Silé Edwards is Agent's Assistant at Curtis Brown Books, and here she talks about her route into the agenting business, including interview prep and one positive side-effect of taking notes. Thank you, Silé!
The publishing industry can be a bit mysterious, and lots of people don't necessarily realise that agenting is a profession they can get into. What was your route to your job as Agent’s Assistant at Curtis Brown Books?
Very boring and relatively traditional. I have always loved reading and knew I wanted to work with books, so I set about finding out as much as I could about the working in the industry. My Arts Emergency mentor secured a meeting for me with a literary agent, and from that conversation I went on to intern at Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency. I did three more publishing placements while I was at university before I got a full-time permanent role at the Publishers Association. When I saw what is now my current role advertised, I applied, and one phone interview, two in-person interviews and a writing task later, and I had the job!
Having now gone through that process, is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to do the same thing?
Take notes as you go! It’s how I got the most out of my internships and work experience placements. I made notes of the systems I was using, the way that processes worked and I used those to update my CV before the next application. My notes helped me realise where the gaps in my knowledge were and helped me realise what I am good at. It’s also good for showing you how far you’ve come – I have a note in my notebook from my RCW internship that says, "Ask what home royalties and sub rights are????" and now I spend a huge chunk of my time at work negotiating them.
I agree - for a start, notebooks are our friends, and I never go to a work chat or meeting without one! It's impossible to remember all the important stuff that comes up each day, and if we don't write it down it'll disappear without a trace. But being able to see your personal progression is a great side-effect.
How did you find the interview process?
In a word: daunting. I definitely forgot to relax and enjoy the process as much as I could have done. There was a phone interview first, and I was quite stressed about that because I had to have it in a busy café, so I practically had the wire in my mouth! The in-person interviews were a lot less stressful, mainly because I knew I had the right skills and knowledge base for the job and just needed to convince my interviewers of it.
Feeling a bit of confidence in that situation is so helpful, and prep can really enable that. Is there specific prep that you would recommend to anyone currently interviewing – or hoping to interview – for a publishing job?
Top things I would always recommend are:
1. Research x3. Find out as much as you can about the job, the company, the books they publish or hope to publish and the authors they work with. The more you know and can subtly allude to in an interview, the more you stand out as a candidate.
2. Think of one thing that you have worked on in the past that demonstrates your skills for this particular role, and a subtle way to bring that up in the interview if they don’t ask. That could be a book you’ve worked on before or an event you organised at uni – just anything from your career history that shows a key skill from the role.
3. Find someone who you trust and feel you can approach for advice. I personally found that absolutely invaluable in getting my foot in the door.
4. Gather a list of books that you have read and have an opinion on and remember them. It’s a publishing interview, and the job will be linked to books, so it is good to demonstrate that you can talk about what you enjoy.
5. Come up with at least one question for your interviewer. It shows your interest in the role and company as well as giving you a chance to find something out about a potential workplace.
5. What inspired or encouraged you to seek out a publishing role?
Probably everyone in my life who told me that loving to read wouldn’t pay my bills. I’m a huge fan of proving people wrong.