A publishing job that’s a rollercoaster of rewards: the literary agent

As a former author, publisher, publicist and marketer, Kate Nash has seen every side of publishing and set up her own literary agency so she could do “the best job in publishing”. Kate’s reading tastes – from romance to thrillers – are highly commercial. Kate is listed at #20 in UK Fiction by Publishers Marketplace, based on number of deals made (Feb 2017). You can find Kate on Twitter @katenashagent.

“Agent, strange job isn’t it… working in the shadows so others can shine.”
(From Call My Agent!, Season. 2, Ep. 6)

When I started as an agent I already knew I didn’t smoke cigars or give a fig about being a “cultural gatekeeper”. My mission was simple: find some great books, get them published, earn authors a proper living. My mission today remains broadly similar: keep improving authors’ careers; keep breaking new talent. But behind this simplicity is a complicated and often nuanced job.

The fountain of optimism

Agents always see the upsides and the potential first. We want everything to work out, hence why we’ll often go beyond any official role and do what’s needed. We’re the cheery folk at parties who will fetch the drinks unasked and check the DJ has the right playlist on. For our authors we’re on a relentless journey upwards.

Always on alert

Foxes apparently do not sleep with one eye open but if they did it would be the perfect metaphor for a literary agent. It’s a 24/7/365 kind of job, verging on a vocation. Weekends and evenings are often dedicated to literary events and reading. Agents are always reading, mostly our clients’ books and submissions. When we read “for pleasure” it is work too and about keeping up with wider culture. We’re also desperate to absorb stories from other media, whether it’s the news or Netflix, to see the trends that might come next into books. On holiday agents keep their emails on.

Emotional intelligence

Agents see everyone they work with as actual holistic people, not ants in a nest. Given that the entire role of agent is based on successful communication, agents often use fine judgement. We sometimes have to translate what is going on to one or more parties. Diplomatic skills can occasionally come in very handy.

Risks and imagination

Agents take risks but they do so imaginatively. Sometimes we are so far out on a limb we’re thankful we’re not halfway up a mountain because there’s no safety harness. Our imagination is a weapon in our arsenal to help promote our authors. We use it to communicate vision and future success to publishers. We use it to bond with our authors’ stories and see all the possibilities. Our daydreams about our author heading up to the podium for an award become calls to action.

Your flexible friend

The agent’s mind is versatile and open. We perceive the gaps and the opportunities for a manuscript or an author beyond the obvious. Indeed we don’t stop thinking about it until we’re satisfied we’ve unearthed every possibility. Not all authors want the same thing from an agent and so we treat our authors as individuals. Sometimes our author is relying on our expertise and experience on career-changing decisions. At other times they just want someone non-judgmental to ask about how to sign back into Twitter.

Carpe Diem

Agents’ sense of time is acute. Whether it is placing a book at the right publisher at the right time or scurrying to Boots for unladdered tights for our author in time for her gig. Publishing time has an inconsistent pace and agents act as a chronometer for our authors. When we say, ”take the weekend, or “sleep on it” for a decision, our author knows that things are grinding along as usual. On other occasions we’re phoning, texting, messaging, trying to get hold of our client immediately.

No pushover

Agents possess a will of iron. We don’t allow ourselves to be wheedled or flattered. Based on the sensory and empirical evidence we have gathered, we stick to our guns of acting in, and promoting, our clients’ interests at all times. Being a soft touch is not in our DNA.

The ultimate beta reader

Agents are readers. An individual agent has his or her own tastes and preferences but we are representative of at least a part of the reading public. We read material as ourselves the reader, wearing the mantle of the end reader even though we are often the first person to read our author’s newest work.

As a former author, publisher, publicist and marketer, Kate has seen every side of publishing and set up her own literary agency so she could do “the best job in publishing”. Kate’s reading tastes – from romance to thrillers – are highly commercial.

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