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I want to be... an agent's assistant

As Agent's Assistant at Curtis Brown Books, Silé Edwards is perfectly placed for this agent-focussed post in the "I want to be" series. Thank you, Silé, for your second brilliantly informative People of Publishing post!

First off, can you walk us through a typical working day for you?

In the morning, the first thing I’ll do is check the diary to make sure all meetings are set and to see what the shape of the day will be. For example, is it a day where my agent has back-to-back meetings and calls, or will they be at their desk for the majority of it? Once I’ve made sure the diary is at it should be, I’ll go through my emails, flagging or replying to things and making a list of things I need to bring to my agent’s attention. This can be anything from meeting requests to a contractual clause in an author’s contract that needs amending. I will also look over the submissions that have come in via email or our portal from writers who are looking for representation, and make sure we are reading and getting back to them within our 10-12-week window. As the day goes on there’s always admin to do – drafting contracts, talking to our contracts team about anything that needs particular attention, updating our systems and making sure our authors are being paid on time and accurately.

No working day is exactly the same as the last, but that is generally what I can expect to be doing before the unexpected (and often quite exciting) changes the ‘routine’.

What would you say is the most satisfying part of your job?

I am an admin nerd, so I have to say my (many) spreadsheets. I find having all the information I need at my fingertips so satisfying. Refining and colour coding my spreadsheets is my happy place.

I am totally with you on the spreadsheet love - SO satisfying! And what is the least satisfying part of your job?

Oooh, tricky! I think this is between chasing for money that is overdue (I hate it when authors don’t get paid on time, so I really hate having to chase at all!) and sending rejections. Both are necessary evils of the job, but not all that satisfying.

And for very good reason! And there's a real skill to rejecting submissions in a considered way. What are some of the skills that an agent’s assistant will develop?

It’s such a wide ranging role that there is scope to develop a lot of skills. You’ll probably have some office experience coming into it, but office management, organisation and admin will be some of the top skills you will develop naturally – simply by constantly working across everything your agent and their authors do!

There are interpersonal skills that can feel difficult to quantify but are invaluable and will definitely develop due to the nature of being an agent’s assistant, like:

  • Adaptability

  • Communication

  • Creative thinking

  • Dependability

  • Time management

  • Problem-solving

There are also ‘hard skills’ that an agent’s assistant will have once they have spent enough time in the role. This will depend on the agent and agency you work for, but can be:

  • Accounting/budgeting (money chasing and logging!)

  • Administration

  • Content creation (tweeting and updating the website)

  • Contract drafting

  • Editing

  • Minute-taking

  • Negotiating

  • Pitching

  • Reading and reporting

That is such a good variety of skills, and so many of them are also transferable into other roles within the publishing industry - there's a lot of cross-over. But lastly, what advice would you give to anyone who wants to be an agent?

Don’t be scared of saying what you are good at. You’re going to spend a lot of time convincing other people to buy what you’re selling, so don’t sell yourself short. Ever.

Silé Edwards on Twitter.

Curtis Brown Books on Twitter.

Curtis Brown Books website.


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