My recent promotion as Associate Agent for KC&A had my knickers in a twist for weeks. Not only could I tell people that I was now a ‘lit agent’, I could actually do so knowing how much I enjoyed my job. I know, shocking, right? These days, being in love with your job is unheard off. You take what you get, and as long as it puts food on the table (in my case, wine), we should be thankful. But this kind of thinking filled my stomach with dread. I could not imagine waking up and doing a 9 to 5 that, literally, sucked my brains out. Thankfully, my brain is still intact.
Now, a recent phenomenon that I noticed is that people don’t really know what agents do. When I began to flaunt my new position to people who were not writers/agents/publishing folk, most often, I was met with wide-eyed stares of confusion. Few things people thought I did were: Publish books. Sell books and be on my way, onto the next one! Or rather, just read all day for pleasure. I smiled politely (because I’m still at that point where I love talking about what we do) and gave them the most succinct explanation, which invariably made them question why I become an agent in the first place? Especially since we do not get paid a monthly salary.
Agents make a 15% commission from our clients earnings. People in the publishing industry understand and recognize each others willingness to be a part of the common pauper’s struggle that all writers, editorial assistants, editors, agents, and other publishing folk go through at the beginning, albeit with helpless resignation. However, try explaining that to a room full of relatives and family members who have been ingrained since centuries/decades/lifetimes to a kind of work ethic that is closely tied with responsibility, practicality, stability, and money than the kind that ties you to love, passion, belief, possible money someday, and definite prestige in the long haul (Ah, Sonny Mehta, why do you haunt me so?).
So I explained to everyone that my true reason for choosing to become an agent, rather than a plumber/electrician/mason/doctor/engineer/mountain-climber is because, quite simply, I cannot live without books. I do not mean the ebook or the kindle. I mean the paperback kind of books that send me into a girlish bout of madness when I step into a bookstore or look at my bookshelf or touch a beautiful cover.
Even more, I love coming across a manuscript in my pile that makes my heart skip a few beats. A manuscript that I then envision all the way to greatness- breaking a million records, making a million bucks, bringing in a millions fans, playing in a million theaters worldwide, and touching a milling lives. NOTHING, makes me happier. When I was a kid growing up in the Dubai of the late 80s/early 90s, it was a different city. It was a dry, barren, scarcely populated place that was mostly desert. I never got to hike, or camp, or go on road-trips, or fish, etc. In fact, my mother would not let me out of her sight until I turned a shameful twelve (after which I became an insane rebel and tried to make up for those lost years). That was when I turned to books. Adventure books, mystery books, girly boarding-school books, detective/spy books, emotional-magical books…I would read under the quilt with a torch, long after the night light was switched off, and I was in heaven. This love stayed with me all through my graduation, when I also discovered that I loved writing books as much as I loved reading them.
When I began at KC&A, I realized that there was a different path available to people like me. Agenting, where I would not write as much, but I would still be involved in the initial process of helping an author to shape up the kind of book that I believed would inspire people to read more. I would be able to handpick books across all genres, as long as they inspired me with the same fire. The thought of being a part-editor/part-avocate/part-businesswoman/part-friend excited me. The idea of seeing my future clients works, envisioning their covers at B&N, and being able to talk about them proudly to all and sunder excited me. The idea of being surrounded with manuscripts until the wee hours of the morning, subsisting only on coffee excited me. The idea of mingling with other publishing folk and attending conferences (meeting prospective writers with my prospective dream projects) excited me. The process of negotiating contracts to get the best ones for my (future) clients excited me. What excited me even more was that I was going to be able to do all of this under the loving and supportive umbrella of my boss, Kimberley, who has built a legacy of hard-work and good taste over her years in the industry.
Tell me, is there any other profession that could be better?
On an end note, here are a few links for my fellow readers and writers to peruse.
http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/some-good-news-from-the-world-of-books (This article on the state of publishing filled me with great hope for the future).
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/books/tom-wolfe-ian-mcewan-and-j-k-rowling-among-fall-authors.html?_r=2ref=books& (Could the Fall be anymore thrilling?)
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2012/08/the-publishing-process-in-gif-form.html (The Writing Process, a dash of humor from Agent-turned-Social Media Guru Nathan Bransford).