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SYP Scotland: Agents Uncovered

February 6th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on SYP Scotland: Agents Uncovered
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Photo credit: @SYPScotland Twitter

After missing my train (by one minute!), I arrived late to SYP Scotland’s event Agents Uncovered. Even with my public transportation debacle, this panel was definitely worth the trouble and the run from the train station. Agenting isn’t a topic heavily covered in the program, so it was beneficial to get a more in-depth overview about what being an agent truly entails.

The panel consisted of two agents: Judy Moir, who owns her own small literary agency, and Taran Baker, and was moderated by SYP’s Kirstin Lamb. The running advice of their panel, that we seem to constantly be hearing, is network and socialise. Taran, who started out in bookselling, got her first job as an agent by just being nice and talking to someone at an event. Judy emphasised as well to get to know people your own age in publishing because we are all the future of the publishing industry.

An agent is the mediator between the publisher and the author, but is always working towards the best interests of the author. Some general advice the two shared and important skills an agent needs are:

  • Know your way around a contract. Take a class about contract knowledge because this is absolutely essential to being a successful agent.
  • Know how the publishing process works. Have some general, all-around knowledge of each aspect (editorial, production, marketing, etc). Everything you pick up along the way is helpful.
  • Be able to sell. You have to be able to make a good pitch to a publisher, and an author at times, and sometimes hassle to get the best for your client. Get to know people in the industry, and learn how to work with and sell to them successfully.
  • Have a good nose for talent. Know where potential lies; sometimes it just needs a bit of editing. Along the same lines, have a good eye for visuals—being able to look at covers and marketing plans and recognizing their strengths and weaknesses will definitely come in handy.
  • Have patience. Agents deal with a lot of different types of people throughout the course of just one day (authors, publishers, etc). They do a lot of checking and chasing, and that takes an abundance of patience at times.
  • Honesty is the best policy. Relationships with authors and publishers is the core of being an agent. Managing their expectations with what kind of agent/agency you are takes trust and a healthy professional relationship.

Besides all of these skills, I, personally, learned a few things from this panel. Agents are not necessarily built-in editors. There are some agents who like to have a polished manuscript before taking it to an editor or a publishing house. But, that is not all agents, and acquisition editors should not expect a fully-formed book from an agency. Sometimes you have to go fishing for the talent; it won’t always find you. However, don’t completely under-estimate the slush pile.

And, the best advice, for everyone out there, not just for potential future agents: Don’t try and do it all; you’ll never sleep.

By Jo Ripoll