Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Evolution of an Agent

Today marks my third anniversary at BookEnds, and my third year as a literary agent. For those of you who don’t already know, my first nine years in the industry were spent on the editorial side at Berkley Publishing, a paperback division of Penguin USA.

People ask me all the time why I left editing to become an agent. There’s the obvious reasons: At BookEnds I can make my own hours, work from home, and add years to my life by cutting out the dreaded commute into Manhattan. My husband likes to joke that the only crowd I have to jostle through now is our cats, Bill and Winston, when I hop over them coming down the stairs. But the biggest motivator for me was the allure of having a personal stake in each book I took on. I think that writers often don’t understand how thankless an editor’s job can be. Editors don’t get a cut of the profits on the books they edit, their names don’t appear anywhere on the finished product unless the author is thoughtful enough to include them in the acknowledgments (my mom found it offensive that the cover artist got a line on the copyright page, but not the editor!), and they always have homework, but don’t get paid overtime. The best an editor can hope for is that the powers that be will remember their accomplishments and sales record when review time comes around. Even still, editors are at the bottom of the publishing pay scale.

So, truth be told, I was feeling burnt out. Editing had been my dream job, but I just felt myself losing the hunger. Agenting, however, offered new motivation. Now I don’t have to rely upon others to notice my successes. Working on commission allows me to be directly rewarded for a job well done, and I find that completely energizing. Rather Pavlovian, don’t you think? It works the other way too. If I’m not getting something sold, it’s costing me time. And time IS money. . . .

Another happy difference is my relationship with my authors. As an editor, I constantly felt tugged between the interests of the authors I worked with and the interests of the publisher that signed my paychecks. As an agent, there’s a greater trust in my relationship with authors, because we both know we’re working toward the same goals. And when the call comes in for that first sale (or the fifth, or nineteenth, for that matter) I can share in the screaming and clapping and wine-toasting. Doesn’t get any better than that.

What do you use for motivation?