As a writer, it can be tempting to think that all of the hard work happens at your home desk, your sofa, your bed, the cosy coffee shop down the road that does a really good croissant/cappuccino deal… but boy is the life of a writer bigger than that!
In an attempt to a) enter the professional world of work and actually earn a regular, semi-respectable wage and b) find out all I can about the literary sphere, I have started work at a Literary Agency (I won’t say which one, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?). It’s been two weeks now. Before I started my internship, what happens beyond the creative writing part – where that precious manuscript actually flies off to – was just a guessing game. Two weeks in and I’m hardly a fountain of literary knowledge but, hey, I’m getting there.
Starting at the bottom – THE INTERN – Let’s talk literary office etiquette – the do’s, don’t and what to expect’s…
- There’s a lot, and I mean A LOT, to read. Submissions are sent weekly, daily even, both via e-mail and via post. I have a pile of submissions as tall as I am – which, granted, isn’t huge but when you’re talking in paper, that’s a lot of sheets – stacked behind my seat, waiting to be read. These will be read by the likes of me (the intern) and the assistants above me. They are unlikely to go straight to the agents in their neat, glass-walled offices. We read through them first, sort through the ‘slush’ (a bit of office lingo there!) and will pass on anything that’s worth while to an agent. Agents are unlikely to read anything by someone they don’t know unless it comes highly recommended – they just don’t have the time.
- Get in on the tea rounds and offer them yourself. An office thrives off good cups of tea so be at one with the office – drink and make tea! Being offered tea as part of the round is like saying you’re in, we accept you.
- Don’t cause a fight with those enormous (probably man-eating) printers at the back of the office. If you take them on, you will lose. Make friends. They’re a better ally than enemy!
- Have on your person – plasters, paracetamol and/or hand cream. It’s great as a newcomer to be able to offer something to the rest of the office, saving them from their blisters, their hangovers or their overworked, cracked hands!
- Don’t look the agents directly in the eye more then five times in a day – they’re excruciatingly busy, even if it appears as though their assistant does all the work for them, you’d be surprised. Looking after an author’s interests isn’t just about saying, mmm, I like your book, let’s get other people to like it too. Be hard at work – they’ll notice that, don’t you worry.
- Do your research – the more specific you can be the more likely it is that the appropriate person will read your submission. Yes, the big agents aren’t likely to have the time. But if you have a fantastic sci-fi submission and there happens to be an agent who particularly likes reading sci-fi and is looking to take on new clients, then go for them. Addressing it to them, with a short sharp email and a catchy title, is bound to spark more interest.
- There is a lot of contract paperwork – the filing cabinets could form an army and take over the world! So familiarise yourself and keep an eye on their movements. It’s for your own safety.
So far, what would I do to my manuscript if I were to submit?
Well, read it over and over and over – once you send it, that’s it. So, silly as it sounds, get rid of as many punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors as possible. If there’s too much of that in your first chapter then, unless the story is astounding – you’re more than likely screwed – an assistant who’s been reading all day is likely to get frustrated with carelessness.
My internship started at a month, and I’ve now been asked to stay for a further two months. Hooray! I must be doing something right – there’s lots more to find out yet!