So I decided I wanted to learn to become a kids book literary agent.
That is easier said than done. It was only through the encouragement of a writing buddy that I sent out an email to kids book literary agent, Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson, asking her how she became an agent, and of course, I included my relevant background so that she wouldn’t think I was yet another starry-eyed lover of books . . . wait, that’s what I am.
But I’ve also spent almost 16 years as a book editor, including for Scholastic and other kids book publishers. I live and breathe interaction with authors and publishers. I have had agents. I have written and sold kids books. I want to write and sell more kids books (thus the author/agent connection; Anna is an author/agent). I’ve worked on staff at British Medical Journal Publishing as a digital content editor (editing doctors, who surprisingly, can write sometimes, but most times cannot). I think I’ve done just about everything in publishing BUT work as an agent.
Anna said I would be a great agent intern and if I lived in New York, she said, I would get an internship or paying job fast. But I don’t live in New York. I live in Seattle (kind of a long ways away) and so she recommended that I send out emails to kids book agents and agencies that may need an intern. She called it a slush pile reader. So I wrote up a pitch and sent out some emails. Well, I only sent out five. I had a list of 50, but this was a big step for me. It took insane courage to ask these busy agent people to mentor little old me. I got three replies, almost immediately.
The first two replies were sorry, we don’t have a slush pile for kids books, therefore, we don’t have an immediate need. And the third reply was Erin Murphy. She doesn’t have a slush pile either, but she and I had known each other on Facebook (another plug for using social media tools!) and Erin mentioned that she was just hiring someone to help with social media and that I should keep in touch.
Then Erin sent me an email update, a newsletter she sends out every few months or so, and I decided to go back and pitch her again (checking in about that social media person she was going to hire), but this time with some leverage of my own. I would help Erin and her clients with social media if Erin would teach me how to agent.
It seemed simple enough. An even trade—my knowledge for hers. And learning from each other would benefit both of us. And that’s the rest of the story . . . sort of.
I started with Erin in late February/early March of this year. In March, I flew to Austin, Texas to take part in the annual EMLA retreat (the authors fly in for a few days to “retreat” together) and I spoke for a bit about how I thought they could use social media (we’ll talk more about that later). If this job ONLY relied on the amazing clients that are EMLA clients, I’d be done, trained, ready to go as an agent.
But there is much more than meets the eye to learning agenting. It’s not for the faint of heart. This is not about reading a book, loving it, and trying to figure out how to sell it. I mean, it is, but there is a lot of other stuff around that.
I love it all! But I get tired faster than I thought I would. (You know how you think you’ll have limitless energy doing something you love, or at least that’s what they all say in the books about following your bliss?)
It’s only partially true.
The learning curve to become an agent is extremely high. And I LIKE to get thrown in the deep end. But right now, I’m dog paddling and having a hard time keeping up.
I don’t know what editors will like what book (I am being trained how to pitch the right book to the right editor at the right time) because those relationships can’t be entered into an Excel file and managed with a few keyboard shortcuts. It’s like dating. You get the impression a certain editor wants this sort of book, but then you send it and that’s not what they wanted after all. And because an agent likes to NOT irritate her favorite editors, this is the pressure they feel continually and this is why they don’t have a lot of time to do other things that, ahem, us authors like to grouse about on both public and private forums.
Call me no longer seeing through rose-colored glasses. Agenting is not a job you can just pick up and start doing within a few months. At least if you want to do it well. And I want to do it well. So, scratch that last statement: Agenting, if you are attempting to do it the way I would like to do it, which is going for the highest standards I can muster, and learning from one of the best agents and agencies around, is not something you just think you’d like to do and you do. It took me two years of preplanning (almost stalking Erin and her associate agent, Joan sometimes) and researching and learning and preparing just to send the email out to Anna Olswanger inquiring about how to go about it.
At least that’s what I see from where I am today. I will keep you posted on how things change and move as the days go by. Any questions?