Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Michael Bourret describes the day in the life of an agent

People always ask me what my day is like. I often respond by saying that it’s nothing but e-mail and phone, which is only somewhat true. It’s a long, tiring, very rewarding day, and I hope this provides some insight.

6:30 AM: Wake up. Feed cat. Shower, shave, dress. (Pray to get the order right at early hour.)

7:22 AM: Leave house to catch 7:30 C train (no, subways don’t technically run on schedules, but the C train only comes once every 10 minutes during rush hour, and it happens to come on the 30-minute mark).

8:00 AM: Arrive at Starbucks. Purchase “Grande” mild coffee (iced during the summer).

8:10 AM: Arrive at work. Log into computer, remove reading from previous evening and sort into “reject,” “request more,” “offer representation,” “get another read,” or “do editorial letter” piles. Check news.

8:10 – 8:30 AM: Read the news. Look for stories that would make great book ideas, either fiction or nonfiction.

8:30 – 9:00 AM: Morning meeting. The whole staff gets together each morning to go over business. We discuss where we are on projects (Do you need a writer? Is money due? Did the editor get back to you about bound galleys?), ask Jane and each other for advice, generate book ideas, and discuss news items.

9:00 – 10:00 AM: Respond to all the e-mails I received the previous night. There are often many from the West Coast, as they’re still going when we leave for the day. Also, since writing isn’t the primary employment for most authors, it’s the only time they have to correspond. And, many writers don’t seem to sleep. Really guys, sleep is good!

10:00 – 10:30 AM: Take care of any other author correspondence: contracts, amendments, agency agreements, editorial letters, royalty statements and more.

10:30 – 11:30 AM: Return phone calls and make follow-up calls on proposals and manuscripts on submission. This is when we find out that someone is very interested in a project. Hopefully.

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM: Put together and submit new material. Make any calls associated with the new submission that I didn’t make earlier.

12:30 – 2:00 PM – Lunch with an editor. This is our chance to meet new editors and catch up with old friends. The agent lunch seems to mystify those who aren’t in publishing, but I find it a necessary, important and enjoyable part of the job. The book business, for all the analyzing of numbers that we do, is still very subjective, and it’s often at these lunches that I get a real sense of someone’s taste. It’s when I learn that the editor who typically does political nonfiction also loves anything to do with cats and can acquire whatever he wants. Books are often sold to unlikely editors based on such information.

(When I don’t have a lunch, I take this time to read through blogs looking for book ideas or gossip, or a recap of the America’s Next Top Model episode that I missed.)

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Return the calls and e-mails from lunch time. Check Gawker and Galleycat to make sure no one was fired while I was out, which could change where I send that proposal I packaged in the morning.

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Open mail and review e-queries. There is a lot of mail coming in, and even more e-mail these days. It takes this long to review all the material and request what looks interesting.

4:00 – 5:00 PM: Go back to checking client e-mail and answering calls. This is the busiest time of day for phone calls, as everyone’s looking for information before the close of business.

5:00 – 6:30ish PM – Wrap up the day. Print out any reading for the evening, get together any material to review contracts, make last minute and West Coast phone calls. Some nights, have a drink with an editor or author who’s in town.

6:30 – 7:15: Train ride home. This is when I get to read for pleasure! Right now I’m reading Pop! by Aury Wallington, which a client gave me. I also read magazines and newspapers during this time.

7:15 PM – 9 PM: Feed cat. Eat. Watch DVR’ed TV.

9 PM – Whenever is necessary: Read and edit proposals and manuscripts. Vet contracts. Write and revise submission letters and create submission lists. Sometimes there’s also e-mail and phone calls.

Honestly, an agent’s work is never done. It’s difficult, frustrating and can make for a very boring social life. It’s a good thing that I love my job (and didn’t have a social life,to begin with).


  1. "but the C train only comes once every 10 minutes during rush hour"

    Only? Only? Okay, that must be one of those telling details Elizabeth George was talking about in her writing book. I didn't think I lived in that small of a city, but I must. I need to visit NY, for sure!

  2. Many thanks for the peek into a day in the life of... I would love to be a fly on the wall at that morning meeting when you are discussing news items and working together to generate book ideas! I use the news for inspiration all the time, but to be among such a knowledgeable group of members who are so close to what's selling, wow! I'm sure one meeting's thoughts could send a writer to the keyboard for years!

    With that busy of a schedule, I'm surprised you survive on a "Grande" from Starbucks. I'd have to order a "Venti" for each hand!

  3. Michael,
    Thanks for allowing us a peek into your daily routine. It seems arduous, to say the least.

  4. Thanks for a very informative post. Question: During the staff meeting, do the agents discuss potential clients/projects they are considering taking on? thanks!

  5. I'm interested in the book ideas conversations.
    Do agencies decide what kind of books they think would sell, and then ask their authors to write them? Do they look for only a particular type of book? Is this why there is suddenly interest in paranormal books, then historicals, then adventure books, etc.?
    What about the adage 'write what you are passionate about'? If an author isn't following the current, is it harder to get picked up by an agency?

  6. Good questions!

    Judy: a venti is only for days when I'm really tired. I've tried to cut back on my caffeine intake.

    Anonymous: Yes, we do discuss writers that we're considering signing on. We like to get feedback on book ideas.

    Sam: A lot of times the ideas we're discussing are nonfiction, and yes, we do pass those ideas on to our writers. We also come up with ideas for fiction, both broad ("you should write some paranormal romance") to specific ("how about writing a novel based on this news story"). In the end, though, I'll always tell a writer to write their passion. If it isn't enjoyable, it's not worth doing. And, unless you're stuck on a dead trend, one that was formerly popular but no longer is, I don't think it hurts your chances of finding an agent. We’d rather find a new trend than follow old ones.

  7. I'm astonished less by how busy your day is and more by the fact that some of those things only get an hour allotment. Any number of those tasks seem like they could take all day. Yikes!

  8. Other than between the hours of 7:22 a.m. and 7:15 p.m., our days are identical.

    I noticed your life is very much like the folks in movies and television... no potty breaks!!! That's gotta kill!

    Seriously, I do envy you. To love a job is rare these days, then to be good at it, as well... very nice;-)

  9. Geez, Michael, I knew you were a busy man, but daaaaamn! If I stop emailing you for two weeks, could you work in a spa day somewhere in there? ;)

  10. A spa day sounds lovely, Heather, but I could squeeze that in and still get e-mails from you!

  11. This is a tremendous post for those of us on the other end of the agent/writer relationship. I agree with what Richelle said. You must be very focused to knock out those items in such short segments of time. Thanks for the insight.

  12. I'm tired and I only read about your day!! Keep on truckin'!

  13. Well, you do an amazing job. If it were possible for me to admire you more, I absolutely would. :)

  14. Michael, you forgot something!

    10AM-6:30PM - talk authors down from tall buildings and then inspire the the hell out of them.


  15. Hi Michael,

    What does 'vet contracts' mean?

  16. Don't forget to call your mother!


  17. This sounds almost as hectic as the life I had as a reporter for Newsday. Glad I left that job to become a writer;)

  18. Aww, I hope you play with your kitty, too, and not just feed her morning and night. Kitties need quality time!

    Your post was very informative and interesting. Thanks!

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  20. I am totally amazed at your commitment to your work. That's the sign of a professional and, also, of a quality human being. I wish you lots of luck.