to the bid appeal, such as financial support for promotions, editor rapport, etc. It’s the agents responsibility to look at the overall and complete offer.

SOLD to…

When the auction comes to a close, it’s important to keep the winner a secret until you negotiate the deal terms. This step in the process is where it gets tricky. The contract has to be worked out in terms of general information, subsidiary rights, royalties, and other negotiable terms. Once the hard contract comes in, both the agent and author must read the fine print to make sure the author is getting the best deal. In the long run, these fine print details could mean the difference to the author’s payout if/when a book sells well.

Contracts are the key point in the process; without a contract the book deal does not exist and will not reach bookstore shelves! (For a more in-depth look at negotiating book contracts, check out this site!) However, contracts take practice, and experience is the best teacher. The agent is the author’s best friend when it comes to negotiating contracts, for it’s the agent who ultimately has the author’s best interest at heart.

Auctions definitely seem like the most daunting part of the publishing process. There are so many little details that could make or break a deal’s success! Luckily, auctions only occur every so often.

Until next time!

Lunching for a Living: Networking as an Agent

Breakfasts, lunches, coffees, parties, and more–I bet you didn’t know that the life of a literary agent can sometimes become very social. Sure, as an agent you spend a majority of your time reading through submissions, pitching books, working with clients, etc. But there’s more that happens outside of the office.

You’ve taken on a project, you’ve edited the manuscript, and you’ve written pitch letters. But, now what? The process doesn’t end there. Now, the defining role of a literary agent comes into play: Networking and maintaining relationships.

The agent places a decisive role at this point in the publishing process. Pitching a project to editors and finding the right fit for both the author and the book could make it or break it. This crucial step in the process demonstrates why networking with editors and other agents through social events, such as meeting for lunches or coffee, is so important. So, here’s what I learned in Intern Academy this week:

Knowing your editors- “Who would I send this to?”

As an agent, when you’re reading and evaluating a manuscript, you should always be thinking along the lines of “What editor would I send this to?” Time is of the essence in the publishing world and from the very beginning of a project, you should have an idea of which editor you could sell it to. Inevitably, you’ll come across projects that you’ll love and be excited about. But, if you can’t think of a single editor you would send it to, then it will likely be hard to sell and may not be a smart decision to take on. So, how do you know who all the editors are in the publishing world?

Network, Network, Network

Above all, networking is possibly the best resource for meeting editors and finding a great fit for an author. Agents are always going to breakfasts, lunches, coffees, cocktail parties, office visits, and other events–getting to know the editors.  When you go to these lunches or coffees, yes, you talk about the projects you’re working on, but you also talk about each others’ lives. You’re getting to know him or her in a social way, which also helps you figure out what books may seem appealing. When you learn the personal details about an editor, you know what types of books he or she will enjoy.Publishers Weekly Logo

Moreover, you may pitch a project to an editor over lunch or through email and it may not be exactly the type of book he or she is looking to take on. However, he or she may know of another editor who is looking for a project similar, so you then have an instant connection. You can also ask other agents (who you have a good relationship with) for editor suggestions, yet another networking connection.

Also, checking sites like Publishers Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, or publisher catalogs is another way of familiarizing yourself with the types of projects that editors are taking on.

Publishers Marketplace

Wide submission vs. target submission

So, you’ve found the imprints and editors that you think would be a good fit for the book and author.  Now, you have to decide how you want to submit the book. You only get to submit to an editor and a publishing house once, so do you want to do a wide submission or a target submission?

First of all, here’s the difference between the two ways:

  • Wide Submission: Submitting to every, single editor at once that you think would like a project.
  • Target Submission: Submitting to a few editors at once, wait for feedback, then submit to another few editors until you have a taker.

The benefits of a targeted submission lies in the feedback. If all of the editors have an issue with a certain feature of the book, you can return to the author and fix the problem before submitting to the next round of editors. With a wide submission, you submit the project once and if all the editors have the same issue and no one wants to take it on, then that’s it–you can’t submit again.

Although it seems like target submission is the “no-brainer” way to submit, but the choice truly depends on the agent and the confidence in the material. Different agents have his or her preferred method of how to submit, so there’s not one tried and true way.

I learned so much from this week’s Intern Academy! There is so much more I could have included about networking and submitting, but this was the basics! Being a literary agent is definitely turning out to be more dynamic and interesting than I ever thought! I mean, who doesn’t love to have lunch for a living?

Excitement and Expectations

My internship officially starts on May 15th, and I cannot express my excitement to begin. I’ve always felt like I have an idea of what working in the publishing industry will be like: sitting at a desk, surrounded by endless amounts of books–works of inspiration, encouragement, and happiness–in progress, and forming relationships with authors, editors, and publishing houses to help send a book out into the world. I realize, however, that there is so much more that happens behind the scenes from the business and editorial perspectives.

In this experience with Creative Media Agency (CMA), our responsibilities have been outlined for us. I’ll be working with a team of interns in a collaborative effort this summer. We’ve been split into different teams according to reading assignment genres and specific department tasks. So, here are a few of my expectations based on those given duties (I will go more in-depth about what I learn about each task throughout the summer):

  • Manuscript Evaluation– The majority of my internship is going to be analyzing manuscripts based on a few qualities that are given to us that Paige Wheeler (the agent) is looking for in representing an author. I’m excited to learn about what makes a manuscript appealing to agents, editors, and publishers. I tend to be very generous when I’m rating how much I enjoyed a book, not getting super critical about details, comparisons with other books, and other features. I know I’m going to have to be more selective when I’m choosing the manuscripts to recommend to Ms. Wheeler though.
  • Writing Reader Reports, Editorial Letters, Pitch Letters, and Letters of Interest- This task falls in-line with evaluating manuscripts. After reading the manuscript submissions, we will have to write short reader reports summarizing the book and giving my recommendation on the manuscript. Editorial letters will be similar, but will be longer and will discuss a submission from one of Ms. Wheeler’s current clients. Pitch letters will be the next step in the process after the manuscript is finished. These will be written to editors in order to advertise and “sell” him or her the book. Lastly, letters of interest will be completed once Ms. Wheeler decides that she would like to pursue a book idea. We will have to write these letters expressing interest to the potential author. I can’t say that these tasks are what I am most excited about, because there isn’t a single responsibility that doesn’t excite me. However, I will say that I am eager for my constant habit of recommending books to people finally coming into use (hopefully).
  • Potential Novelists and Submissions Research- This task is what occurs before the letters of interest are completed. We are given a few websites, on which we can research potential clients, projects, celebrity novelists, and book ideas. This is going to be an area that I might have to work a little harder to adjust to. Of course, I have always looked up online book plots and potential books that interest me. When I approach this type of book research though, I am going to have to think of it in terms more of what will appeal to others and not just to me.
  • Intern Academy- As part of the internship, all of the interns will have the opportunity to participate in a conference call every two weeks with Ms. Wheeler. In these calls, we will learn more about a specific topic within the publishing industry, as well as discuss reading assignments, bestsellers, and book ideas. I will talk more about what I learn in each session as we go along.

These are the main responsibilities among the many other miscellaneous tasks that we’ll be assigned as the internship progresses. I will also be getting the opportunity to work in-office twice a week at the headquarters based in the Richmond, Virginia, area. So, I’ll get to learn about the business side up-close, too. I’m beyond excited to see what all I learn in this first experience in the publishing world! I’m sure my expectations are going to be nothing to what I actually discover along the way!