I am an editor/contributing writer at a small website that launched this past summer. In my day job, I'm a legal recruiter. By training, I'm a lawyer. As a college student, I ran two businesses. I'm on track to read about 50 books this year. I'm spouting off these semi-narcissistic tidbits because I'd love to mix all of these skills together to become 'an agent'.I write 'agent' in quotations because, to me, it's some sort of fantasy occupation. I don't know any agents personally and I also don't know much about what an agent does on a day-to-day basis. Would you be able to provide me with any insight? How did you find your profession? What motivates you every day when you go to work? How does one go about seeking a position as an agent? What are the key skills to bring? What can one expect in terms of compensation? Is it a percentage/commission-driven occupation? What are your supervisors/office mates like? Do agents work closely with other members of a writers' entourage (publicists and the like)? Do writers have entourages?
Hmmm ... I needed a lie-down after reading this. If I were to answer all of these questions comprehensively I'd probably need to write a thesis. So I'll try to give some information but not so much that my top-secret identity would be revealed.
How did you find your profession? - It found me - I was approached by the agency I work for. The best possible preparation for being an agent is to work in some part of the publishing industry - bookselling or a publishing company - for a while so you understand how it all works. It's also very important to have relationships - if you want to become an agent and you know no one in the industry, it could take you two to five years to build up relationships to the point where publishers trust you enough to look at your submissions. Thus, it's easier to make these relationships before you become an agent, through a job in some sector of the industry. The publishing pond is small. A lot of the publishers (and publicists and editors and sales managers) I deal with are people I've worked with in the past.
What motivates you every day when you go to work? - At the moment, panic. Panic at the amount of work I have to do every day. Panic at the amount of reading I have. But, sometimes, there are the sweet spots. Recently one of my authors who has been writing for years, and is successful and well known and all those lovely things, sent me their next manuscript and after I'd read it told me I was the first person on the whole planet to read it. I felt incredibly privileged - especially because it was wonderful.
How does one go about seeking a position as an agent? - See the answer to the first question. Also, agent jobs don't come up very often and if they do the applicants are usually sourced from within the industry. If you want to have any job in publishing, you really have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I have never applied for a job in publishing since the very first job I applied for years ago - once you're in, people know you and you know them and you just find out when jobs are available.
What are the key skills to bring? - Obviously, a passion for books. You also need to be able to manage people, quite often when they're in a fractious state. You need to be able to negotiate and to understand contracts. Editorial skills help. Overall, though, you need to be able to juggle ten balls at once, while standing on a tightrope, and not let any of the balls drop.
What can one expect in terms of compensation? - Not much. Authors don't make much money and we take a small percentage of that. You don't become an agent to become rich. It may happen if you hit the jackpot, but generally it doesn't.
Do agents work closely with other members of a writers' entourage (publicists and the like)? Do writers have entourages? - To the latter question: no. Writing is a solitary occupation. Even legendary socialisers like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer eventually crawled back to the garret alone. Most writers are introverts who are forced to become extroverts on the publicity trail and the trauma usually drives them back to their computers quick smart. The people I work mostly closely with are the publishers, but I also have contact with editors and publicists where necessary.