On Reading for an Agency

Editorial Assistant

Norah Myers is known on BookMachine for her blog posts about being an Editorial Assistant. This week she is back with some advice on Reading for an Agency.

Norah studied publishing in London at City University and worked for Picador and Bloomsbury before returning to Canada. She worked for a boutique literary agency before moving to an independent publisher of fiction and nonfiction. She loves yoga, books, and endless cups of tea. @bookish_norah

Before I began my editorial job, I read manuscripts for a literary agency. I read literary fiction, historical fiction, memoir, women’s fiction, psychological thriller, young adult, and work that defied classification. I found it tremendously helpful in the work I do now as an editorial assistant (and a freelance editor). These are the top 5 things I learned when working for an agent:

1. Agents are editors, too

Agents work tirelessly with their authors to develop draft after draft of their manuscripts to make them the most polished they can be before they create book proposals and send them to publishers.

2. Agents build platforms for their authors

The agent for whom I worked encourages his authors to submit work to magazines, keep a blog, build a YouTube following, and create an audience through interviews for radio and magazines. Authors have to do a lot of their own publicity to generate interest in a book before it is published (and after). Many agents specifically request platform-based nonfiction, where an author’s book complements their already-solidified practice as a speaker, therapist, doctor, or expert in his or her field.

3. Agents are therapists

The agent for whom I work is also helping me write my own work of narrative nonfiction. He has been by my side through heartbreak and agony as I have struggled with my manuscript. He is unfailingly supportive and will get the dedication of my book and the biggest thanks in my acknowledgements.

4. Aspiring editors would benefit from agency experience

It is valuable for those who wish to work in editorial to work in an agency first because it gives them understanding of how agents and editors communicate and work together. Agents and editors have strong mutually respectful professional relationships and work with the best interests of the author and company at heart

5. Everyone read Fifty Shades of Grey

When I first began working for an agent, I thought literary fiction about a woman in her twenties would appeal to women in a similar situation. At a conference, a friend told me he worked in the geriatric ward of a hospital and that all of the elderly women were reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Be very open about the prospective audience for a book.

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