Recently I've received a number of questions about working as an agent…
Megan wrote to say, "I'm working with a brand new agent, and she's not sure how to answer my question. Can an article that's appeared in a magazine later be included in a book, say as an introduction or as a chapter?"
If you own the rights, you are free to use that material again. But be aware: If you sell this as a book, your publisher may have a clause that restricts you from using any material that has been in print before. So before you sign the magazine contract, be sure rights revert to you once that magazine comes off the shelf. And before you sign the book contract, make sure to explain that you're re-using some material from a magazine piece that once saw print. You just want to cover your bases and make sure you don't get into trouble. But for the most part, this happens all the time. Keep in mind that a book is rarely a collection of magazine pieces — it's more in-depth, more complete, and offers a longer view than a short piece in a magazine or e-zine.
Richard asked, "Do you get queries from people randomly — I mean, queries from people who have not checked you out or read your blog?"
Oh, sure. All the time. I get queries from people who have never met me, never checked me out, never even taken the time to so much as read my website and query guidelines — and then sometimes they'll say something like, "I think you'd be a great agent for me." How would you know? For example, I state very clearly on my site that we don't represent children's books, poetry, screenplays, or sci-fi novels. Yet just this week I have had queries in all four of those categories. That sort of thing amazes me. I mean, these are perfectly smart people, and I doubt they'd wander into a car dealership and ask to buy a garage door opener. Sure, "cars" and "garages" are somehow linked, but… Anyway, the lesson is that ten minutes research into an agent can reveal a lot of helpful information.
Marlene wants to know, "What is a typical day for a literary agent?"
A typical day looks like this — rise early (I live on the west coast, which makes me a bit different from many literary agents), go running, shower, make myself some coffee, then sit down and plow through all my emails. I normally get more than a hundred emails per day, and I try to work through them all first thing, get them out of the way, and not keep going back to them. Then I catch up on phone calls, which I group together so as to try and keep them shorter. Then it's on to projects, which means reading manuscripts, editing and tweaking proposals, contacting authors and editors, and sending stuff out. There are a few things I handle on a weekly basis instead of a daily basis — finances, reporting deals, looking at submissions, catching up on the industry news. The thing that's hardest to stay on top of is the reading — lots of hours spent reading, so that I don't get as much pleasure reading in as I'd like.
I have a great agent who works with me, Sandra Bishop, and we talk most days, and try to meet once a week to go over stuff together. I also have an assistant, Amanda, who helps with things like submissions and databases. Both of these folks are really good, and help make my workload easier, but it's still a lot of hours. Actually, it's always tough to talk about the hours you put in, since it looks like you're either whining or trying to impress people, but I work for myself, and like anyone who works for himself or herself, the hours are long — maybe 70 hours per week. I'm not complaining – I've always been the hardest working person I know. Ask the folks who have worked with me at Alive or at Time-Warner. I was always the first guy in, the last guy to leave. It's why I've become very selective about taking on any new authors. They can't just be good — they have to stand out in a crowd.
Jeff asked this: "If somebody really wanted to get into the industry, get to know things, maybe even become a literary agent some day, what advice would you give him?"
First, learn to differentiate great writing from good writing. Then learn what a salable idea is. Those are the two most important keys to success in this industry, in my view. If you were going to be an agent, you'd need to study publishing contracts. (I'm still amazed at the wannabe agents who don't understand contracts.) Make friends with editors, since we all do business with people we like and trust. Do some writing yourself, so that you keep your hand at the creative process. Learn to foster talent. Again, if you're going to be an agent you should join AAR — I think it's a mistake that many of the CBA agents haven't joined, since it's the one legitimizing body we have in publishing.
tyle="line-height: normal; font-size: 14px; ">What else? Um… don't lie, even when the news is bad. If the sales numbers suck, just take a deep breath and share them anyway. Only represent people you like, since life is too short to deal with the frustrations that come with working closely to folks you can't stand. Study the market and its trends. Build a network. Always take the approach that "good" is better than "fast." Give things away (your time, your money, your advice), so you don't turn into a completely selfish jerk (like me). Pray for your clients. Track everything you do, so when you're asked about it, you'll have a record. Hey — the fact is, if you're an aspiring literary agent, the BEST thing you can do is to find an agent mentor who will show you the ropes. Learn from someone who is doing this successfully. (And this is where I get to say THANKS to Rick Christian and Greg Johnson, who showed me how to do this job.)
Danni asked, "You frequently poke fun at the dumb stuff in publishing, but what do you enjoy most about publishing?"
What I enjoy most about this business is talking books and words with people. No question. I started out making my living as a writer, and sort of slid into being an agent. I love agenting — it keeps me working with authors, and focused on words and books. I started doing this more than a decade ago, and have loved every minute. The fact is, I once left agenting to go be a publisher with Time-Warner, and thought I'd enjoy working on the publishing side. I was wrong — it wasn't a disaster, but it also wasn't nearly as much fun. I really like being on this side of the desk.