Literary agent job profile

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Mark Hooper is an associate literary agent in London. Literary agents handle the business side of the publishing process on the author's behalf, so authors can concentrate on their writing.

Can you describe your role?

I find a suitable publisher for a book and negotiate the best possible terms for the author's contract. I liaise between the publisher and the author, making sure they communicate together effectively.

How do you decide which authors to represent?

The most important thing is that their writing is good, engaging and shows potential. If I can visualise people buying the book, I know it could be successful. I meet the author and decide whether I can help them. Taking on an author means working with them closely over a long period of time so it's essential that the agent and the author feel comfortable with each other.

How do you help authors?

Publishers get such a lot of material submitted by authors directly that it can go unnoticed for a long time. Publishers tend to give more attention to book manuscripts that have been recommended by literary agents. So, it often pays for a new author to use my services to get noticed by a publisher.

I build good relationships with editors so they know they can trust my judgement. I understand the market and know which publishing houses and editors might be interested in a particular book.

Do you offer potential authors advice?

Yes. The topics can range from careers guidance and what to write to editorial suggestions and general support. Each author is different and the relationship, and the kind of help they ask for, varies with each one. I also have experience of publish contracts and work to ensure that the author gets a good deal and is protected as much as possible by their contract.

How do you network to build up your contacts?

I must build good working relationships with publishers so I regularly meet editors for lunch or drinks so I can keep up to date with the kinds of books they are looking for and to discuss ideas with them. I also go to book fairs – London, Bologna and Frankfurt are the main ones – where I meet publishers from around the world.

What qualities do you need to be a literary agent?

Good people skills are essential. You must be able to negotiate and to communicate well. Inspiring trust in authors and editors is also vital. You must understand the publishing industry, which is different to simply loving books.

What hours do you work?

My core day is from 9.30am until 6.30pm, but I sometimes work late and do a lot of reading at home. I also attend dinners and book fairs which can eat into the evening.

What do you like most about being a literary agent?

It's very satisfying to find a good publisher for an author, knowing that I have helped to get their work to an audience who will enjoy it as much as I did.

Mark's route to becoming a literary agent

  • A levels
  • Degree in American Studies
  • Joined Faber and Faber as a permissions and contracts assistant
  • MA in Cultural and Critical Studies while working
  • Promoted to rights executive
  • Moved to present job two years ago

Mark's tips

  • Apply for work experience at a literary agency, or with publishing houses.
  • Publishing houses are usually larger so there are many more opportunities for work experience.
  • This is a very competitive industry so make the most of any opportunities you get.

Literary agent related jobs

  • Business adviser
  • Public relations officer
  • Publishing commissioning editor
  • Publishing editor

Salary of a literary agent

  • Freelance literary agents' salaries derive from commission which is usually 10-20% of their authors' earnings. Salary levels in a publishing house will start from about £17,000.

Literary agent job profile

  • There are no fixed entry requirements but most literary agents are graduates.
  • Most have had previous experience in another area of publishing, for example, as a commissioning editor or rights manager.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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