On being a literary agent and freelance editor: Julie Crisp interview

literary agent

Julie Crisp is a literary agent, freelance editor and script doctor after having most recently been an editorial director for fiction at Pan Macmillan UK heading up the UK arm of one of the largest global brands of science fiction and fantasy, Tor. As a literary agent she is actively looking for exciting new novels in science fiction and fantasy, crime/thrillers, book club fiction, historical fiction, young adult and middle-grade children’s fiction. Norah Myers interviews Julie about her business and working in the publishing industry.

1. Please take us through a ‘day in the life’ in your work as both agent and editor.

I actually work much longer days now I’m working for myself then I did when I was doing the whole 9-5 office job. Part of that is the duality of the role. Setting up a client base, while still bringing in some money through freelancing. The plan is that once I have clients up and running then the freelancing can take a back seat so I can concentrate all my attention on them. In the meantime, I start at 8.30 a.m. – emails are always checked first and filed. Then if I have a freelancing job on I’ll spend the next nine hours working on that. The evenings are spent reading through agency submissions and I usually finish about 10.30 p.m.

At the moment I’ve given myself a strict two weeks off from freelance work so I can concentrate on the agent side of things. I’m mid-edit of my first client’s novel and reading another couple of very promising scripts that I’m considering taking further. I also have a large amount of rejection letters to send out.

Aside from that there’s always a bit of blogging to be done, social media, interviews – I’ve got some conventions coming up where I’ll be doing panels and workshops. It’s all busy, busy, busy . . . just how I like it!

2. How has your dual role broadened the services you can offer your clients?

As an editorial director at a publishing house you are restricted in what you can do. You can only really work within the framework of the corporate focus and there’s a lot of bureaucracy and politics to negotiate. Setting up on my own has allowed me the freedom to concentrate on the two things I loved most about the job: authors and their writing.
My previous experience within publishing has given me great experience in what publishers are looking for, what works in the market place and how authors can help sell their own books. So I can bring that all to the table when signing up new clients.

I know some agents who edit their author’s work and I’ve heard stories about others who don’t touch the script. Having been an editor for so long – one of the first things I’ll ask a prospective client is how happy they are for editorial feedback. I will always edit an author’s book before sending out to publishers. Publishers are so busy now, with so little time to actually read submissions, that the tighter a script is when it’s sent to them – the less work they feel needs doing to it – the happier they are to consider publishing it.

3. How do you balance your two skills, especially when you’ve been hired to do one or the other?

As an agent the editor hat remains firmly on my head. I look at the script as if I were the publisher: do I think it will sell, is there a readership, what work can be done to improve it. There’s no doubt that agents have to be editor/PR/marketing and sales all rolled into one neat little package. You edit the author, you sell the author, and you market and promote the author to the best of your abilities.

In terms of freelancing, that’s a little trickier. Especially if it’s just copyediting where the structural report will have already been done. Tempting though it is to get stuck in and re-edit the whole thing at times, that’s not what you’re there for. You make a few comments about structure but predominantly focus on the line editing, grammar, consistency issues etc. If it’s a structural edit then you can do exactly what you would when editing normally – go nuts with the red pen.

But when doing freelance editing the agent side takes a backseat. It has no part to play in the process.

4. If you could talk to your younger self and give her advice or support regarding your publishing experience, what would you tell her?

Probably try to avoid getting pigeon-holed. When I first started in publishing I worked on everything. Fiction, non-fiction, children’s fiction. In the last seven years my role was very much focused on science fiction and fantasy. While I loved every minute of my time heading up the Tor imprint, I did miss editing my crime and thriller authors and reading historical book club fiction or children’s and YA fiction. It was a very narrow field to publish in and I would have preferred to be doing something a little more widespread. But that’s part of the difficulty with publishing – you do tend to be allocated a focus without too much leeway to stray out of it. That’s why I love the freedom of being an agent because I can look at all the books that interest me and choose a variety of authors to represent.

5. What advice would you give anyone looking to establish themselves in a publishing role?

The main thing is to make sure that this is definitely a career you want to pursue. It’s not well-paid. It’s not parties and champagne and long lunches. It’s long hours – forget any idea of 9-5 or free weekends. It’s hard work. Don’t expect fame or social recognition for your part in the process. Your very role as an editor/publisher/agent is to be anonymous. You’re the supporting role not the lead player. And forget any grand ideas of fast-track promotions – it takes a really long time to get ahead, which can be very frustrating to some people impatient to make their mark. It’s a life choice rather than a career choice.

As to specifics – publishing is ridiculously hard to get into. Roles for an entry-level editorial assistant can attract over 200 applications. It’s crazy. The best way to try to break into the industry is get experience. Try for an internship or work experience with agents or publishers. Attend events where you know publishers will be appearing and have a chat with them. Follow them on social media – keep up-to-date with the Bookseller and what’s going on in the trade. Make sure your CV and covering letter is specific to each publisher – not just a generic template. Then, just keep at it. It could be a long slow haul.

Having said all that, personally, I couldn’t imagine myself in any other industry and have loved every moment of my time in publishing. Where else can you work with like-minded people whose biggest passion in life is literature? I had an absolutely amazing bunch of authors to work with, most of whom I’m still in regular contact with now. As an agent I’m still a part of that process, finding amazing talents, working with them to nurture their books and then, hopefully, ensuring that those books make it out into the big wide world to make their impact on readers.

Related Articles

Sign up to our Newsletter


* indicates required

BookMachine Ltd. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@bookmachine.org. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices.