Looking back on why I wanted to be agent is actually fun for me.
I remember in one of my first jobs--that of permissions editor at Bantam Books--I wanted to learn more about what went on in the subsidiary rights department--“the rights department” as it is commonly known. But the woman who ran that department at Bantam at the time really didn’t want me to work for her and, of course, being who I am, that sparked my interest even more.
When I was thinking of leaving Bantam, I interviewed with a major literary agent who never even got back to me. (I still remember who that was, and I learned from that experience always to respond when anyone inquired about a position with my company.) I also interviewed with two publishers to work in their subsidiary rights departments, but because I was the daughter of the President of Bantam Books at the time, neither position was offered (the people interviewing me actually let me know this). Still, I grew more interested in the rights area of the business.
Finally, a while later when I had been a fairly successful publisher of popular reference books for a number of years, I began once again to explore the rights area, this time on the agenting side. I felt that I had done most every other job in book publishing (except perhaps being in the actual production department) and I was ready for a big change.
I began talking with a number of agents about the field and, interestingly, even then, over twenty years ago, most of them were very discouraging. They told me how hard it was, how much I would have to work and they predicted I wouldn’t be able to really get on my feet as an agent for three to five years. That didn’t scare me though and after talking with many people over a period of ten months or so, I met Jay Acton, a very successful agent at the time, who decided to take a chance on hiring me to join his company.
Moving to the “other” side of the desk, so to speak, was very scary in the beginning. I had been a big corporate Vice President and Publisher, and now I had no safety net at all--I was also a single mother with a young daughter to raise. But I wanted the opportunity to work with creative people as opposed to always doing budgets and carrying out administrative duties (which is what my publishing job had become). I had to learn entirely new skills: editing from a selling perspective, coming up with new book ideas, helping writers, and meeting acquisitions editors for the very first time, most of them, people I didn’t know. And I had to find projects to represent. With Jay’s encouragement and some great cheerleading from my father, I finally managed to sell 22 books that first year, although the money I actually brought in was very little. Slowly, over the next several years, my client list grew and I felt more and more confident in what I was doing.
I developed a bunch of systems to help my business operate efficiently and finally founded my own company in 1991. I have never looked back. Being an agent has often been difficult but it is always exciting and the challenge and serendipity of the job is what I love.
I am always eager to hear what our blog readers have to say about their feeling about agents and how we do our job. What do you all think about agenting?