Carly Watters is a VP and Senior Literary Agent at the P.S Literary Agency. Since joining the agency in 2010 and becoming a VP in 2014 Carly has had great success launching new authors domestically and abroad with acclaimed women’s fiction author Taylor Jenkins Reid being published in 14 languages around the world. Her blog www.CarlyWatters.com has thrice been awarded the Writer’s Digest distinction of ‘101 Best Blogs for Writers.’ You can follow her @carlywatters – this is an interview led by Norah Myers.
1. Please take us through a day in the life of your work as an agent.
My day changes depending on the week, and publishing season. But I will try to give you a personalized general snapshot! I start my day around 8.30 by tweeting interesting writing and publishing articles–and on Mondays I post on my blog and share with the hashtag #MondayBlogs. Then I start answering emails at 9: clients, editors, film agents, publicists, colleagues, and writer’s conferences etc. This could be following up on pitches (I pitch books mid-week, never Monday or Friday), chasing contracts and money, organizing promotional plans for a client’s book with marketing and publicity, chatting with my colleagues about their work, forwarding reviews of client books to our foreign rights manager for her book fair catalogues, consulting with clients about cover design, talking to clients about new book ideas and many more things! Then I read a few queries to see if anything interesting has come in that day.
Next I return calls because I wait for most people to make it to their desk and I wait for the west coast to be in working hours. After lunch every other week the agency has a virtual conference call and we usually chat for an hour catching everyone up on the latest deals and client news. In the afternoon I deal with any major issues that haven’t been resolved in the morning (like continuing to negotiate a deal) plus tasks I can dip in and out of if the phone is ringing: putting submission lists together, writing pitch letters, planning client career strategies, updating our foreign rights manager about things I have going on submission soon etc. Throughout the day I’m checking Twitter for news coming in about the industry. I follow around 2,000 industry folks and news outlets. A few days a week I stop working around 4.30 to go to the gym. The rest of the week I work until 6. The only time I drop this routine is if something hot has come in that I need to read ASAP, if I’m in the middle of an auction, or the day happens to revolve around phone calls instead of emails. Reading happens at night or on the weekends.
2. You run a successful blog that is a resource for writers of all experience and stages. How has your blog strengthened your profile?
I started my blog in 2011 as a way to give a voice to myself as an agent. There are a lot of agents out there. And there are a lot of new agents out there joining the ranks all the time. I wanted to give myself the validation that I was here to stay and that I have a unique voice that makes writers want to work with me. I started by talking about what I know. I wrote about the basics: issues with manuscripts, dos and don’ts regarding queries, how to write a synopsis etc. In 2014 I joined the Twitter hashtag #MondayBlogs where you post once a week and tweet with the hashtag. That rhythm started a routine for me that I really enjoy. Now when I miss a week writers tweet at me with disappointment! I think I’ll need to stop the blog eventually. I’ll run out of things to say. But lately I’ve been posting the most motivating things I can to help writers continue their journey and overcome their personal creative hurdles. My blog is my way of reaching writers I don’t rep in hopes of spreading intelligent information and dispelling misinformation about the industry. Once I started winning the “101 Best Websites for Writers” award (which I’ve won for three consecutive years) it reinforced that writers found value in my posts and looked to me for advice. I’m honoured that it’s helped many unpublished writers achieve their goals. And I’m thrilled that current clients, who found me initially because of my blog, discovered I was as honest and supportive as I am online.
3. You recently published a book about writing and publishing in the 21st century. How does the book complement your platform?
Getting Published in the 21st Century is the best of my blog from the first 2 years, plus extra content to fill in the gaps I missed (like how to write a non fiction proposal, for example). It’s a way for writers to access my blog in one place, but also see the big picture in one snap shot. I’m told it’s very straightforward and to the point. Writers like it because I don’t add fluff and I’m honest with them about what it takes to be successful. It’s a hard time in publishing right now from a writer’s perspective. Self publishing has slammed the market with a lot of content and traditional publishers have limited resources for debuts–so what’s a writer to do? Write the best book they can and get the best support team around them.
4. What advice would you give your younger self?
I love this question! I was promoted to VP and Senior Literary Agent last year and that was a proud moment for me because I take my job very seriously. I would tell my Associate Agent self (or Agency Assistant self) that the hard work eventually pays off, but it never really gets easier. Every stage of this career provides a new challenge, but you’ll always rise to it. I would tell myself that developing your taste as an agent ended up being the easy part! The hard part was forgiving yourself for not being perfect because it’s impossible to be perfect at a job that revolves around negotiations where two sides have to meet in the middle. My mantra now is “trust your future self” and I wish I had that mantra when I started out because I would have stressed less. I would say really listen to the editors who gave thoughtful rejections of your projects, but never give up thinking of new angles to pitch your clients’ work. Patience is not only the key word for authors, but also agents. And lastly, ask for what you want because the worst someone can say is no.
5. What advice do you have for publishing professionals about the use of blogging as part of their work and public platforms?
I encourage everyone starting out in publishing to have a consistent online presence. By the time you want to switch jobs or get a promotion you don’t want to be behind. There are lots of people who want into this business so if your online persona matches your career goals that’s a bonus. If we ask authors to have a vibrant Twitter feed, a podcast, or a stylish Instagram presence–or whatever best suits their topic–we’re asking them to come to agents and editors with a built in audience. So if we ask this of our authors I think we should think about this ourselves: can our personal platforms also help our authors sell books? As an agent I’m highly invested in my clients’ sales so I help every way I can. Journalists are not encouraged but expected to have a significant Twitter presence. Models are chosen for magazine cover shoots based on how many Instagram followers they have; the more followers a model has the more jobs they get because they share with their audience and supposedly sell more copies of the magazine. That’s the reality of social media and digital sales right now. People get noisy about the things they love and marketing captures it to drive sales. This is the framework I bring to my blogging and online presence. I look to successful examples in other industries and think about how that applies to books and author brands. You don’t have to share your whole life online and you most certainly should keep things to yourself but think about what parts you do want to share and create a brand around that.
Some people say dress for the career you want (which I agree with!) but I say tweet like the job title you want. If you want to be taken seriously (social media can live on longer than a deleted tweet) and want to work in a business where online presence is increasingly important for authors then you have to be online where the readers (consumers) are. I don’t feel like I could do a good job counseling my clients about Twitter or Tumblr if I wasn’t on it. So I joined, and I stuck with it. Now I feel like I’m in a proper position to guide my authors with better social media strategy and practices. I want to know where the readers are. I want to have a deep understanding of what works for certain markets. And I found my understanding through blogging and tweeting. Writers find me a reputable source of information. The key to blogging and public platforms is being professional, consistent, and positive. There are enough news articles about the death of the book, be the person online that understands where our industry is at this moment. To work in publishing means to have eternal optimism.