Recap—Fall Forum: Literary Agenting Today and Tomorrow

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“Literary Agenting Today and Tomorrow,” held in the Pearson Office on Wednesday, September 28, was the first event of the annual Fall Forum Educational Event Series. The goal: answer the question of “What do literary agents do?”

With the gracious Mark Chimsky (President of Mark Chimsky Editorial Services Unlimited) as the moderator, the panel consisted of three business veterans, each of whom brought their own unique experiences and perspectives to the conversation.

After snacks and introductions, the discussion began with what first drew each panelist to become agents. They credited the hands-on and proactive nature of the job as a big factor in their career choices.

BBBoston_EdEvent_LitAgents_2016Sept_11-2“This is the thick of it, this is where we can get ideas out on paper” said Lucy Cleland, Editorial and Dramatic Rights Manager at Kneerim and Williams. Being an agent requires you to seek out potential clients/book ideas and to work more directly with the authors. All if this allows for a more active role in the creative process of shaping a manuscript.

A consequence of working so closely with authors is what all panelists agreed to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job: real and long-lasting relationships with your clients. Rick Richter, agent at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, said “The most satisfying thing you can do in the book business […] is call a first time author with their first deal and say ‘Congratulations, you are now a published author.’”

When asked about what elements they consider when deciding whether or not to represent a book, Lorin Rees, head agent at The Rees Literary Agency, said that, although it depends on the kind of book, what agents ultimately want is something different, but also engaging.

Like in writing, said Cleland, it’s about finding the right voice in the writing. But the “Aha!” moment of finding that perfect balance is one of the best parts of the job.

BBBoston_EdEvent_LitAgents_2016Sept_15-2“We call that the holy $@^& moment,” added Richter, helpfully.

Another important part of representing a book is knowing which publishers would be the best fit for the book. As the middleman between the author and the publisher, it is the agent’s job to get the book into the right place so that, ideally, both author and editor are happy. But the agent is ultimately on the author’s side, which sometimes means standing up for your client and, in Rees’ words, “being the bad guy.”

The final question asked the panelists for any advice that had for aspiring literary agents.

Rick Richter said that you have be “a tremendous self-starter” and very good with time management. Agents are paid by commission so it’s a business where “you eat what you catch.”

Lucy Cleland said to be “dogged” and emphasized the importance of being able to take rejection in stride.

Lorin Rees called it “a dreamer’s business” and advised to approach it with the attitude that “you’re not going to give up, ever.”

A big thanks to the event organizers, the panelists and to everyone that braved the chilly Boston weather to join the discussion. The next Fall Forum Educational Event, “How Do We Make Publishing More Inclusive?” will be held on Tuesday, October 25 in the offices of Beacon Press.