Colleen Houck


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  • A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent

    October 28, 2014


    Job search

    Out there lies talent, it just has to be found!


     “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.”

    Émile Zola


    Hi Everyone,

    I’d talked with Alex a few months ago about writing a blog post for my website and he not only agreed but wrote an outstanding and informative piece. I hope you enjoy! (Can you see the Tiger’s Curse books on his shelf?)

    Colleen

     

    Introducing. . .

    Alex Glass

     

    Alex-Glass-1


     A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent

    “Most literary agents—most people who work in book publishing, for that matter—got into the profession because they love books. Maybe they wanted to be writers and found they were better suited to helping other writers achieve their dreams.

    Maybe they were English majors or science fiction fanatics who didn’t want their lives of reading disrupted just because they graduated from college and it was time to find full-time jobs.

    The one thing that every successful agent has to learn, sooner or later, is how to balance that love of books with the needs of a commercial marketplace that serves a huge population of readers all over the world.

    When I think about how I spend my day, I think about that balance and the things I do on a daily basis to negotiate it. When I was in my early twenties, I wanted to be a writer. I studied creative writing and wrote short stories, even a novel. But I discovered after a little while that I wasn’t cut out for it. For one, I couldn’t take criticism at all. One day a professor would tell me I was the second coming of F. Scott Fitzhemingway and I’d be over the moon.

    The next day another professor would tell me not to quit my day job and I wouldn’t get out of bed for a week. I would have been a nightmare client for an agent! Even more importantly, my fiction was mostly autobiographical and self-indulgent. I’m not going to say I didn’t have a scrap of talent; I’d like to think I could put a pretty good sentence together. But I was more concerned with my own life than I was in telling a great story. The writing was good, but it didn’t take you anywhere. But along the way I discovered that I had a knack for critiquing other students’ manuscripts.

    After a few early jobs in publishing and the literary world, I figured out that being an agent was the right place for me. Then the key was figuring out if I could translate editorial skills and a love of books into a career finding and nurturing writing that would reach a big readership.

    Which brings me back to my day-to-day. Every day is split up between a variety of activities. As an agent, I am a jack-of-all-trades in the careers of my clients. I find them (or if they find me, I choose them), I help them prepare their work to submit to publishers, I get them their book deals and negotiate their contracts, and then I hold their hands through the publishing process and make sure the publisher is doing everything it can to market and promote their books. All the while I am thinking about their overall careers and making sure they are doing all the right things to reach the most readers and sell the most books for the long term.

    Finding new authors is a part of my daily work, but it is only one of many parts, and sometimes, depending on what else is going on, it is a very small part. My priority always has to be my already existing clients. While I try to read new work that has been sent to me for consideration every day, it doesn’t always happen.

    Here’s how it usually breaks down:

    First thing in the morning (7-9am): Respond to urgent emails I did not get to the previous day or that came in overnight. Continue/finish reading the manuscript or proposal from the night before.

    Arriving at the office through lunch (9:30am-12:30pm): Read and respond to emails from the day and week before. Look through query letters.

    Lunch (12:30-2pm): Usually a business lunch with an editor from a publishing house where we get to know each other and discuss projects I’m working on and the kinds of books he or she is looking to acquire. This can be more fun or less fun depending on how well I know the person already or how well we hit it off!

    Afternoon (2-6:30pm): This is when I am most likely to work on projects, which can be anything from: preparing a submission (writing a pitch letter, putting together a list of editors to send a manuscript to); actually making a submission to publishers; talking on the phone to clients about a variety of things; bugging editors for a variety of things (there is a lot of bugging in the life of a literary agent, on all sides); preparing an auction after a submission has gone out; working on a marketing plan; working on the film and foreign and audiobook rights to a book; or reviewing a  contract or collaboration agreement. And I am probably forgetting a whole bunch of stuff in there, too.

    Evening (6:30-sleep): There might be a reading or author event or a drinks date with an editor or a colleague. Then hopefully a little down time with my wife followed by reading a manuscript or proposal. Sometimes it’s a manuscript or proposal written by a client, and sometimes written by an author who is looking for representation. Maybe at the very end of the night some purely pleasure reading.

    I’m lucky enough to represent some incredibly talented authors, so a lot of my client reading is pleasure reading, which is one of the best things about my job. But it’s always fun to pick up a novel or a nonfiction narrative that I don’t represent and lose myself in it like I did before it was a job.

    Throughout the day I am balancing the two big elements: do I love it, and how can I sell it. From reading new work to suggesting editorial comments to an author to working on a marketing plan—even working on the contract—I am constantly asking myself: how can I balance out what the author wants, what I think is working, and what I think will help this author reach his or her readers? It’s hard, because there are things I might love about a book that could run counter to the tastes of mainstream audiences. There are things I know my writers really believe in, either editorially or from a marketing and sales perspective, which I think may hurt their chances of being successful authors. And of course, there are things that a mainstream audience may want that are definitely not right for a particular author. It’s the dance we do on a daily basis to try to fit a piece of art into a business marketplace.

    Connecting readers with writers has got to be one of the most fun jobs in the world. Calling unpublished authors and telling them about their fancy new book deals is about as fulfilling and exciting as it gets. As busy as I am, as much as I have to nudge and get nudged all day long, as hard as it is to balance a marketplace with a creative product, I am grateful for my job every day. I do get to work with art, and those incredible moments when a piece of writing connects with an audience make it all worthwhile.”


    Alex Glass recently left Trident Media Group after thirteen years to set up his own agency, Glass Literary Management. His diverse client list includes bestselling authors writing adult and children’s fiction, and nonfiction in a variety of categories.
    To learn more about him or reach him, his website is glassliterary.com.
    You can also reach him by email at alex@glassliterary.com.

    Till next time,
    Linda Louise Lotti

    This entry was posted in A Guy's Perspective, Articles, The Modern Ink Society, Writing Advice, Writing Tools.

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    Linda
    Linda

    I’m Linda Louise, one of the bloggers on this website and Colleen’s little sister. I’m just a girl in her mid-thirties who feels thirteen when I play outside with my boys, fifteen when I sing my heart out listening to tunes while driving by myself, and sixty five when I go out past ten at night. I have a thing for junior mints, Mt. Dew, shrimp and kale (though not all at once) and I have a crush on Superman. I still get girlish butterflies when I read Twilight, cry when I read These is My Words, and smile from ear to ear when I read Anne of Green Gables. I have nightmares about aliens on a regular basis and I have a bad habit of midnight snacking. I love everything sports, except golf (although can that honestly be considered a sport??), and I hate anything that slithers, hisses, or stings. I have a problem with giggling at inappropriate moments and I sometimes wish life was a musical. I love science, hate math, love Dr. Seuss, and hate olives. My family is my world and my joys come from their happiness. I’ve learned I don’t know much about anything and I live for a good adventure, naps, cuddles, stories, exceptional food and The Shire.