Alice Sutherland-Hawes works as assistant to Hilary Delamere at The Agency (London) Limited where she assists on a client list which includes Malorie Blackman and Michael Bond. She’s a Chatterbooks Ambassador and is working up a few of her own picture book ideas.
1) Be able to learn very quickly
My second week was Bologna Book Fair so my boss was away and for the most part, uncontactable. To say I was thrown in the deep end is quite an understatement! Being able to pick things up quickly is a huge advantage in this environment because there will be times when your boss isn’t around to go over something again with you and it’s essential that you know what you’re doing with contracts, invoices and royalty statements, as well as everything else!
2) A great knowledge of your agent’s taste in books
Quite often it’s the assistant who is one who reads submissions first. They have to get through you before their work is seen by the agent. This means you have to know what your agent is looking for, and what they do and don’t like. I know my boss doesn’t go for high fantasy and I know what sort of thing she’s looking for. I get around thirty submissions a week so it makes it far easier when I’m sifting through them to know what I’m looking for.
I mean, organisation goes without saying but lists are your best friend. It’s your job to know what the clients are doing, where they are in their schedules, whether invoices need to be sent and of course, your boss’s diary. So lists, lists, lists. I have my daily to-do list, my monthly to-do list for ongoing projects, a list of all our clients and what they’re up to and an outstanding invoices list, to name a few. It means whenever my boss asks me something I know exactly where to look for the answer and I know what all our clients are doing, how many projects they have and where their payments and contracts are.
4) The ability to work on your own
Working in an agency usually means you’re only working for one or two people. I work for one agent so when she’s busy or away, I’m on my own. You’ve got to be able to handle things and solve problems by yourself. Occasionally that means a stop-gap until your boss is available but there are times when it’s all down to you. Along with this you’ve got to be unflappable. When you’re scheduling Bologna and London meetings at the same time whilst preparing rights catalogues and portfolios, as well as doing everything else the job usually requires, things can feel quite manic. Keeping a cool head and being able to manage everything yourself is essential.
5) An unquenchable appetite for reading
This might seem obvious but I’m not sure it’s clear just how much reading is involved until you’re at the desk. To give you some idea, I read three full manuscripts last Thursday. This isn’t reading for pleasure – this is reading and reporting on manuscripts as well as going through the slush pile which can be…interesting. A lot of the time you’re reading outside of work as well so you really, really need to love reading, whatever the story is.