Frequently I receive requests for interviews from writers, newsletters, and students working on papers for class, and I do make an effort to answer as many as I have time for. Luckily, many of the questions are the same from interview to interview, so I can reuse material. Recently, though, I did an interview and wondered why I wasn’t sharing this same information with my blog readers. So from time to time I’m going to post the interviews I’ve been doing here on the blog.
The first is a request I received from a student at Eastern Michigan University. The student was doing a class project on careers and was interested in literary agents and publishing, so here’s what I shared . . .
What’s a typical day like for you? I don’t think there is a typical day for me, which is one of the things I love about my job. I don’t think I would do well in a job that was even the least bit predictable.
Each day takes shape depending on the emails and phone calls I need to make or receive. For example, if I get a call from a publisher offering a contract on a book, my entire day, and all my plans, will likely be placed on the back burner as I communicate with the author and editors about the book and begin contract negotiations.
If I receive a panicked email or phone call from a client I could spend the rest of the day working with that client to smooth out the wrinkles in her manuscript or work on revisions.
If I hear from an author who has an offer of representation or a contract offer from another agent or a publisher and I want to get in the game, I will likely have to drop everything to read that material and consider it for representation.
If things go smoothly and I am receiving few emails or phone calls, I could actually spend my day answering interviews like this, reading queries, or catching up on proposals.
Typically, though, I start the day by reading email, checking up on industry news through various different formats like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, blogs and Twitter, and then base the rest of the day on what I find there.
What kind of writing do you do as part of your job? I honestly don’t think I do that much writing, but keep in mind I work with writers. It’s hard to say you write when you work with people who write thousands of words a day.
I do keep an almost daily blog, I send emails, I write revision letters to clients and, most important, I write pitch letters to editors to sell the books I represent. These pitch letters, or query letters, are really marketing pieces and can sometimes take hours to craft.
What kind of information do you typically look for on resumes and is there a specific format you prefer candidates to use? I look for experience first. I think one of the biggest mistakes candidates make is assuming their education is the most important thing they’ve done. If you’ve done internships of any kind I would put that at the top of the page; experience shows me that you’re different and more ambitious than anyone else I’m interviewing.
I also look for candidates with an interest in commercial fiction. I think that for many students there’s a prejudice against commercial fiction or genre fiction. You’ve been engrossed in reading literary books or classics for years, which are great, but as an agent who represents commercial fiction I need someone who loves romance and mystery, young adult and anything that’s new and different.
What is your favorite part of the job? Brainstorming with my clients. There’s nothing I love more than helping shape an idea and create a book.
How did you become interested in this field? The love of words. I studied journalism in college and worked on the college newspaper all four years. I really thought I wanted to be a reporter, but by the time I graduated I knew the newspaper business wasn’t for me, but I wasn’t sure where I belonged. I tried magazines briefly (for a few short months as a freelancer) after graduation, but didn’t like that either, and that’s when I realized that my true love was books. I didn’t really read newspapers or magazines, but I loved books and could never get enough. So it was really the idea of helping to create what I loved that got me into publishing.