Monday, November 13, 2006

Why I Became an Agent

One of the most frequently asked questions when I attend conferences or talk with authors is why I became an agent. And really my answer comes down to one simple thing: I don’t like rules.

For those who don’t know, I started my career, like many others, as an editorial assistant for Carrie Feron (now with Avon) and Melinda Metz (an editor who later created the Roswell book series and TV show) at Berkley. Later I was transferred to Ginjer Buchanan (still at Berkley/Ace), whom I worked under for four years. And I loved it. I loved everything about working at a publishing house. I loved editorial meetings, where we discussed possibilities and read new and exciting books. I loved acquiring books, calling authors and agents to offer representation, and negotiating contracts. In fact, I loved it so much that when asked whether I’d ever want to be an agent the answer was always a resounding no. And then, five years into my life at Berkley I decided it was time to further my career and move on.

In 1998 I made the move to Macmillan, then the publisher of the Complete Idiot’s Guide series. And I did well, very, very well. Within a year’s time I was promoted from editor to senior editor (I had left Berkley an associate editor) and handling some of their biggest titles and biggest-name authors. Again, I was doing a job I loved. While I was working entirely on one book series, I got to come up with creative ideas for new books and find talented authors to write them. Granted, some did phenomenally well, and others . . . not so much. But I still loved it.

And then it was time for a change. While I loved working at both places and with the varied authors and books, the one problem both houses had (and any house has) is too many rules. I couldn’t work on just any book because I had to always consider the strengths of the house. Berkley, for example, is a terrific commercial paperback publisher. That means they do romance, mystery, SF, and some nonfiction fabulously. They are not, however, the publisher you would go to with a high-end business book or a literary fiction original (meaning it hasn’t been published anywhere else before). And working with Macmillan was obviously working on nothing but Complete Idiot’s Guides.

I wanted more. I wanted to try things publishers wouldn’t let me buy. I wanted the ability to take a chance on something just because I loved it. I wanted to make my own rules. And that’s why I love being an agent and love having BookEnds. Sure, I’ve taken on projects I haven’t been able to sell, but at least I had the opportunity to try. I’ve also taken on projects knowing they might not sell and sold them. I’ve been able to take risks. Some I’ve won and some I’ve lost. But all I’ve enjoyed.

—Jessica

11 comments:

EilisFlynn said...

Actually liking what you do for a living may be the most important thing in a happy life!

Kate Douglas said...

See? You're as bad a control freak as I am! Eflynn's right, though...if you love what you do, it doesn't get any better...except when you get PAID to do what you love. Congratulations on finding your niche and excelling in it.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

That was a sweet post, and one that fertilizes my faith in that big blind spot of publishing.

Sure it's a business, but it's still art, too.

Glad to hear you renew your vows to Art.

Sharon said...

I admire you even more now. Brava!

Sadie said...

I admire you for all that you said, and inspired by you! What a wonderful reasoning and way to show how passionate you are about what you do. Thank you for this!

Gina Black said...

That was lovely, Jessica.

Anonymous said...

Jessica,

Your enthusiasm for your job and your clients shows through. I once attended a seminar (required for a job I think - oh how many moons ago) - and the speaker was talking about what made us successful - everyone was throwing out things like cars, money, houses, jobs, et cetera and I piped up with - to be truly successful, one must be happy - and that got me noticed and embarrassed since back then I was very shy. Anyway, that has always been my philosophy about things. It doesn't matter how much money I make or what kind of possessions I have, as long as I happy, I have succeeded.

So keep up the good work and thanks for the post - Stay happy - E :)

Maprilynne said...

Ha! I just flipped through my "Complete Idiot's Guide to Pregnancy" and your name is in it!! Whoo Hoo! It made me feel al special.:)

David said...

Doing work you love is a wonderful thing, and all too rare.

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled to see you can break rules and still be successful. I was born to break rules. If I can't break them, I'm at least going to twist them up and tie a few knots in them. You're a lady after my own heart. Rah! Rah! Rah!

Anonymous said...

Jessica,

Good on you! It's so refreshing to hear someone who's really happy in their job.

~JerseyGirl

Verification word: zadoo - similar to yippee!