Industry Insights: Elise Middleton
By Elizabeth Oladoyin, Elizabeth Guess, Hannah Devine and Leyla Mehmet
Literary agencies go hand-in-hand with publishers. Agents work closely with authors during the process of publishing a book – they negotiate contracts with publishers, work closely with editors to bring the author’s vision to life, and brainstorm future projects. Agents are key parts of the industry, yet agenting is often an overlooked role. For this issue, we interviewed Elise Middleton, Literary Assistant at YMU Books, to gain some insight into the important world of agenting…
What was your journey into publishing like? Did you always want to go into the agenting side of the industry?
I hopped around doing work experience placements in a few different teams while figuring out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I spent time in the editorial team at DK, marketing at HarperFiction and marketing and publicity at Bloomsbury. Alongside this, I worked as a bookseller at my local Waterstones – the aim was to get a variety of opportunities, to take advantage of anything that came my way, and to learn about as many facets of this industry as possible. Agenting hadn’t initially been at the forefront of my mind, primarily because I don’t think there’s as much information out there about agenting compared to in-house positions. I hope that continues to change as time goes on, as it’s an area of the industry that’s incredibly exciting.
How does working in a literary agency differ from a publishing house? Could you tell us a bit about your day-to-day tasks?
Working in agenting feels like spending time in every team available – rights, marketing, publicity, editorial and more. You’ll be representing the interest of your author across each stage of the process. It’s a brilliant place to be, with every day being different. To give a snapshot of what I’ve been doing recently, I’ve been helping Joe Swash sign tip-ins for his cookbook, Joe’s Kitchen, attending campaign meetings for Gary Barlow’s book, A Different Stage, and tracking the progression of different contracts. An agent works as a conduit between the author and the publisher, helping to ensure that we create the best book possible while keeping the author’s interests at the forefront of your mind — we’re here for them.
What advice would you give to anyone considering applying for a literary agency?
Definitely do your research on the agency, the areas of the market their authors sit in, and the current bestsellers. Having a strong knowledge of the market is key; it was a part of my interview process I was really glad I’d prepped for. Read articles on The Bookseller and BookBrunch to know what’s going on, and see if you can find any recent news about that agency that you can reference to show you’ve done your digging. While bearing in mind some of the key skills of agenting (creativity, organisation and communication skills), have a go at drafting practice answers to potential questions to demonstrate your relevant and transferable experience.
You co-founded The Indie Insider, what inspired you to do so?
My first love, The Indie Insider. Through the wonder of Bookstagram I met my wonderful friend Grace (who is a rights exec extraordinaire at Curtis Brown and who shares reviews on her Instagram account @whatgracereads), and we were both working towards our first permanent positions in publishing, so were keeping an eye on what was happening. In the summer of 2020, The Guardian reported that we were heading to a whopper of a super Thursday. Having spent time with the marketing and publicity teams at Bloomsbury at the beginning of the year, I knew how much hard work it is getting books their moment, and that it would be even harder for smaller presses. We started The Indie Insider as an opportunity to give brilliant indie and smaller presses another place that would shout about their books, and it was such a treat to see the community support us and those books. There’s a new team running the show now, and it’s great to see things lasting beyond us!
Are there any projects you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
Ooh how to narrow it down… We’ve got such an exciting autumn coming up, with the titles I mentioned above alongside The First Half by Gabby Logan, The Trainspotter’s Notebook by Francis Bourgeois, Max Magic by Stephen Mulhern, Menopausing by Davina McCall, Made With Love by Tom Daley, and more! I’ve also been sending out proposals of my own; having conversations with editors about projects that I’m leading and really care about has been amazing.
What are you currently reading?
I recently picked up Boy Friends by Michael Pedersen and it’s brilliant. Beautifully written and unexpectedly funny, Michael is working through the loss of his best friend and reflecting on all of the male friendships that have shaped his life – I’m about a third of the way through and would recommend!