PATH TO PUBLISHING: First Weeks on the Job

Tomorrow officially marks my first month on the job at a literary agency, and so now seems as good a time as any to reflect on this first step on my career path.

I got my first ‘real’ job (that is, job I was actually passionate about, getting paid for, and had career prospects) within a week of applying for it. To me, it seemed crazy and very, very lucky. But by my first week on the job, it felt like a long time had passed since my inexperienced little self had sent off that covering letter. In the matter of a few days, I’d got to grips with not only office admin duties like the post room, answering the phone and working out how to fix the printer (which seemed to be scheduled to break every day after lunch), but also serious publishing tasks. I learnt about author-publisher contracts, permission requests, and foreign rights deals. More excitingly, I was inundated with calls from authors whose books I’d spent the last ten years of my life reading, and whose agents I was now working for.

To be more specific, here’s a rundown of how my day usually goes:

  • Commute: I can’t lie, this is the worst part. It involves leaving my house at 7:30 to be in for 9:15. It involves a bus and two tubes. It also costs about £12. But, having a book to read everyday has been a life-saver and makes the time go a lot quicker. I’ve also become a dab hand at reading whilst standing crammed between burly, suited men on their way into the city.
  • Email inbox: it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the industry that its a chatty profession! I usually have about 50 emails to respond to in the morning – ranging from people wanting to quote one of our authors, hopeful writers inquiring about our submission criteria, to film producers wondering if the rights have been sold for so-and-so’s newest novel. It’s great working at reception because you get a really broad overview of the whole office and come to know who deals with what and how they go about it.
  • Post: but it’s not all digital! The amount of post we get (and send, but that’s for later) never fails to astound me. Agencies often get file copies of all the books, including foreign editions, their authors have published. It makes for an aesthetically-pleasing office space, but also for a very heavy mail bag, and very messy pigeonholes! We also get a lot of newspapers which it’s my job to look through for any mention of our authors.
  • Errands: when post comes for the agents I intern for, usually contracts, I sort through these and send them on to the relevant person. It’s a great way to see the start of the publishing process and get to grips with the legalities and logistics of the negotiation that takes place between agent and publisher.
  • Lunch: working in London means you’re never short for things to do on your lunch break (even if it might make you short on money!). Sometimes I pack a lunch and go and sit in Cavendish Square or Soho Gardens, and other times, I mooch around the Oxford St shops, almost giddy with having my own money to spend that isn’t a student loan!
  • Afternoon: this varies from day to day, as I could be logging submissions, or reading and offering feedback on a current project. As the weeks go by, I get more responsibilities, which is exciting and I enjoy having new things to do.

Throughout this month, every person I’ve met and worked with has been so lovely and keen to help with any queries I have. Doubtlessly, I’ve made countless mistakes but not once has anyone been annoyed or intolerant, firmly asserting my belief that publishing is the friendliest, most easy-going industry out there.

Evidently, it’s been a busy few weeks and at times, as I’ve sat on the train commuting in the morning, I’ve felt nerves and worry eating at my insides as I wonder if today will be the day I do something wrong: the day I ask an author to sign the completely wrong contract and damn them to writing a picture book when they’re actually a crime writer. Thankfully, these fears have never been realised and most days, I leave the office with a huge grin, sometimes with free books (yay for working in publishing!) and more often than not, excitement about what I’ll be working on the next day.

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