I have previously blogged about my experience as an editorial intern at a children’s books imprint, as well as various other topics pertaining to the publishing industry: how to find an internship, what the interview might look like, and tips for getting an internship.
This past summer, I had a bit of a different internship experience, this time with a literary agency (which, like the publisher I interned with, shall remain unnamed. My views do not reflect their views and all that). Seeing the industry from a different perspective was interesting, so I wanted to share some of what I learned, both to help those who might be deciding if they want to work in publishing and to help those who might be trying to get a manuscript published. Or just for the general interest of people who like books.
- Secrecy is the key word. I signed a confidentiality agreement before starting the internship, basically asserting that I would not discuss my work outside of the agency (mostly regarding clients, manuscripts, and deals). Agents don’t want other agents to know they’re considering X book because someone else might attempt to woo their potential client away from them.
- Agents want to have their authors’ backs. They are experts in the industry and will fight to get their authors the best deals, whether that means selling rights primarily to a single publisher, or pursuing selling separate rights to multiple publishers.
- I mentioned this in regards to editors, but it applies to agents, as well: They want to work with people they like. You don’t necessarily need to be best friends with your agent, but you should always be polite, respectful, and open to the fact that you’re going to have to edit parts of your manuscript. No one wants to work with someone rude or whiny. And if you lie to them about how many other agents are interested in your work, they will find out, and they will not be pleased.
- In addition to culling submitted manuscripts for great books, agents are also looking for the Next Big Thing on their own. They stay in touch with popular culture and look for journalists, bloggers, celebrities, etc. they think could write a compelling book and sometimes pitch an idea to them!
- Having “influence” can only help aspiring authors. Agents and editors want to know that your book is going to sell, so if you have 90,000 followers on Twitter, you want to include that information in your query letter, as well as your intention to market your book to said followers. (Keep in mind, however, that for social media numbers to matter to agents, they have to be big. Two thousand followers are not going to sway them.) This does not mean, however, that if you are a completely unknown author that no agent will be interested in your book. If it’s good, it’s good.
- As a corollary to this point, if you want to sell a nonfiction book, you need to have expertise in the subject you are writing about. You need to convince the agent (who will then need to convince an editor) that you are the person to write about a diet, or DIY remodeling, or whatever. List any degrees you’ve earned, any articles you’ve written, etc. that are relevant to your topic. But make sure they matter and are unique. Saying that you are a mother is not a fast track to publishing your book on parenting.
- It’s generally not easy to just “become a literary agent.” Agents get paid when they sell books to publishers. This means that those looking to start out in the industry often have to take on other roles in the agency (ones with a more stable salary) as they build their client list.
Overall, I had a great time at this internship and learned a lot about how the publishing industry works. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions, especially from readers interested in getting a publishing internship of their own!