Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I wrote this blog three years ago. It was well-received then, so I’m re-posting it during the holidays, when our offices are closed. Enjoy chatting amongst yourselves, and Merry Christmas!
Last week I was interviewed for a radio program, and the interviewer asked me what I liked best and what I liked least about being a literary agent. I didn’t have time to give a full answer, but if I did, here’s what I would have said:
What I like most
Most agents pursue this line of work because we like the challenge of finding a writer whose words sing, someone who writes with clarity and power. When I start to read a submission, and the writing just keeps getting better as I read along, I want to shout, “Eureka!” because I’ve found it, that gem in a heap of, well, non-gems. I have to proclaim my find to someone–if not everyone–in the office, read passages to them, and enter into serious celebration.
Then I have the delicious job of telling the person I not only get his or her writing but am infatuated with it. And then I have the joy of trotting out my find to editors. I’m like a new parent, grinning ridiculously, as if I were the writer rather than the finder of the writer.
It’s all good.
What I like least
I could pass up having to convey bad news to clients. Bad news can take, among others, the following forms:
- I can’t seem to generate any enthusiasm among editors for a project
- My client’s latest list of possible book ideas holds nothing with a strong enough hook
- The publisher isn’t going to offer a contract for my client’s next book
- The sales on that debut novel weren’t what we had hoped
- An editor my client worked well with is leaving the publishing house
- The publisher has decided to close the imprint my client was writing for
- A publishing contract is being cancelled.
Sometimes I “get” to deliver bad news over and over again. If a publishing line is being closed, I’ll have to contact every client involved. While I know I’m delivering what could be devastating news to each client, with each phone call I make, I feel the weight of the bad news all over again. By the end of one of those days, the heaviness is palpable.
The good news is that I get to work with each author to figure out how to turn the bad news into good. I believe that, out of every bad situation, good can come. And that brings me to another thing I love about my job: I get to help solve problems!
Last week one of my clients discovered her latest novel had a section of another book substituted into it during the binding process. That sent the publisher skittering off to find out what went wrong and if it affected the entire print run. And the news sent my client into a tizzy of trying to figure out how to handle a PR problem. As the agent, I worked with my client to mitigate the fallout.
That situation reminds me of something else I appreciate about my job: It’s never boring. Almost every week, I can say, “Hm, I’ve never encountered that problem before. Let’s see, how can we solve this one…”
What do you like most about the writing life? What do you like least?
A literary agent talks about the ups and downs of the job. Click to tweet.
An insider view of a literary agent’s job. Click to tweet.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net