You know how you keep meaning to do a thing, and the longer you put it off, the harder it becomes to buckle down and do it? That is me and this blog. But it's never too late to turn things around, so I hope to be blogging a lot more this year.
I'm going to save query stats for their official posts (I am SO CLOSE to wrapping up 2017) but I wanted to reflect in a more general way about my first year of agenting.
January 13th was my agentaversary; I've now been actively building a client list for over a year. My number one takeaway, honestly, is that I'm so very glad I had a decade of industry experience under my belt before becoming an agent.
I absolutely knew what I was getting into when I made this career move-. I left a steady, salaried job as a contracts manager and moved to agenting, where my income is based almost entirely on commissions from sales. I did not make any sales in 2017.
I taught an online query class, judged one writing contest, attended one conference, and earned a total of $1,068.00 for the entire year. That's it. I won't always be so forthcoming with my income, but I do believe in transparency. I believe that most people who go into agenting and don't have a draw or an assistant's salary to lean on have no real understanding of the financial hardship that comes with the job. And I don't think most people--writers and agent-hopefuls alike--have any idea how much work it takes before agenting becomes financially sustainable. All of the hours I spend reading and responding to queries, reading requested material, writing blog posts, podcasting and writing for Pub Crawl, giving tips on twitter, networking long-distance with editors, putting together submission lists and strategies, writing pitch letters, editing client manuscripts, doing market research, putting together course proposals and lecture topics, curating my #MSWL and developing other ways to drive the right kinds of submissions to my inbox, and all of the unseen administrative work--all of that labor is essentially unpaid.
I'm not complaining. I knew all of this going in. And I'm so fortunate to have a supportive partner and the financial stability to essentially walk away from a paycheck in pursuit of the work I love. But when writers are impatiently waiting for a response to their query, maybe this helps put things in perspective. And so many young agents DON'T know this before they start. Making a living off commission is hard work, and it might not happen in the first year or even two, so if you're considering becoming an agent make sure you have other sources of income or are otherwise financially secure. There's a high burn out rate for agents, and the endless hustle to chase sales is a big part of why.
Time management is still something I'm figuring out. My clients are my top priority, always. I strive to respond quickly, to provide as many details as I can, to be thoughtful and supportive in all our correspondence. My clients are amazing and I never regret a single second I spend working on their behalf, even when I'm walking in circles around my apartment, reading terrible pitch drafts aloud, with the haunting feeling that I am neeeeeveerrrrrr going to get a solid pitch down. (This feeling always passes, but there's always a while where I'm IN IT. Pitch writing--much like query writing--is hard). Making sure I'm on top of client communication is perhaps the most important thing to me as an agent.
Editors get my next level of attention. I believe in building up relationships, and relationships take effort. Sometimes even keeping track of which editor moved to which imprint where during reorgs can take hours in and of itself. But I set aside a lot of time for phone calls, emails, and editor research, because networking is important and valuable. Plus, editors are awesome, and I genuinely like many of them and want to be friends!
I spend a fair bit of time of administrative work, keeping my records clean and up to date, making plans for future business trips (New York, I'm coming back this year!) and other odds and ends.
And then there's queries and requested reading, which is arguably where the ball most often drops. I'm still figuring out ways to improve response times going forward. I hate (HATE) being so far behind. I believe all writers who query me deserve the courtesy of thoughtful consideration and a response. But queries and requested reading are definitely the first thing to come off my daily schedule when something more pressing comes up. I'm thinking of taking a reading day--dedicating a single day each week to read and nothing else. I'm not sure yet what exactly I'll do, but I do know that this is the area that most Needs Improvement, so it's something I'm definitely focusing on in 2018.
Relationships & Support
Vital, vital, vital. Even though I had a ton of industry experience and knew a lot about the ins and outs of agenting, there were still times this year when I had no idea WTF to do in a given situation. And I got by with a little help from my friends. In addition to getting support from my agency, of course, I'm also a part of a private community for agents, where we can ask for help and request feedback, commiserate, celebrate, and help carry one another through the tough parts. And that community has been everything to me this year. I've gotten so much help from so many amazing women, and have been honored to offer help in turn when I could. But mostly I'm just so inspired to cheer these women on, and celebrate their every accomplishment. We're not at the same agencies, but we are colleagues. And it would have been a much darker year without them in my life.
I had a few heartbreaks this year. There were two authors I offered to represent, but they chose other agents. I do believe that it's important for agents to get rejected by potential clients. It keeps us humble, it gives us empathy, it makes us hungrier. But it also hurts! And I will not lie, after one of them turned me down I cried and then took the rest of the afternoon off. There's also heartbreak on behalf of my clients. Rejection is par for the course, but sometimes I'm SO SURE a certain project will click for a certain editor and then it just....doesn't.
My goal for the year was to make one sale, and I didn't meet that goal. But I went on sub with two projects and had a third secret project fall into my lap unexpectedly. But triumphs aren't just about sales. I signed three incredible clients this year. Amazing women, whose work pierces me more with each and every revision, whose writing has cracked me open and put me back together again. I am so proud to be working with each of them, and see big, big things ahead of us this year.
There is no feeling quite like reading a manuscript and suddenly I just know. I can pinpoint that exact moment for each manuscript I've ever offered to represent. It's a jolt, a prickle, an oddly physical and precise feeling, and when I get that feeling I just know. This is it. I'll never get tired of those moments. I'll never get tired of sending those emails. I'm in love. When can I call? And I'm so lucky that chasing those moments is my job.
I had such an incredible year. I am certain that this choice was the correct one. I love my work, even when it's hard. I love my authors, I love their books, I love what I do. I have plans and hopes and dreams for this new year, and above all the fire and determination to go seize them all.
Here's to all the good things up ahead!