How I Became an Agent

Recently on the blog, Kelsey Sutton asked…

I’d like to know why and how you began your career as an agent. Would you change any of your choices? Best and worst aspects of your job?

Since many people express an interest in becoming an agent and ask me how to do it, I thought I’d explain my own journey. Most people work in publishing for years before they become an agent. A few people start off at a literary agency, working their way up from intern to assistant to junior agent, etc. But most start in some kind of publishing house capacity, working with authors and books either in editorial or marketing.

In 2007, I was running a freelance editing and writing business, having been in publishing for more than a dozen years, and previously working at two publishing houses in both editorial and sales roles. For whatever reason, three different literary agencies approached me about joining them. (I guess I just sent off some kind of agent-vibe that only other agents can sense.) But I kept saying “no” because I loved working directly with authors on their books, and I loved the whole editorial process. I was also cautious about making such a big career change. (I had young kids at home and my husband was also in career transition.)

Around that time I was doing a bunch of collaborative writing (a.k.a. ghostwriting) and for this, I had an agent, Greg Johnson. Greg and I talked several times about my joining him as an agent, but I wasn’t ready. Until… one day I was. It was becoming clear to me that almost every writer needs a partner—a business partner who not only helps them gain access to commercial publishing, but advocates for them through the whole process. I realized that as an agent, I could continue to have editorial input on authors’ books if needed, but I’d be able to partner with them in a more all-encompassing way, helping them not just with one book but multiple books, entire careers. So I told Greg: yes!

It turned out to be a great melding of my love of editorial, my nature as a “people person,” and my interest in contracts and the “business” side of things. Now I wouldn’t change anything, since I think I have the perfect job.

As for the best and worst aspects of this career… let me think.

The worst:
-Never quite being able to accomplish all I want, as fast as I want.
-Having to turn down writers with good ideas and strong writing.
-People who don’t know what it’s like to be an agent constantly judging us.
-Dealing with an uncertain and rapidly evolving publishing industry.

The best:
-Dealing with an uncertain and rapidly evolving publishing industry.
-The excitement of finding a new author & project I want to rep.
-Getting a client their first-ever book contract.
-Getting any client any book contract!
-The exhilaration of helping a client brainstorm and have “aha” moments about their own future as an author.

Actually I could go on and on with the “best” things since this is pretty close to a dream job.

But thanks for asking, Kelsey!

Any questions about being or becoming an agent?

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Anne Lang Bundy

    >Lord, on behalf of everyone who's been blessed by Rachelle's blog and advice and skills, thank You for calling her to this place. Please equip her with wisdom and discernment, and would You please bless her tenfold for how she's blessed us.

  • Marja

    >Thanks Rachellle, for sharing your journey. I am glad the best outwins the worst :)

  • colleen@missmanifesto.com

    >This is brilliant, and I'm now a regular reader. I'm curious about having to turn down good writers with strong ideas – do you explain why you need to turn them down?

    I'm just beginning to explore the literary world and met a VP of a publishing house on Twitter (where I found you actually). He asked for a pitch, I sent three…. he asked for a manuscript of 1. While I work on the chapters and outline for him (our compromise, since the book isn't written yet), I wonder whether an agent is something I should be bringing into the mix now, or if, because I've found the publisher, am I 'ok' now?

    I know this is a huge question, and perhaps 1 that I should engage you before I can ask, so I hope that I'm not overstepping boundaries here! :D

  • Mrs. Barbara Stevens

    >No disagreements, just have over 20 finished books to be put forward. I hear all the time that you dont need a complete book to find an agent; I started a couple of years ago writing and have not stopped yet. I guess my question is that with so many projects before me how do I avoid running into people who want to pervert their prices to get me published? I'm almost ready to just buy a printing machine and binding machine they are going so high.

  • Mrs. Barbara Stevens

    >No disagreements, just have over 20 finished books to be put forward. I hear all the time that you dont need a complete book to find an agent; I started a couple of years ago writing and have not stopped yet. I guess my question is that with so many projects before me how do I avoid running into people who want to pervert their prices to get me published? I'm almost ready to just buy a printing machine and binding machine they are going so high.

  • CKK

    >Thanks for sharing your journey with us. The detailed information is outstanding and useful. May you be blessed as you continue to bless your followers.

  • Jessica Nelson

    >aawwww! sweet post. thanks for sharing!

  • kathy taylor

    >"The worst" sounds quite tough, even more challenging than writing. Take good care of yourself.

  • Em-Musing

    >I ♥ your ♥ stories.

  • Susan Bourgeois

    >You are great at what you do. The information you provide for your followers on a daily basis is invaluable.

    It's wonderful that you've found a job that you truly love so early in life.

  • Teenage Bride

    >Awesome post. Thank you for the background information. It is quite evident that you are passionate about your career, thank you for that as well.

  • Richard Mabry

    >I and numerous others are glad you made the switch. We've been blessed as a result.

  • Michelle Massaro

    >Awesome to get a peek into your pivotal decision to become an agent. I thought you'd been at it longer, you've done so well in so short a time! That's amazing! =)

  • Rachelle

    >Susan Bourgeois… ha ha ha ha ha ha. Thanks for the compliment but you don't have to work so hard to make me feel good. Just fyi, by no stretch of the imagination is my current age considered "early in life."

  • Marla Taviano

    >I love this post, you spring chicken, you.

  • T. Anne

    >I've always wondered what happens when an agents client list becomes too full. Are you at that point? Do you still trickle in a few new authors a year?

    And by the way those of us in the same age bracket would beg to differ, you are plenty in the early stages of life.

  • Summer Ross

    >Thanks for posting this. I decided last year after being in college for my English Associates I wanted to edit other peoples writing. I'm currently seeking my BA, but this post gives me inspiration.

  • Jill

    >An agent vibe, huh? Well, I'm almost positive I have the writer vibe going pretty strong. . .as do most people who hang out here.:)

  • Erin MacPherson

    >I'm glad Greg talked you into doing it…because you're the BEST agent there is.

  • Bonnie Grove

    >I was expecting a story with a rabbit hole. Have a look around, are you certain there is no rabbit hole? Have you looked everywhere?

  • Anonymous

    >Just wondering what your average reading time is on a full manuscript that you've requested?

    thanks

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Rachelle, I hope you enjoy your dream job for many years to come.

  • Amy Sorrells

    >This beats most "how I got the call" author story I've ever heard. Love your story & love even more that you shared it with us!!! (And I ditto Anne Lang Bundy's prayer!)

  • dining room tables

    >This sounds that you have a great plan for your life. I wish that you succeed in all things that you wanted to be. I am sure that you can make it.

  • Greg Johnson

    >And for the record, I consider myself a very lucky agency president to have Rachelle on the team. She works hard and smart, is caring for her authors, professional, funny, loyal…a dream collegue.

  • Tahlia

    >AND you find time to write a great blog. So good in fact that you give me ideas to bounce off. I put a link to my inspiration here in my last post.

    http://publishersearch.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/why-starting-the-next-novel-before-the-first-one-is-sold-is-a-good-idea/

  • Tahlia

    >AND you find time to write a great blog. So good in fact that you give me ideas to bounce off. I put a link to my inspiration here in my last post.

    http://publishersearch.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/why-starting-the-next-novel-before-the-first-one-is-sold-is-a-good-idea/

  • http://www.listamartie2.com Gregory Despain

    I just want to tell you that I am newbie to blogging and absolutely loved your web blog. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your website . You really have awesome stories. Regards for sharing your website page.

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