Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Becoming a Literary Agent…Eventually

Lisa Vanterpool

Publishing Trendsetter is thrilled to welcome Lisa Vanterpool as a regular contributor–and our first international correspondent, at that. She first joined us as a guest contributor during the London Book Fair, sharing observations that are a must-read for any young professional, no matter where in the world you’re attending book fairs. Lisa left the US to get her MA in Publishing at Kingston University – London, and says she “hasn’t looked back since.” Here’s looking forward to vicariously sharing her adventures.

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Before I even handed in my final paper for the semester, my MA in Publishing colleagues and I were eagerly looking for jobs. Don’t get me wrong, we still have final dissertations to complete, but we were more than eager to get started in the field that we had been studying for the past nine months. And of course all of the big name publishers were brought into our discussions of ‘dream jobs.’ You know – Penguin, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Random House. And after my jaunt to the London Book Fair, I was definitely more aware of them.

However, an opportunity for me to work in a leading literary agency in London came about and while the idea seemed far less popular to some, it seemed far more beneficial to me. And while I’m not working directly in a publishing house, I feel more involved than ever.

If anything I think I’m getting a much wider view. Daily we receive books from those top six publishers, and many more. Daily we submit manuscripts to publishers all over the world, receive contracts from different countries, and in different languages – which can sometimes be a bit tricky. And on top of that I have the opportunity to read manuscripts from new talent.

Don’t get me wrong, being a Books Assistant is not where my ambition ends. (I didn’t win “Most Ambitious” at a summer internship with a local newspaper for nothing.) While I am learning as much as I can about the industry, and reading more than I ever have in my life,  I can’t help but reach and want to push myself to one day become an agent-with my own client list. Making deals, meeting editors and going up to bat for my authors and my company feels well suited for my boisterous and determined personality.

And, despite what some people say, the business model of literary agencies isn’t faltering. How do I know? Everyday I get calls from hopeful and sometimes desperate writers looking for an agent. Every. Single. Day.

And why wouldn’t they want an agent?  Self-publishing is great, honestly, but how many self-published authors know how to negotiate a contract or sell the rights to their title to other countries? Not too many.

As I begin this journey of assistant to agent I can’t help but be inspired by our authors and by my fellow colleagues as all of us are determined to make it in this industry we like to call “publishing.”  How about you? Did you have very specific plans for how you wanted to start your publishing career, only to take a slightly different track because an opportunity came up? If you did, what do you love about your current position that you think your “dream job” might not have offered you? If you work in an literary agency, did you work long and hard to do just that, or did you slip into it the way I have?”

5 Comments

  1. Marnise says:

    I would love to know more about becoming a Literary Agent. Or Post about Remote internships

    • We hope to have many more gems from Lisa on the lit-agent life as time goes on! In the meantime, Marnise, thought you might like to see this article that Publishing Perspectives re-ran this week. It’s an exploration of the specific reasons people choose agenting and the changes going on in that part of industry right now. You may have already seen it, but if not, it’s well-worth a read.

      Best of luck, and hope to keep hearing your thoughts,
      Elisabeth

      • Marnise says:

        Thank you for showing me this article. I just saw your reply and this information is very helpful. This whole website is very helpful. Many post have inspired me! I’m learning a lot about publishing that I would have otherwise not known until I was already working in the field.

        Great Work!!!
        Marnise

  2. Jophen Baui says:

    I am wondering if there is such a thing as a regional literary agent, that is, agents working for international literary agencies but are based on their own countries. Thank you for your feedback on this.

  3. Phil Goetz says:

    Jophen, yes, there are. The author’s agent basically subcontracts foreign publication to agents in other countries. That’s why an agent takes a larger cut for international deals–both she and the agent in Turkey or Russia get their cut.

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