The other day a writer asked me, “Describe a typical work day for you.” I choked back a laugh and said, “There is no such thing as ‘typical’ in the day of a literary agent.”
There are many things that repeat. Royalty statements, new deal negotiations, contract evaluations, reviewing client proposals, and the unsolicited inquiries. But within those is a constant variety.
I wrote down a sample of “some of the things I did” during a recent week. Maybe it will paint an Impressionistic picture of a Week in the Life of a Literary Agent.
Helped a number of clients with their new proposals. Kicked them back to the client with revisions so we can make the pitch stronger.
Sent a non-fiction proposal to multiple publishers for their consideration. Then answered questions from two editors who asked for further information right away. This means it got those editor’s attention immediately, which is a good thing.
A fiction editor asked some questions about a full manuscript they are reviewing and wanted to hear the author’s vision for the cover.
Discussed the translation rights for multiple projects with a publisher in Europe.
Email from client mentioned a new ministry opportunity, then discussed two ideas that could be developed into books that fit that new platform.
A number of clients called to ask some business questions and touch base.
Received a half dozen calls from local (Phoenix area) unpublished writers who googled “literary agent” and called the first number they saw in the search engine results. Each had to be asked to please visit the agency’s web site first. No, we can’t have coffee and explain how the whole publishing “thing” works. No, we don’t represent movie scripts or stage plays. No, we do not have a “package price” for the cost to publish your book. No, we are not an agency to book actors. All were innocent inquiries but much could have been answered by reviewing our site.
Reviewed the artwork/portfolio from a possible illustrator for a client’s children’s contracted picture/devotional book.
Answered interview questions from a journalist writing for an industry periodical.
Had to declare a publisher in breach of contract for failing to publish a contracted book in the agreed upon period of time (18 months). Publisher agreed to the conditions. Author keeps the advance monies and all rights have reverted. (If you are wondering, this rarely happens.)
Accounting: Reviewed the royalty statements from multiple publishers. Made sure everything lined up correctly with the royalty checks included. Received advance payments on many projects. Made sure the monies lined up with the contractually agreed amounts. Approved the deposits for each and made sure each agent in our firm was properly credited for their work.
Wrote a bunch of rejection letters…Talk about variety.
Everything from fiction genres as diverse as dystopian, romance, thriller, historical, fantasy, contemporary women’s, literary, business parables, and science fiction proposals to non-fiction on topics as varied as: The tension between Arminianism and Calvinism; Pregnancy loss; Loss of Spouse; Breast cancer; Alzheimer’s; How to Follow Jesus when you don’t know how; Naval history; Nine volumes on a self-improvement project; How “Truth” is an evolution like magnetism between cells… etc.
Signed agency agreements for three new clients. And finalized contract negotiations on five new projects. Tamela, Dan, and Bob are busy too!
Helped client navigate a conversation with the editor and the editorial director in relation to the direction of a book currently being written.
Counseled a client who had to pull the plug on a potential collaboration project. Fortunately, all that was lost was some time.
Believe it or not, it was a relatively quiet week.
Therefore my point about there not being a “typical” day holds true. But variety is an apt description. I suspect this week will hold many of the same, but different, things. I look forward to the tasks at hand!
Damon J. Gray
It would be interesting to know what you use for time-management or organization. I find that when my week breaks from standard routines (I’m big on routine), it is more difficult to manage my time. Since your life defies the concept of routine, how do you keep organized and on time?
No great secret for time management and organization.
I use lists…on paper.
For scheduling I use the calendar provided by Google. This can sync across all my devices and desktop with alerts.
Our office uses Google Apps for all the accounts. This allows us to have the stevelaube.com domain as our email addresses but each person then has access to all the gmail apps and their functions.
But for the day to day. The legal pad or steno pad of paper works just fine.
Brennan S McPherson
About getting coffee, though. . . 🙂 Surprised you get phone calls asking for physical meetings. I suppose, though, if they’re in Phoenix.
If the coffee offered was on the veranda at the Biltmore down the street that might be kind of nice, right? 😉 (a favorite spot of mine)
And which of those tasks do you dread the most every time you start a new week?
For me, it’s packing school lunches. 🙂
Katie, if you make all those lunches at the start of the week, I’d be dreading them, too, by Thursday. For the Biblical version of the 3-day refrigerator rule, see Leviticus 19:6-7.
I dread writing the rejection letters.
I know what it means to receive one. It is not a responsibility taken lightly.
It is not something done every week. I have to carve out a few hours to focus on that specifically because it cannot be done in haste or in a cavalier manner.
