Saturday, August 3, 2013

Inside the Industry: Literary Agent

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A look at the book business by the people who know it best.
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It's time to officially kick off INSIDE THE INDUSTRY!
Today we're joined by the lovely Emily Keyes, a literary agent with L. Perkins Agency. According to Google, a literary agent is "a professional agent who acts on behalf of an author in dealing with publishers and others involved in promoting the author's work," but Ms. Keyes' account shows that there's a lot more to the job. 

Describe a typical day as a literary agent. What does your job entail?
I don't know that there is a typical day. I think the only constant in my routine is waking up every morning and checking my email for some sort of crisis. Some days I go into the office and do administrative-type things like reading over contracts or filling out IRS forms or going to the post office. Some days I have meetings or am pitching something. Some days I am at conferences and meeting writers. I know a lot of agents really wish they could get more reading done during the actual business day. It never seems to happen, even if you think you have a bloc of time. 

What requirements does one need to meet in order to be a literary agent?
Unfortunately, none. Anyone can open a literary agency. It's always sad when you see scammers online, duping writers. It's almost sadder when you see people who think they are "real" literary agents but clearly don't know what they are doing. I was thinking about this the other day actually. Someone said there should be some kind of test agents have to take, I guess like how lawyers have to pass the bar. I don't even know what kind of things you could even ask on a test like that, because so many agents have different styles or ways of handling things. I guess the only requirements are a love of books and reading. Ideally they would have some knowledge of the publishing industry as well. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring literary agent?
Read as much as you are physically able to, then read some more. Find an agent that you admire--someone with a good track record and years of experience--to work with, either as your boss or mentor. I still feel like I'm an aspiring literary agent. I have only been doing this for two years, so I can't stress enough how helpful it is to have other people to go to with questions. I send Louise Fury some odd emails. 

You’re a graduate of the NYU Publishing Program. How has this helped you in your work?
I think NYU taught me about a lot of aspects of publishing, which has been useful because as an agent sometimes you are doing editorial work and sometimes reading royalty statements or coming up with marketing ideas. Plus "going to NYU" was a good way to convince my parents to let me move to New York after college. But I don't think everyone necessarily learns best in a classroom environment so I wouldn't suggest it for everyone. 

What’s your favorite thing about being a literary agent? Your least favorite?
I like calling an author about a deal. I feel like a fairy godmother, granting wishes. I don't like the anxiety and stress. I don't like rejection and, unfortunately, I've never had a book that wasn't rejected somewhere! 

About how many manuscripts do you read a week? 
Oh gosh, the lack of a typical day or week makes this hard to estimate. I try to read several partial manuscripts (that is the first three chapters of the book and a synopsis) every day but I won't count those. I know I read two full manuscripts, one published book and edited one manuscript last week and I felt like a failure for not reading more. However much I read, it's not enough! 

The publishing world has developed a lot within the past few years. How do you think it will have changed by 2018?
I fear another two of the big publishing houses will merge (like Random House and Penguin did). I think
ebooks and POD will allow more small, epublishers to pop up but I think they will have to really prove they can do better than self publishing. Publishers have to add value and even some big publishers need to be better about conveying what that value is, or else they are going to disappear. I also worry about the health of Barnes & Noble. It should be flourishing without competition from Borders but it's not. 

What’s one thing that most people would not know about being a literary agent?
We don't spend all day schmoozing in expensive restaurants, and live on Park Avenue. Actually I don't know any agents who do that. 

Just for fun question: Your bio says you’re looking for YA manuscripts to represent. What draws you to YA?
I like YA because I remember all the middle grade and young adult books I read more vividly than I remember anything I read last week. There is something about the brain during that period that holds onto everything like a sponge--and I think that makes them more meaningful than any adult literary fiction can ever hope to be. 

Want to find out more? Check out Emily's blog, Twitter, and Tumblr!
If you work in the book business and would like to be featured, send an email to with the subject line “Inside the Industry.” I would love to hear from you!


  1. Great interview! I just recently queried Emily and her response was timely and kind. She seems like an amazing agent!

    1. Best of luck with the querying process!

  2. Great interview! I love hearing about the book/publishing world, so reading about the manuscripts, her opinion about the future of publishing, and what she likes about her job was a ton of fun to read! :)

    Alice @ Alice in Readerland

    1. It definitely sounds like Ms. Keyes' job is amazing!

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