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?



BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Congratulations Kim! I can't believe it's three years already. It's been so great having you as part of BookEnds. A wise decision on our part if I do say so myself.


Imp said...

Wow! I'd no idea editors' pay with major publishers wasn't royalties-based. I'm sticking with small press where I can earn royalties on my writing, my editing, and my cover art.

Interesting piece. Thank you.

Loralee said...

Motivation? Good question, Kim. I think first(for me)is a passion for words and the love of a good story - one that makes my heart smile. Sharing that story with readers is a one-of-a-kind high, especially when a fan says you've brightened their day.

Another motivating force is the speed in which my life is traveling right now. So many stories, so little time. At my age, I'm thrilled to see my name on a book cover, but I know I have more stories inside my head. I need to write faster.

Stacia said...

Congratulations on the anniversary!

Anonymous said...

Aw shucks. Thanks Jessica! And thanks for giving me that opportunity!

Kimber Li said...

Oh, I love a party! We're having a cyber-launch party for a friend at my place right now.

Congratulations and thanks for sharing what goes on the other side of this game. I think it's too easy to lose sight that there are other human beings at work here.

MsSnarkyPants said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, Kim! I love hearing about people who just adore their jobs. It's so sad when people spend their lives doing something they hate!

Anonymous said...

Happy anniversary, Kim! Sending you some cyber-cake and bubbly to mark this special day (and because loving your wok is always cauuse for celebration).


Jolie Mathis said...

Congratulations Kim!! I was actually cleaning my desk yesterday, and pulled out my three-year-old calendar and saw the date where I'd signed on with you. A momentous day! :) I, for one, am so thankful you decided to make the switch from editing to agenting! Yay!

As for what motivates me? The knowledge that I've excelled at something. That's not necessarily reflected by financial reward (although that's pretty nice!), but can be so simple as receiving an e-mail from a reader, saying my book touched their heart. Feedback like that can make an author's day. Or week. Or year. :)

Christie Craig said...


Congrats on your three years. Working at home, setting your own hours and for the most part being your own boss is the best. Not perfect, nothing is, but I wouldn't change it. However, I tell people that it can tough at times, because my boss can really be a B with an itch sometimes. Too bad, I'm talking about myself.

As for what motivates me? Writing the end on a project that I've worked on for a while. Getting some kudos from another writer, a fan, an editor, or my agent (hint...hint. :-) ) Or telling someone for the first time that I’m a writer and seeing their eyes light up with awe. Oh, and the best motivation, is getting a check in the mail for doing something I love so much.

And while we need editors, I’m glad you changed hats.

Christie Craig

Joe Moore said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, Kim.


Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary, Kim! Seems that being an agent gives you the satisfaction of your previous career with a lot of nice perks!

Ditto, switching from acting to writing. I'm motivated by the thought of exploring people with all our bumps and angles and funny quirks; but now I can do it from my couch, with rain outside, a cat drooling over my laptop, and a fire in the hearth. Doesn't get better than that.

Of course, there's also the preschooler who needs a play date, the dog who stares at me as if she's about to slit her paws unless I walk her NOW, the yoga mat that never seems to come out of the closet anymore.... Sometimes 9-5 does have its advantages. :-D

Have a great anniversary day!

Kasey Mackenzie said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, Kim! It sounds like you've found your dream job. Kudos to you, and here's to many more happy years. =)

EGP said...

First, congrats - my "day job" has evolved to the point where I work about six hours a day from home. I'm on call more than that, but still it would be tough to go back to going into an office on a set schedule.

As for motivation, well my co-author and I just finished what is for both of us a first novel. The total elapsed time from first idea to completion was over four years, although the vast majority of the writing was done in the past fifteen months. At first, we just liked the story and pecked away at it. But as we wrote, we became more and more interested in the characters and what would happen to them. Finally, when we hit about 2/3 of the way through, it dawned us that we were actually going to finish it, and that certainly was motivation enough the last four months of writing.

Now that we're editing, getting it ready to send to agents is certainly enough motivation. But it's also pretty satisfying to still chuckle at funny lines or be gripped by thrilling scenes, even though we wrote them and we've read them a dozen times or more.

We set deadlines for ourselves starting about a year ago, but they were not particularly aggressive. As long as we both have day jobs, I don't think motivation will be a problem, because if we don't write today, we know we'll write tomorrow or the next day. It's just interesting or we wouldn't be doing it.

But if the book sells (did I say if? I meant WHEN, when the book sells!), and then we have the external pressure to produce more or more quickly, I don't know how that will affect us. I'd like to think that we can adapt to whatever situation we're in, but who really knows until it happens.

Finally, I'll say that working with a co-author is a tremendous source of motivation for me. I know that writing is very personal, but the arrangement has certainly worked for us. The book is far better with two writers and initial critics than it would be with one, because every page has to pass muster with both of us or we rework it before moving on.

Tessa Radley said...

Happy anniversary, Kim! Here's to many many more.

I've heard stories about editors who have become agents after books they've fought for have been vetoed further up, about how soul destroying that can be. I think editors have a tough job.

My motivation? Hm...there's that wonderful story about the writer (can't remember who it is) who opens the closet when she's not in the mood to write, takes a long hard look at the vacuum cleaner and finds that the urge to write has returned. That resonates with me.

But I crave that moment when, after I've struggled to find characters, get the dialogue down, and I've battled with the narrative, suddenly the story starts to sing. That is an awesomely rewarding moment. And I keep writing to feel that ephemeral magic again.


Anonymous said...

Writing is often its own motivation, when characters really start coming alive and I can't wait to get back to the puter to see what happens next, or when a scene works so well that you feel what's happening to the characters right along with them. The list could go on of course. On a practical side, it motivates me to achieve that moment when I can walk into a bookstore and see my name on the spine of my book sitting there on the shelves with all those others.

Anonymous said...

Kim, congratulations on your agenting anniversary!