A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent by Andy Kifer

(Ed. Note: We love all the pieces we publish at The Thrill Begins, but we think writers will find this piece, and yesterday’s, invaluable. Two of today’s top agents – Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and Andy Kifer of the Gernert Company – took the time to write about a typical day in the life of a literary agent. Ms. Hassan’s ran yesterday, and Mr. Kifer’s is below.)

 

6:00 – 9:00 AM

Most mornings, I’m out the door by 6:20 AM to get a run in before work to clear my head (I think it’s essential to have a little time each day when I leave my smartphone far behind). Back home over breakfast is when the workday often starts. I might be catching up on e-mails that have come in overnight, or finishing a promising manuscript. Even on the mornings when all I can do is stare at my coffee and listen to the news on the radio, I am in a way working: the more I’m aware of what’s going on in the world – of where the zeitgeist is – the better I am at my job.  

9:00 – 10:00 AM

The subway ride from my apartment in Brooklyn to our offices in midtown Manhattan can be a distracting, aggravating place some mornings, and I am certainly not at my best as a reader while on my way to work. I try to use this fact strategically: if a submission is strong enough to hold my attention during a busy subway ride (this is rare), that’s a great sign that this author’s work is worth taking seriously.

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM

 Into the office by ten, unless I have a breakfast meeting with an author or editor. Mornings are a time for catching up, meetings, answering e-mails, or doing any number of the ten thousand completely unglamorous things (do we have this author’s tax information correct? how are the terms of this contract compared to that contract? are we reading this royalty statement right? who finished the coffee without making a fresh pot?) that occupy much of any agent or editor’s working life.

We’ve all been asked: “So, you just get paid to sit around and read all day?” The truth is, this is pretty rare. Time at the office is time for doing all the things you can’t do alone: bouncing ideas off your colleagues, strategizing, talking on the phone with editors. And if I’m selling a book that day, I’m spending all morning making and returning phone calls.

1 PM – 2 PM

The famous publishing lunch. This industry is all about relationships, and about trust; lunchtime is our opportunity to form these new relationships, or to solidify old ones. Every day around 1 PM hundreds of editors are meeting hundreds of agents at dozens of restaurants throughout Manhattan, and it’s not uncommon to walk into a few favorite spots and see four of your coworkers on four of their own respective lunch dates. It’s a bit like blind dating, but the goal is to try to find out if you’re editorially (rather than romantically) aligned with your date. Best case scenario? You tell your date that you finished a great novel on the subway that morning and think you might want to take it on; they like the sound of it and before too long – maybe a week later, maybe a year later – you’ve sent it to them, they’ve read it, and they’ve decided to publish it.

2 PM-6 PM

Back to the office for more meetings, more e-mails, more conversations with colleagues, editors, and authors: What do you think of this cover? I’m having this problem with this author, have you ever had the same problem? I just read this novel and I don’t think it’s right for me, would you like to consider taking it on instead? I just had lunch with this great editor, have you ever met her? What title should we give this great new nonfiction project? Someone wants to pay you money to publish your novel, what do you think of that?

6 PM – 8 PM

The hours between work and dinner are when the industry plays. Catching up with friends in the business, clinking glasses over a recent shared success with an editor or fellow agent, attending the publication party for a book that’s just come out, are all de rigueur. And while it’s fun – and I think you’re doing it wrong if you’re not having a little bit of fun – important work also gets done during these hours. Everyone is a little more relaxed, which means that everyone is also a little more honest, open, and comfortable. You might be surprised how many authors are discovered, or how many book deals happen, as a direct consequence of someone saying, in a completely organic and unplanned way, “But all the work bullshit aside, X book is just terrific” while unwinding over drinks.

8 PM – Midnight

How I spend these hours really varies. On most nights, I get to go back to life as a so-called “civilian reader,” or maybe go to bed early. But on those rare but wonderful nights or weekends when I’ve started reading a submission in the morning that I just couldn’t stop thinking about all day, and that I just can’t wait to get back to as soon as I get home, these “off” hours are some of the most thrilling of the entire day. If there’s no other place I’d rather be at 9 PM on a Wednesday – or better, Saturday – evening than curled up on my couch reading a submission, I know I’ve got something good on my hands.

 

Andy Kifer joined The Gernert Company in 2012 after two years working for Aram Fox, Inc., where he scouted books for foreign publishers. He grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, lived in North Carolina for five years, and worked briefly as a cross-country coach at a boarding school before starting his career in publishing. He likes literary fiction, smart genre fiction (especially sci-fi), and nonfiction by brilliant writers who can make you fall in love with a subject you never knew you cared about. He lives in Brooklyn and runs in Prospect Park.

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