Interning at a literary agency was like being paid to eat candy all day. Except that I wasn’t paid and the books I read usually weren’t sweet. The internship entailed reading and reviewing manuscript submissions, working the front desk (aka awkwardly offering visitors coffee/tea and then just getting them water), and sending out mail.
Over the course of those four months, I read tons of books and it’s likely only one or two of them will ever make it to publication. It was a time of ‘business casual’ clothing and free Nespresso coffees that taught me a lot about how the publishing industry works.
1. No, the literary agency doesn’t publish books
The different facets of the publishing industry can be confusing because there are so many of them. There’s the publishing company, the editors, the lawyers, the agents, and more. The job of the agent is to get a book to publishers. Usually, agents have relationships with companies and they will take a client and their work to the company to get published. Jericho Writers reported that the odds of sale with an agent are around 67%. Chances are much lower if an author just cold submits their manuscript to a publishing company.
2. there’s a method to all the career madness
If you were wondering how someone manages to make it in the industry, there’s actually a system in place that allows you to rise up. After getting hired as an agent’s assistant, you can work under them learning for about two years, before starting to take on clients of your own. Another year or two after that, once you’ve established yourself with a couple of works, you can break away and become an agent. Generally, the agency that you’ve been working for will hire you, but you can take your clients elsewhere or start up your own agency as well. Over the years you will work your way up by gaining more clients and (hopefully) representing some bestsellers.
3. There really are a ton of white women
In my agency alone there were 9 that I was aware of. Granted, there were a bunch of male agents, but no male assistants and no males of color. But yes, the stereotype is alive and thriving.
4. it’s worth submitting a proposal before writing your manuscript
There’s nothing quite as disappointing as pouring hours into your work only to have it rejected. Agents will only accept clients that they can sell, otherwise they won’t make any money. They get paid only when their client does, and do not run on a set salary. So, before sitting down and throwing your whole life into an idea, send some proposals around to agencies first to see if someone will represent it. This will also force you into a deadline for your writing (which some of us NEED) and will allow for better feedback throughout the process.
5. submit your work with normal formatting
Times New Roman. 12pt. font. Double spaced. It’s so easy to do. No agent is going to be impressed if you decide to write in Courier Neue because you think it looks nicer. In fact, most won’t even read the manuscript if it isn’t formatted correctly. It’s worth just sticking to the standard so there will be nothing distracting your reader from the actual work.