When I get going I can work through them rather quickly. Some are obviously not ready or not sellable.
Bless you for that approach Steve. Rejection is a large part of the game, and while most authors expect it, it can still be hammer blow where rejection of a story is taken personally. Thanks for taking the time to recognize that in advance.
Damon J. Gray
For all the proposals I have sent out, only three agents have taken the time to write with an explanation of why they are declining representation (I say that rather than “rejection”). One of them was from your office, and I appreciated it very much. That’s a mark of a classy organization, and I applaud you for it.
Truth, evolution, and magnetism between cells? Living cells or cell-phone cells? I can easily imagine a back-cover blurb for that one, and I’d take it from the shelf out of skeptical curiosity. However, I rather doubt I’d buy it.
Aside from having to crush the hopes and dreams of so many people by rejecting a book they’ve poured their heart and soul into, you must have fun job. Kidding about the crushing. Not every dream is meant to be achieved immediately, and discouraging responses can be the tool God uses to inspire a different approach that lets us create something genuinely worthwhile.
Wow. You certainly wear a lot of different hats.
As a bookkeeper, I’m surprised you don’t have a person on staff to do some of the accounting tasks like making sure royalty checks match up with contracts, and checking royalty statements.
Throughout all of the variety though, there must be some sort of ritual or routine, right? Coffee first, then emails, lunch at a certain time…or does all that go out the window the moment the phones start ringing?
I entered college as an Accounting major (my eventual degree was in Bible). Thus I have a comfort level with numbers and spreadsheets. Always have.
Yes, I could hire an accountant for that work. For now it is something I like to do since it acts like a doctor with a finger on the pulse of each patient.
Yes, it can be time consuming, but there is no better way to grasp the overall success (or failure) of each project that to review the numbers.
Never a dull moment. I’m thankful for the services you and your staff provide. I’m especially thankful for your agency’s strong faith in God. Have an amazing week!
Great question! I find your response very helpful to understand all that agents do. Sounds like you need a degree in law, accounting and counseling to do that job.
Can I bother you for an author reference? I want to purchase a book(s) for a college age young woman who needs encouragement in her faith. I learned she enjoys reading fantasy which I’m not clear who qualifies as contemporary fantasy authors.
If you are looking for fantasy or science fiction I must recommend the books from Enclave Publishing (www.enclavepublishing.com). I used to own the company but still have a strong hand in their acquisitions process.
It’s sole focus is to publish speculative fiction written by authors who are Christians and whose worldview can inform the themes in the stories.
If your friend likes Fantasy she will find authors like Jill Williamson, Sharon Hinck, Ronie Kendig, Morgan Busse, Joan Campbell, Chawna Schroeder, Gillian Bronte Adams, and R.J. Anderson.
There is Steampunk by Morgan Busse. Dystopian by Nadine Brandes.
If she likes science fiction she will find Kathy Tyers, Steve Rzasa, Joshua Johnson, Paul Regnier, John Bush, and John Otte.
That should keep her busy for a few weekends.
Brennan S McPherson
Enclave rocks! I wholeheartedly agree that all the writers Steve mentioned are amazing (he’s not biased).
I actually checked that website. But I had forgotten you had owned it. Thanks for clarifying specific authors. I had assumed Ronie wrote military thrillers. Thanks!
Ronie does write military thrillers. She also writes epic fantasy.
I would imagine that although there isn’t a “typical” day you likely have a “standard’ way in which you handle thousands of recurring issues. Some recur daily, some have cycles that come around rarely and everything in between.
In the military (Army) we call it SOP (standard operating procedure). It is an established “best way” that has become the “standard” way to initially proceed in any circumstance. Of course this is subject to the maxim that “every plan falls apart at the first shot” in which case “field expediency” must be applied.
Your level of experience will usually automatically inform the best course of action without even thinking about it. Challenges are dealt with by refined intuitive reflex. You make it look calmly easy in situations where others may lose their head or panic. These traits usually accompany the description of “leader”. Sometimes it requires being the only one that agrees with you requiring the strength to go against “the crowd”. Sometimes (akin to being a writer) it can be a lonely endeavor. Competent, skilled leadership makes all the difference.
Thank you for sharing yours with us.
Cheryl Spears Waugh
Steve, Glad you look forward to the work you do each week. Nothing boring about it. Easy to see why having an agent is so important. You and your team do a great job.
All of this variety makes me want to work for you!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
So, Steve, I guess you don’t sit around eating bonbons and watching soap operas?