When I first started working at a literary agency, a senior colleague described the job of a literary agent as juggling a million different things at once and learning not to let any of them drop. The image stayed with me and feels true. So while primarily and most obviously the job of an agent is to secure publishing deals on behalf of their authors, the job of a good agent is not only to do this but to be able to manage a writer’s career over the long term: nurture them at the beginning when they may need more support, time and editorial input than a publisher can provide, be a sounding board for new ideas, a diplomat when any conflict arises between them and their publisher, a shrewd negotiator whenever necessary, and an advocate for them when worthwhile opportunities arise. Jack of all trades, master of none? Perhaps we are a bit but I love the variety and diversity of the job, and it feels like an enormous privilege to have such close and important relationships with writers.Fiction Uncovered
The publishing industry is going through a period of intense change (the rise of digital technology and e-books, the decline of traditional print-media), and as a result the job of an agent has never appeared more complex and layered – something that seems especially true when representing writers who are not yet established names, whose reputations don’t guarantee sales or column inches. Thinking as an agent, a promotion such as Fiction Uncovered is potentially a great opportunity to help raise such a writer’s profile.
Despite the new challenges, it is still an incredibly exciting job, and the principles seem to me to be the same as they ever were: to champion at all times and to the best of your abilities the interests of the writers you represent. The fact that any day a new manuscript from an unknown writer may land on your desk and change everything, that a promotion, prize shortlist, 5* review or foreign deal might be just around the corner for your writers: these are the things that motivate and inspire us.
Hannah Westland, Agent, Rogers, Coleridge & White