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Learning how to be an Agent

A few weeks ago, I was busy interviewing prospective interns. In chatting with one applicant, I brought up the fact that both James and I started our careers at BookEnds as interns. He followed up with a great question: “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in moving from an intern, to an assistant, to an agent?”

Since my promotion was announced last month, I’ve been thinking about doing a blog post on my professional journey (for aspiring agents and authors who want an inside peek of Agency life), but I just wasn’t sure how to approach it. Now I do!

Growing in any profession is a learning process, but sometimes I think you have some extra growing to do when coming into an agency role. For me, the biggest thing I had to learn from Intern to Agent was to trust my gut.

As agents, we choose what to represent. At BookEnds, we collaborate and get second (or third) opinions when we’re unsure, but ultimately each agent decides what to offer on. Sometimes it’s a hard choice.

As an intern, you read submissions for the agents. Our interns write readers reports and give detailed feedback on each submission, ultimately recommending whether or not we should offer representation. The agents read the submission with the intern’s notes in mind, make their own decisions, and give feedback to that intern.

The thing is that–like most people new to publishing–interns tend to go easy on manuscripts. As an intern, I recommended a handful of manuscripts for representation that the agents ended up passing on. That’s cool! I was all too happy to learn–and needed to learn!–what makes a book both good and marketable. It’s a nice safety net to have someone above you who says “yes, you’re right!” or “no, this isn’t working. Here’s why.”

But as you start acquiring your own clients and manuscripts, you need stand by your own decisions. The other agents can give you their opinions, but they won’t tell you what to do (and often the opinions of everyone in the agency are pretty split, so you don’t even get the benefit of a consensus).

Going from a position where someone else has the final say to one where you are your own “boss” can be a little nerve-wracking. It’s about spending a few years in the trenches with submissions and getting a handle on not just what is publishable, but what works for you, specifically.

Of course, becoming an agent involves learning all sorts of things–how to self-start projects, wear many hats, manage time effectively, negotiate contracts, and mediate problems, among others. But in my opinion, trusting your gut (and building good instincts) is that secret ingredient that makes or breaks you. As agents, we tell authors to trust us with their books every day. You can’t do that if you don’t learn to trust yourself.

Category: BlogCampbell


One comment

  1. I think that’s very insightful, Beth, and fabulous advice for anyone thinking of interning/becoming an agent.

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