Agent Erin Hosier answers the question inquiring minds want to know...

Someone recently asked me what I do for a living. I told the stranger that I work in publishing. What sort of publishing, he wanted to know. Book publishing, I answered. I work with writers, I allowed. So you’re an editor? Actually, I admitted, I’m an agent for authors. I’m a literary agent. “What’s that?” He asked, eyeing me skeptically. Everyone always asks. I gave him my stock answer: “It’s like being any other kind of agent – real estate, modeling, insurance - but I represent books and writers. I sell rights.” Yeah, but what do you do? Give me an example.”

This summer, usually a quiet season in publishing, has been a bit more action packed than usual. I think it has something to do with a slowly rebounding economy. Either way, the days have been just as full. What a wonderful opportunity to illustrate what I do all day. Here’s a list of things that I did last week, which will hopefully explain a bit more what a literary agent does.

Last week was split up with a lot of meetings. Three lunch meetings with editors. That’s pretty normal – editors and agents often have lunch in order to discuss an agent’s list. The editor pays, making this one of the perks of agenting. Last week I had brunch at Brasserie Cognac, Hatsuhana near Grand Central, and Sagaponek. The editors were from Random House, Hachette, and FSG. Every heterosexual male editor is married or lives with someone. After publishing gossip, relationship talk dominates the conversation.

Other meetings last week: with authors. Author #1 was in town from Chicago. He just delivered his manuscript, it’s been accepted by the publisher, and now it’s time to solicit blurbs. He’s been working on the book for 8 years, and it’s exciting to be walking him through our list of potential endorsers. I email his publicist and copy her on our work.

Author #2 is a film critic. He’s very young, but so uniquely talented, I decide to take him on despite the fact that books about film aren’t known to be saleable. I walk him through the writing of a book proposal, and we brainstorm book ideas. He emails me his resume and I agree to send it to all my contacts.

Author #3 is a comedian in search of a new Hollywood manager. I suggest two reputable people I’ve shared clients with before, then email both managers about the client.

Publisher #1 runs a press out of Connecticut. She comes to NYC once a month to meet with agents at their offices. My colleague and I sit through her presentation and talk to her about which authors might make a good fit for her press. She brings chocolate to accompany her catalogues. Score!

An author is working with a brand new press, so the publishing process feels a little DIY. I’ve agreed to help him solicit blurbs and reviews. Two boxes of galleys have arrived, so each day I try to send a couple out on his behalf. This requires a personal letter accompany each. My assistant knows the drill and is really helpful with this mailing.

I meet with our intern once a week to go over the latest slush. She delivers incredibly detailed reader’s reports. I like to write my own rejection letters whenever possible, so we discuss which are worth it and which will get a form letter. She handles the form letters.

Email: I confirm drinks dates for the following week with a foreign scout and a film agent from a major talent agency. I follow up on the status of a contract. It’s been signed, now we’re waiting for payment. I weigh in on an email chain discussing literary agent, Andrew “The Jackel” Wiley’s latest publishing scandal. I apologize to an editor for being bitchy in an email (she forgives me). I congratulate an editor on her new job and we make plans to lunch this fall. I walk a client through his response to the new cover for his paperback, which he hates. We discuss how to get what we want without alienating the art director. Amanda Moon and I prepare for Wednesday’s She Writes Webinar, “Inside Publishing: From Sale to Galley” – what’s happening inside the publishing house with your book behind the scenes for the year or so before it’s published. I’m learning so much!

You might wonder when I do all the reading? Definitely not at the office. That part happens on the train and on the weekends. At night I write.

How about you guys? How do you answer the question, “What do you do?”

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Tags: #publishing, agent

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Comment by Gina Frangello on August 15, 2010 at 9:55am
Great piece, Erin! And cool about your Chicago author's book sale--always good to hear that Chicagoans are out there representing!
Comment by The Agent on August 11, 2010 at 2:19pm
You guys rule.
Comment by Mardi Link on August 11, 2010 at 7:22am
Do agents ever get blurbs? They should and here's mine for Erin: I hired her for a consult this past spring on how to break up w/ my agent and secure a new, more active one. Not only did her advice get me my number one choice, that new agent just sold my memoir at auction to Knopf! Erin, you are a literary spark plug extraordinaire!
Comment by maria grazia swan on August 10, 2010 at 2:44pm
Very interesting. Thank you for sharing
Comment by Deborah Lee Luskin on August 10, 2010 at 2:27pm
Thanks for this post. It explains why, when someone asks me what I do, I'm always torn between saying, "I write grocery lists" and "I drive my kids places," (both of which are true). Lately, however, I've entered the world of marketing my novel, INTO THE WILDERNESS (White River Press). I spend a great deal of the day writing emails, making phone calls, driving to author events, scouting on-line for new possibilities - and dreaming and scheming to return to writing fiction again.
Comment by Brooke Linville on August 10, 2010 at 1:46pm
Are there really people out there that don't know what it means to be a literary agent (in the very broadest sense- not the day-to-day stuff)?

As for what I do, I spend a lot of time browsing the internet, but writer sounds much better :-)
Comment by Sally Kohn on August 10, 2010 at 1:39pm
This was an enjoyable and informative read! Thanks for taking the time to write it.

As to your "What do you do?" question, at cocktail parties, I say, "I'm a revolutionary." Whatever conversation follows is sure to be interesting...
Comment by Deborah Siegel on August 10, 2010 at 10:19am
Er, I do She Writes :)
Comment by Lea Beresford on August 9, 2010 at 7:42pm
Please add me to your list of lunch and/or drink dates again soon! Very nice post, as usual!

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