I’m delighted to welcome the very lovely Sarah Manning onto the blog today. Sarah is a Literary Agent’s Assistant to Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group and is here to give us insight into her role and some insider info on life in a literary agency. Pull up a chair, Sarah and help yourself to cake!
Can you tell us a bit about your background prior to working at The Agency Group?
I read History at Durham University. With no real idea what career I wanted to pursue, but aware that I loved books, I luckily landed myself a job at Orion working for their Paperbacks Department. I also interned in script development at Amber Entertainment and worked as a reader for Island Pictures before happily arriving at The Agency Group.
How long have you been working with Juliet at The Agency Group, Sarah, and how did you come to apply for the job?
I joined The Agency Group back in October 2013 and the time has absolutely flown by. I first stumbled across Juliet’s name during our many editorial meetings while working at Orion. I was beginning to realise that there were many exciting careers within the publishing industry that I hadn’t been aware of straight out of university, and so I closely followed Juliet’s career – she was in her twenties, vibrant and her success was snowballing. I found her easy to identify with and I knew I could learn a lot from her. At the time I was on a temporary contract at Orion and so I took the initiative to contact Juliet and ask her advice on how to move my career forward in publishing. Six months down the line Juliet was looking for an assistant and it felt like everything was falling into place. During that time I’d built up my experience and I knew for certain the direction I wanted my career to take.
What’s the best part of the working day for you?
The best part of my working day is reading the full manuscripts that have been called in from the slush pile. I love the creative, editorial side of reading submissions and it is especially exciting when you stumble across something special. But even when a submission still needs more work I enjoy sharing my thoughts with Juliet. I learn a lot from this process and it is always interesting to see how our comments compare.
What are you reading for pleasure at the moment?
I have just finished reading Apple Tree Yard and opened The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters on the train this morning. Apple Tree Yard was suggested to me by Juliet and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t disappoint. With a complex female narrator, and tackling interesting issues about sexual assault, it is an incredibly compelling read. I’ll let you know how I get on with The Little Stranger – here’s to hoping it’s as dark and chilling as I expect.
Could you please tell us about a typical day at The Agency Group and describe your workspace?
My days are pretty varied but there are some things which need to be done regularly. Every day we will have contracts coming in and out of the office, and it’s my job to keep a track of them all. Juliet does her own foreign rights and so we have contracts issued from all over the world, and with no separate contracts department this is quite a big job! I also complete the tax forms for our authors and am the one chasing all the money. Unlike in other jobs I have previously had, I don’t see these tasks as tiresome administration because they are so closely tied to direct contact with our clients, and I’m learning so much about the ins and outs of the industry. Hopefully this will just make me an efficient agent sometime in the future! And then, after all the general office jobs, I will help Juliet with the slush pile.
Our office is lovely, especially now we are slowly filling the white walls with framed book covers. And of course there is an enormous tube poster for James Oswald’s Mclean series.
Do you find you have a typical day or is each day different?
Each day is different working for Juliet and this is something I really appreciate about being her assistant. I am very lucky that I am welcome to sit in on all of Juliet’s meetings and so I find myself part of meetings with potential clients; existing authors; scouts and the list goes on!
Has anything surprised you about the job?
I was pleasantly surprised by just how fast-paced the working environment is here. There is always something going on and new deals being struck. It makes it very exciting to be a part of.
What was your dream job as a child?
I’m not entirely sure it would count as a job, but for most of my childhood I wanted to compete in the Olympics in synchronised swimming. Unfortunately, you can’t read books while upside down in the pool.
What’s your dream job in the future? Do you hope to become a full-time agent and build your own list?
When Juliet asked me where I’d like to be in five years’ time I replied, “your desk”. Well, perhaps not her actual desk, but one next door as a full-time agent would be lovely. My dream is to build a client list of my own with authors as varied and as exciting as those I get to work with now. My favourite aspect of the job is following authors from their slush pile submission through to their first deal, and championing debut authors is something I hope to take forward when establishing my own list.
Do you read the submissions that come in to Juliet’s slush pile – is this a job you share or do you both read promising submissions?
Juliet will read everything that comes into her slush pile and will decide which submissions to call in the full for. I will then read these full manuscripts alongside Juliet and we share our editorial comments. I absolutely love this process and, although the pile is often very large and somewhat daunting, it is always exciting when you begin reading a manuscript and realise you can’t put it down.
If you do read submissions, what would you love to find in the slush pile?
I have a weak spot for flawed, independent female characters that aren’t defined by the men around them. I would love to find an ‘Amy from Gone Girl’ type character placed in a historical setting: something that turns the male discourse of history on its head in a very modern way.
Who’s your favourite author / favourite book of all time?
Favourite author is a tricky one as, even if there is an author who I generally like the style of, it is always the story itself that I am most passionate about. A Thousand Splendid Suns is my go-to book and got me through my finals at university. There is something so magical about the strength of the characters despite the sadness that surrounds them, that no matter where I am it always manages to transport me. Plus, I’m a bit of a sucker for something that makes me cry!
Thank you so much, Sarah!