Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Do Agents Do All Day?

What do Agents Do all Day?

My hope was to talk today about submitting fiction to agents but I am going to put it off a week because I want to use an example of a great cover letter—something that came to me, via the slush last year—that I am in the process of selling this week. Yippee! The letter was pitch perfect—so good that I basically used it for my submission letter to editors.  Fingers crossed that I can tell you all about it very soon.

So instead, in true navel-gazing form that is that of a blogger, I am going to answer the question, “What do agents do all day?” I know, fascinating stuff. But I get asked this a lot. People outside of the publishing world usually proceed to offer their own answer: “So do you like just read at your desk all day?” Um. NO.  No one in the biz does. And I think we are a little bit like proud, harried (insane) new mothers who brag about how little sleep they get. We sort of thrive on the fact that we have no lives because reading is done at night and on the weekends.  Yes dear authors, we are working really hard!

However, when I am asked this at conferences and the like, my go-to answer, with a giant, enthusiastic smile plastered on my face because I fear public speaking in a certifiable way, is something like this: “Every day is different!  One day you are selling a book! One day you are falling in love with something you discover in the slush pile! Or you are going out to lunch with your favorite editor!” But, my dear friends, I fear that may be the movie version  of my life. It's the one in which I am also  have clean hair, great clothes and my unscruffed high heels (because I am not wearing converse in this movie montage) also happen to be resting on my beautifully organized  Philipe Stark desk, adorned with white peonies and a piping hot skim latte…but I digress.

I decided to answer that question honestly, and picked last Wednesday to document what exactly I did with those hours that I wasn’t  reading: (Yes, did I tell you this was going to be a naval gazer)

 8:45 am-I got to the office early so I could finish a published book in peace and quiet. (It was We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver and it is probably the toughest book I've read. A week later and I am still thinking about it.)

9:30-11:00 Answered emails (mostly author questions—I am always telling my authors to feel free to remind me of things that need following up on. I have no ego about admitting that I need help in this department. There is simply so much every day stuff to keep track of, and it's too much for me to do it alone. 

11-12 Galley mailing-I wrote a letter and sent galleys for a great memoir called Paris, Baby!, pubbing in June to my magazine contacts. (Yes a publisher’s publicist should be doing this but when you know people, it absolutely does not hurt to send along as well. )

12-1   Ate a sad lunch at my desk and read Twitter feeds.

1-2 Got the best call of the day!  A book of mine was optioned for film!  This was a particularly exciting call because it renewed my faith in Hollywood. I had met with a producer months ago as he was inquiring about rights for another book I repped. Those rights had already been optioned so I told him about this book instead. He spent the next two months getting a writer, a director and their agency on board, and optioned the book with a great plan. 

2-3 Galley mailing for a memoir called Breaking Up With God, for blurb requests. Everyone hates this but for some reason, it needs to be done.

3-4 Crafted an editorial letter to an author who is at work on her fourth novel

4pm Grabbed a coffee and gabbed with my office mates about absolutely nothing work related.

4:30-6  Read slush/passed on projects with the help of my colleague, Stephanie/decided on what I wanted and needed to read that night/paid bills and paid some authors royalty checks which means a book earned out woo hoo!

Okay, so basically, I did NONE of the things that I said I usually do when asked at a conference. Obviously there are days when you are falling in love with a new voice, selling a book at auction (I wouldn’t be in biz without those days) taking an author to meetings etc but more often than not, you are just staying on top of things, being a squeaky wheel for your author and frankly, making sure everyone else is doing their job. No, it's no glamourous, but I love it.


  1. Love the honesty! I imagine there aren't enough hours in the day for an agent.

  2. Interesting! Now let's see that magical query letter! ;)

  3. I always enjoy reading posts like this. That "behind the scenes" perspective is so interesting. Goodness, though, how do you all find any time to sleep?! :)

  4. WOW Thanks Elisabeth for sharing!

    I was wondering, did you choose to be a lit agent or was this a career that the doors seem to have just let you to it?

  5. Love this post! So interesting to read about your day in the life. P.S. In my mind, you always have good hair and peonies on your desk! xo

  6. Hi Sophie. I wanted to be a writer in college, but after a few fiction writing classes (the very talented YA fiction writer, John Green was in one of my classes) I realized I didn't have the talent, but enjoyed the editing portion. Realized asst editors start out on 20K a year. Worked in fashion. Cried at my desk daily because the only thing anyone read was WWD any sucked it up and took a job as an assistant to two agents at Curtis not sure if that answered your question but that's how it happened!

  7. Thanks Elisabeth for replying! And yes it did answer my question. I really appreciated you sharing the evolution of your professional life. Its quite inspiring.