• The Publishing Post

Upskilling Tips for Literary Agents

By Annabella Costantino, Maria Dorado, Misha Manani and Rowan Groat


Literary agents are often the bridge between author and publisher, particularly when working with large publishing houses. If you are interested in editorial and rights and have a strong understanding of how books sell, becoming a literary agent could be the right decision for you. We’re here to offer some insight into what the role involves, the key skills needed and how they’re acquired.


Agency Awareness


Being aware of some of the top literary agencies is a good place to start if you are interested in supporting upcoming authors and creatives. There are many agencies with their own requirements and specialisms in genre and outreach.

  • Mushens Entertainment is a leading UK literary agency, having represented Sunday Times Bestsellers, The Thursday Murder Club and Girl A. Check out their Twitter here!

  • Andrew Nurnberg Associates is an international literary agency with influence in cities all over the world, such as London, Prague, Moscow and Taipei. They represent fiction and non-fiction titles for adults and children.

  • Curtis Brown is a world-renowned talent agency for actors, presenters, television and books. They have a creative writing school called Curtis Brown Creative and represent some of the world’s bestselling authors such as Adam Kay (This is Going to Hurt).

  • Felicity Bryan Associates is an independent literary agency based in Oxford. Their client list features over 200 bestselling and multi-award winning authors, including Reni Eddo-Lodge. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram to keep updated with agency news.

  • Janklow & Nesbit UK represent a broad range of commercial, literary, young adult and children’s fiction, having been established since 2000. Based in London and New York, they have a global perspective on industry potential.

Bonus tip: For a comprehensive list of publishers and agencies that are currently in business, check out the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2021 and the children’s publishing version here.


Key Skills


Literary agents are responsible for representing authors and they specialise in specific genres. There is a great variety of work, including editing in the initial stages, selling international rights and making suggestions to clients.

  • Read Widely: You need to understand the books that exist for different genres and audiences; this will help you to imagine the manuscript’s target market.

  • Negotiating: Communicating with national and international publishers is key when pitching a book and selling foreign rights. You might also liaise with film and television companies to discuss your client’s requirements and clarify the finer details.

  • Networking: As you are developing or launching your authors’ careers, you need to have contacts in the creative industry, particularly with publishing, film and talent agencies. Apply for internships and jobs early because building strong connections can take years.

  • Organisation: It’s important to meet deadlines and chase up publishers with theirs. This ensures efficiency and also reduces the stress on your author. Plan events such as book signings and launches in advance.

  • Administration: Like every role in publishing, especially at the start of your career, solid administrative skills are necessary for a professional service.

  • Author Care: You need to maintain good relationships with your authors, as you will be working together throughout the process while you take care of their requests. Handle the business aspect so your writers can focus on their craft. Honesty is key, so don’t make promises you can’t keep – set realistic expectations and be a supportive figure.


Events


There are limited events aimed at literary agents and those hoping to break into the industry, but there are some that can expand your knowledge of the publication process and help you understand an agent's mindset.


  • Association of Authors’ Agents: Consists of members from UK-based literary agencies that hold regular panel talks, industry insights and training sessions. However, you can only become a member if you are an agent or part of an agency that has been practising for at least two years with an existing pool of clients.

  • Bloomsbury Institute: Led by Lisa Goll, the Events Manager who currently organises virtual talks with industry professionals in different departments at Bloomsbury, such as Publicity, Editorial and Production. To understand how various publishing processes work, sign up for this event here.

  • Writers and Artists: These are masterclass events and workshops that cover manuscript submissions and how to find a literary agent. They are aimed at writers but could help you understand the industry from a literary agent's perspective. From these sessions, you can incorporate shared insights into your thinking to develop your skill set.


That’s all we have for Issue 19 – thanks for reading! Join us again in our next issue, where we will be sharing upskilling tips for publishing: back to basics.

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