Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Becoming a literary agent: introductory course

I've been reading your blog and you answer questions asked by aspiring authors. I was just wondering if you could possibly give advice on becoming a literary agent? Especially in Australia. I'm in my penultimate year at university, and I would love to know how to get a foot in the door of becoming a literary agent. It's often noted how important networking is, but it seems you need some sort of established background before someone even takes notice.

Currently, I'm trying to get an internship over the summer holidays. There are very few literary agencies in Australia, but do you still think there would be a chance they'll accept an intern? If it's a yes or no, and why? I thought it would be a good time since many individuals would go on holiday with their kids.

Also, I've been reading on submission guidelines. And there seems to be very little agencies that represent Young Adult work. Is there a reason for that or are Australian agents just not interested at the moment? My favourite genre is YA, and I think there should be more Australian YA authors in the market. I'm honestly curious because I see so much potential.

I can't imagine how anyone would become an agent straight out of university unless she was going into a fairly large, established agency where she could be trained. Being an agent, like many jobs, depends on relationships. If I don't have relationships with any publishers, I can't place books with them. Certainly, when I started I didn't have as many relationships with publishers as I have now, but I had some. It would be very difficult to start with none, unless you work with an experienced agent who can take you around and introduce you to people. It also helps to have a fair amount of knowledge about how the publishing industry works, which you can learn on the job, but, again, you'd ideally have someone to teach you if you haven't learnt it from personal experience. So if you're intent on only working in an agency, make it a large one. But you can also get a lot of relevant experience working in a publishing company or as a bookseller. I actually think bookselling is the closest parallel to agenting: both booksellers and agents are trying to place stories they love with other people who may love them too.

Regarding an internship: again, it's probably only a large agency who can accommodate a trainee. Small agencies or agents who work for themselves would be less likely to take on an intern, simply because it would create a lot of work and not give them any help whatsoever. Small operators of all types are used to doing everything themselves. Trying to hand some work off to someone else requires a lot of time and probably creates a fair bit of stress. And that's if they even have somewhere to put you - they may only have one desk and one computer.

As to agents and young adult fiction: it's a matter of personal preference. It's very hard to effectively represent something if you don't love it. So if an agent doesn't naturally have an interest in young adult fiction, it's better if they leave it alone because at best they'll be making educated guesses about what's going to work, and then their heart won't be in it, and that's not the best result for the YA authors. There are certain genres I don't represent because I don't love them, don't know much about them and therefore shouldn't touch them with a ten-foot barge pole. There are other agents who love the genres I don't, and they are rightfully the ones who should represent them.