What I learned after working at a literary agency

I worked at Folio Literary Management in Manhattan for about four months. It’s an agency that represents fiction and non-fiction authors. I’ve already experienced the publisher side when I was at Simon & Schuster  (where I will soon return), so I wanted to get a sense of where a book really begins: at an agency. I heard about Folio from a friend, and decided to apply in the summer of 2013. I didn’t get a response until the end of the year, but I didn’t care: it was a response!

While at Folio I maintained my agent’s query inbox. She’d get more than 20 emails a day, each with ten-page submissions for me to read. If I liked a query, I would say so (two paragraphs talking about narrative momentum, character, marketability – all things to consider when reading a manuscript), and then I’d get either a partial manuscript (50 pages) or a full manuscript. For a full script, I would have to write a one-page reader’s report listing the story’s strengths and weaknesses and a suggestion as to whether or not the agent should represent the client. I’d also research recent literary prize winners and see if their work could become a novel or if they’re already at work on a novel (making sure, of course, that they are not already represented). As you can see, I was given many responsibilities and I worked hard to complete  my tasks in a timely manner.

This experience was so rewarding. I learned so much about the publishing industry, thanks to Folio’s Intern Academy sessions. When I finish my novel, I’ll know how to query an agent! If you’re reading this, you’re probably a friend, and you’re probably curious to see what I’ve learned from Folio. Or you’re a complete stranger, but want to hear about my experience at a literary agency. Maybe you want to get an internship at a literary agency. Perfectly fine!

Here’s what I have to say. Some are tips for authors, some are pet peeves that I had as an intern (a few are confirmed pet peeves and others are personal pet peeves). Comment below if you have any more questions!

  • Easy on the font. Use Times New Roman or a clear serif.
  • When writing your reader’s report, watch the tone. You’re trying to help the writer improve his or her story, so it’s important to maintain a cordial tone throughout your report.
  • When submitting one novel, don’t mention that you have another one in the works. If an agent really likes your writing, he or she will ask. But if you tell them right away, it’s like you’re telling them, “Hey, I don’t think this is good enough either, so here’s some other choices!”
  • Research your potential agent. Did you write a YA novel? Check if she or he is accepting queries for that genre at the moment.
  • Let your supervisor know what you like to read. I told my supervisor that I love reading literary fiction, so he would always send me those queries.
  • Queries are first impressions that agents get of clients, so proofread. It’s amazing how people can completely ignore that.
  • Never send a mass email. Always address one agent at a time.
  • Don’t mention how you got your novel idea. Agents don’t care if God told you to write something.
  • Have a detailed synopsis ready in case the agent likes what you’ve sent him/her so far.
  • Don’t compare your writing style to legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen. That’s just pompous.
  • The first ten pages matter. They usually tell agents to read more. You might be asked to submit a  partial (50 pages) or a full manuscript. So, it’s important that you get to the point of your story.
  • Read the literary agency’s submissions guidelines. It’s that simple.
  • Include relevant writing experience in your query. If you’re writing mystery and you’re a member of a mystery writing club, let them know.
  • If you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction, have a platform. If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, you have to write well.
  • Interns: Take books from the book pile. Book piles are heaps of gold. Don’t pass up an opportunity to get FREE books (and no late fees from the library).
  • Know what’s going on the publishing industry. I recommend reading PubTalk, Galley Cat, Mediabistro – any site that relates to publishing.
  • Make friends, because you’ll never know what’s going to happen two years, three years, etc. down the line. Publishing peeps are fun.
  • ENJOY.

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Comments

  1. E.Chow says

    I’m amazed with how much professional experience you received this summer and how much you’ve grown. It’s inspiring!

    Like

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