The Great Unwashed.
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For those who are just joining us, I’ve wanted to be a children’s book editor since I was 7 years old. (At this point I almost feel like it’s my mantra, my go-to, the thing that I say to help people figure out who I am and what I’m all about. So if you haven’t heard me say it often enough, here it is again.)
I’ve worked at and for and in places that have given me invaluable editorial (and teaching) experience, like Westchester Magazine and Writopia Lab and Random House and The Miss Information and for the TCSD Foundation. I’ve gotten to see first hand what it takes to revise and edit and complete a manuscript or an article, make it into a book or put it online or in a newsletter, and see the tangible finished product that is the writer’s work.
What all of these experiences have given me a limited look into was the world of agenting– the pre-book, pre-published article, pre-finished work world. I had a general sense of what acquisitions were, and what the role of an agent was, but didn’t really have a full understanding of what it all really meant until this summer.
This summer I had the honor of interning at William Clark Associates Literary Agency, a small literary agency in the Flatiron District in New York City. The office I worked in was beautiful. The people were so kind. The area of NYC I worked in was the center of it all. (There was a great Mexican food place and a Starbucks right around the corner, so I was pretty much set.) (Just kidding, I went to other places too, ya know, got dinner and drinks with friends in the city.) (But I did figure out where Union Square was in relation to the office by typing “nearest Forever 21″into Google Maps, so there you go.) (I almost wish I was kidding about that.)
I worked for William Clark himself, who proved himself a kind, adept, and wise mentor. He encouraged me to listen in on his phone calls, ask questions whenever I had any, and to test my boundaries and explore the city. (If the #1 thing about me is that I want to be a children’s book editor, the #2 thing is that I have no sense of direction. I got lost. A lot.) He told me when I did something wrong and was very understanding. I even got to meet his daughter and give her a list of children’s books to read, which I had a lot of fun putting together. (We bonded over Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.)
At the agency, I not only got to learn about the business of agenting, but I also got to read book proposals and contracts and agreements, which is something I’ve never gotten to do before. I read adult narrative nonfiction and fiction books, some of which were interesting, some of which were not, some of which were good, some of which were not. (A lot of people write about the Holocaust and 9/11, I’ve noticed.) I liked that I got to read work that wasn’t meant for children, because I was able to expand my repertoire and find other genres and categories I might be interested in for my future career path.
I evaluated each proposal thoroughly and to the best of my ability, summarizing my thoughts into a few paragraphs and sending them to William Clark. He trusted my judgement, which made me feel more confident in my own opinions and ideas. He sent me on errands to mail things and deliver packages. I took inventory of his stock of books. I got to go to a summer literary agent intern toolbox session at the CUNY Graduate Center and meet publishing professionals as well as other summer literary agency interns. I was able to copy edit a few manuscripts and proposals and make sure everything looked put together, which was probably my favorite part of the job.
This summer was a really wonderful experience, and one that I don’t think I would be able to find elsewhere, especially with someone who was as encouraging, knowledgeable, and supportive of a mentor as William Clark. Interning at William Clark Associates Literary Agency showed me another side to a world that I can’t wait to be a part of.
Over the course of the summer, I took general notes on what I learned, which can mostly be summarized below. (Also– a .PDF of an abridged version of a speech William Clark gave about the role of a literary agent can be found here. It helped me a lot when I started out this summer.)
- Publishing and agenting are businesses built on relationships.
- Agents find writers, get their manuscripts in shape, and then find editors to make an offer.
- Agents are problem solvers. They solve problems between authors and publishers.
- The agent manages the integrity of the author’s work in relation to the publisher.
- Proposals are supposed to talk about what makes a manuscript unique, show whether or not the author knows what he/she is talking about, identify potential readers and competing/comparative works, and have a specific goal/focus. They also have to hit all of these important points in an engaging way, to capture the interest of the agent, and ultimately the editor.
- The author brand resides with the author and not the publisher! The agent helps the author expand on his/her brand.
- The revision process is what the editor wants to do with the manuscript and how the author chooses to make those changes.
- A royalty statement is how publishers account for the number of book sales. A percentage of book sales go to the publisher, author, and agent.
- When reading a manuscript or a proposal, it’s important to try and read it with a broader perspective than your own. If you’re reading it with only your interests in mind, you might miss out on something worth looking at. So keep an open mind.
- A platform business model is one that “creates value by facilitating exchanges between two or more groups,” i.e. authors/agents and publishers/editors.
- The IPR Database is a database meant to sort of replace the agent’s role in the publishing process. IPR stands for Intellectual Property Rights, i.e., copyright of the work that’s going to be published.
- A memoir is about a person’s personal experience(s) while an autobiography is more about a person’s life as a whole. (Sometimes the two words are used interchangeably, so everyone calm down.)
- As much as the author chooses the agent, the agent chooses the author.
- As the world of publishing changes (as it has and is, constantly) it’s important to be aware of how these changes affect the relationship between the author and the agent!
- Representations (accuracies on the date a contract is made) and warranties (guarantees that statements will remain in the future) are assurances by the agent/author that certain statements in a contract are true.
- Indemnification is when the author has to reimburse the publisher for its losses and expenses if a representation or warranty made by the agent is wrong and the publisher loses money as a result.
- Agents have to try and work with/understand the stresses an editor is under from their publishers.
- A book scout works for foreign publishers, find what sells in America, and figures out what might sell in other places.
- The lifespan of a copyright is the author’s death + 70 years.
- Underlying work is the original work of an author (book, a manuscript, etc.) and derivative work is a movie that might come out based on the book, or musical arrangements, or a theatrical adaptation, etc.
- Publishers always have their best interest at heart! They don’t always have the author’s best interest. Agents deal with ~outsized expectations~ from both the author and publisher.
- It’s easier to get a job as an agent, and there’s also a lot more job mobility than there might be as an editor (*single tear falls down my cheek*).
- Economic interest is the author’s right to be paid for their work. Moral interest is the author’s right to the work’s integrity and attribution.
- It costs considerably less to mail something at the post office than with UPS. (oops)
- If you are genuine and go about your business without the intention of hurting others you will be just fine.