Literary Agent Job Description – An author recently posted the following question for me: “What do literary agents do with their time? I know they send material to publishers and wait for them to respond, just like authors must wait for literary agents to respond. But, what do agents do with the rest of their day? Agents say they’re too busy to respond to queries for weeks (sometimes months). Others say they’re too busy to respond at all. So, if literary agents are that busy, what are they so busy doing?”
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Literary Agent Job Description
Not all literary agents have the same job description because they have different interests, abilities, and needs.
For example, new literary agents spend most of their time looking for new authors and pitching their work to publishers, hoping to make enough money to pay their bills so they can continue being agents. Established agents look for new clients as well, but they also spend time managing and developing the careers of their existing clients. This is an example of how an agent’s current needs can affect his or her current job description.
When it comes to ability, consider this example. Some agents are former editors or publicists. Those agents are more likely to provide extra time, insight, and/or support regarding manuscript development and/or promotion. Makes sense, right? Obviously, agents without much depth in those areas can’t provide the same level of support.
And, when it comes to agent interests, consider this example. Agents passionate about the movie industry will likely be more involved with helping their clients sell subsidiary rights for their books in the area of feature film.
Here’s the bottom line…
The only thing agents all have in common is they all represent authors. In other words, it’s impossible to say what each literary agent does. But, listed below, you’ll find a literary agent job description for a successful literary agent. Remember, less established agents don’t do all the things you see below, they don’t do as much of those things, and they don’t do them with same degree of competence.
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(Successful) Literary Agent Job Description
The following profile isn’t an official literary agent job description. It’s based on my experience and knowledge as a former literary agent, and as someone who’s met and gotten to know other agents.
Literary Agent Job Description
Number of clients: 10-100+ (typically 20-60)
Hours worked each week: 40-100 (typically 50-80)
Literary Agent Responsibilities
Compile/maintain list of who’s who (mostly publishers and acquisition editors) – how to reach them, what they want, and how they want it
Publisher payment tracking and collections
Royalty reconciliation and/or audits
Sending author payouts
Taxes and other fees
Maintain listings in print/online directories
Literary Agency Brand-building/Education Outreach
Speaking at conferences and other events
Develop/Nurture Relationships (meetings at offices as well as industry events, lunches, phone calls, emails)
Other publishing house staff including assistants, sales and marketing, publicity, cover designers, etc.
Literary agents with other agencies
Leaders and members of industry groups, organization, and associations
Team (partners, junior agents, administrative support, interns, etc.)
Reviewing initial submissions
Reviewing additional requested material
Author Market Research
Determine if prospective authors’ work is marketable
Determine best way to make clients’ work more marketable and/or sound more marketable
Author Platform- and/or Brand-building (pre- and/or post-publication)
Advise authors regarding the best ways to strengthen their platform/brand
Advise authors regarding the best ways to grow their platform/brand
Author Manuscript Editing
Subsidiary Rights Sales
Foreign English-language edition sales
Foreign translation sales
Feature film, TV, stage
Other subsidiary rights
Overseeing Pre-production Development with Publisher
Overseeing Post-production Promotion with Publisher (foreign and domestic)
Publisher Troubleshooting (foreign and domestic)
Unfulfilled promotional promises
Drama caused by difficult or incompetent staff (editor, publicist, etc.)
Staff turnover (editor, publicist, etc.) causing a project to be orphaned or neglected
Updates regarding sales progress (plus the items mentioned earlier)
Discussing future titles
Improving new books
Attending and/or participating in trade shows and conferences, etc. (see below)
Reading industry newsletters and blogs
World news and trends
National news and trends
Niche news and trends
Reading books/articles about the industry and/or craft of writing
Reading books in genres the agent represents, written by authors he or she doesn’t represent
Attending/Participating in Events
BookExpo America (BEA) – Spring (usually NYC)
Brooklyn Book Festival – Fall
Miami Book Fair – Fall
Frankfurt Book Fair – Fall
London Book Fair – Spring
Bologna (Children’s) Book Fair – Spring
SIBA (The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) and others such as: NEIBA, NAIBA, PNBA, MIBA, GLIBA, MPIBA, NCIBA, SCIBA, etc.
Group, Organization, Association & Award Events
Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) Events
National Book Awards Ceremony and Gala
National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Awards
Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards
The James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards Dinner
Nebula Awards Weekend – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Annual Conferences
American Libraries Association Conferences
Public Libraries Association Conference
Attending/participating in events
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Literary Agent Job Description – Conclusion
It’s easy for authors to imagine that literary agents don’t have much (or anything) to do except read manuscripts. But publishing and agenting are no different than any other business or industry. There’s always more to it than most people think about or see on the surface. Hopefully, the above literary agent job description helps you have a better understanding of—and appreciation for—what successful literary agents do. And, hopefully it helps you understand why successful literary agents don’t always have time to personally (or thoughtfully) respond to most of the 10-15,000 submissions they get each year.
It’s not personal…
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Question or Comment About This Literary Agent Job Description or How to Find a Literary Agent?
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