I’ve asked my fantabulous agent extraordinaire, Juliet Mushens of Peters Fraser & Dunlop, to share a day in her life on the blog today. I know when I was hunting for agents, I was really curious as to what it was like on the other side of the desk. Juliet draws back the curtain and shows you the madness and wonder of being a literary agent.
I check my email before I even get out of bed. According to friends I am surgically attached to my iPhone/iPad which I think is probably true: I have a terrible habit of checking it during lunch, at the cinema… Anywhere and everywhere. I flag any submissions and have a quick check to make sure there is nothing so uber-urgent that I need to deal with it right now. Sometimes there is, which makes for an interesting morning!
Once I’m actually in the office and caffeinated I properly go through my emails to make sure I’m on top of things. These emails can be about anything: an author struggling with a plot point, an author chasing up money, a publisher asking me my thoughts on a cover/publicity campaign/marketing campaign, submissions, queries from our foreign rights team or foreign publishers about rights, contractual negotiations, editorial notes on contracted manuscripts and anything and everything in between.
I always start the day with a very efficiently drawn up to-do list with ticky boxes next to everything but sometimes item 1 can take four hours… Or suddenly an urgent call comes in, or a really hot manuscript, or an editor pre-empts a book, or I have to leave now to go to an unexpected meeting. It can be a constant juggling act which is why I tend to read most submissions in evenings or on weekends as I want to give them proper time and consideration.
I represent an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction and a key part of my job is finding new non-fiction clients. I come up with a list of ideas every week that I want to follow up so one day a week I do my best to track down contact details, arrange meetings and find out if there’s a book there. Recently I sold two inspirational memoirs that came out of these brainstorms so it can be very rewarding albeit something that sends me all over the country – Northampton, Manchester and Somerset in one week was a record for me. With fiction authors I want to sign I will always come armed with a list of comments and notes on their manuscript, to make sure we are on the same page editorially. Sometimes a manuscript will keep me up all night reading it and I know I’m desperate to sign them so I’ll need to move quickly. I read Pantomime overnight and I had butterflies in my stomach as I knew that it was very special and I had to persuade Laura that I was the uber-enthusiastic agent for her!
I am passionate about editing with my authors and I will typically have one manuscript open in the background of my computer at most times as I structurally edit their work. Some authors go through one draft and some go through four or more – there’s no right or wrong way to draft and I love teasing out a tricky strand and the satisfaction when you both have that ‘aha!’ moment. A book called Held Up by Christopher Radmann comes out from Headline in July and we worked hard on it together and when I sold it it was intensely satisfying (it’s an amazing book). My acknowledgement in the book is so nice it made me cry at my desk, and it’s such a wonderful moment when you feel like you’ve contributed to the creative process in a positive way.
I also spend a lot of time at meetings. Sometimes with prospective clients, sometimes with existing clients, with publishers, foreign publishers, literary scouts, film scouts, celebrities, production companies… The list goes on. It’s a business built on personal relationships and I think that nothing beats making a connection with someone where you can find out what really makes them tick and the book they’d love to publish. And then I can try and find it for them! It’s also always a treat to see a book launched, or to get to have a gossip with my authors. I’m conscious that writing can be quite solitary so it’s nice to sit down and discuss next steps with books, or just celebrate a big deal.
I spend a few evenings a week socialising with editors, or at launch parties, at Creative Writing MA launches, or with my authors. And when I’m not working, or reading my authors’ books, I tend to have my head stuck in another book (I’m going through a gory crime phase at the moment). I’m very lucky to do a job I’m so passionate about: I love people, and I love writing, and the two of them combine to make my job very enjoyable… Even if it is sending me grey before my time.
So if you needed proof that agents are superhuman…there you go! Juliet is open to queries. To read more about what Juliet represents and her submissions guidelines, please go here. A huge thank you to Juliet for taking the time for this post.