Thursday, February 25, 2016

In the Life of An Agent: Interns Edition

At The Seymour Agency we make good use of interns, pooling them from the local collegiate population. It's a win-win for both parties, not to mention when I was in college I would have "killed" for an internship at an agency or publisher. Any who, our local intern is one Lesley Sabga and she ROCKS.

Instead of me prattling on about some nonsense or whatever, I had Lesley write up a post on her experiences as an intern. I'm double-dipping here by posting it, because she actually wrote it up for my current pool of interns, but c'est la vie.

You might also think hey this is about an agent's life, not an intern's! But there's this line of thought among some writing circles that interns do all the work, an agent never even reads the manuscripts, and you need to escape the all mighty gatekeeper. So I thought it would be neat for us to hear from said mighty gatekeeper. And here'ssssss Lesley:

"I have been an intern at a literary agency and a publishing house for a little over a year. When I first started, I was at the tail end of my senior year, and to say I was more than ready to graduate and pursue my dream of becoming an editor would be an understatement. Immediately I was thrown into a world full of reader reports, editorial passes and letters, copy edits, line edits, and acquisitions. I found myself a little over my head, thinking I possibly bit off more than I could chew. But in those first few months, I learned more about the industry than I ever thought I could. 
I came across three essential facts. First, I learned that in order to make it in this industry, you must have a strong sense of time management, especially if working remotely. It is so easy to fall behind or procrastinate on projects, and in this trade, deadlines are crucial. I also learned that you can’t take anything personally. If an editor says that your proofs are unusable and gives you no sort of recognition for your efforts, making all of your hard work and long hours essentially worthless, you use that feeling of frustration to motivate yourself to improve on that certain skill set. Take every criticism as a learning experience, never personally. If you do, you won’t last very long in this industry. The final lesson that I learned is that if you want to establish a name for yourself, you must make the effort to make yourself known to as many people as possible. Never hesitate to ask a question, even if it may seem dumb or embarrassing to you. Editors or whoever you work for always want to be informed on what you are struggling with or have questions on. It is always better to be annoying and ask a dozen questions and turn in great work instead of guessing what you think they want or how to do something, and turn in something mediocre and wrong. Communication and networking is key, and the only way to accomplish this is to reach out to your superiors and connections. 
When it comes to mastering reader reports, editorial passes and letters, or anything else concerning a manuscript, the best ally to have is experience. Through trial and error, you’ll find that your voice and skills will develop into something completely unique and invaluable for yourself. You’ll learn your strong points and the areas you still need improvement on.
        There are many components that make up a reader report but I found that characterization and the author’s voice is key. Authors sometimes have difficulty keeping the characters in line with the plot. The characters stray and form their own separate storyline, and soon enough the original story is nothing like the end result. Characters need to grow with the plot and the conflict always needs to be referred back to the reader through them. The author’s voice is what essentially makes the characters distinguishable and one of the best ways to figure this out is to cover up each name in a sequence of dialogue and see if you can tell who is talking. To me, this is the simplest way to determine if the author’s voice is strong and distinctive. 
In regards to editorial letters, I found that constructive criticism is a very delicate process. It is always important to compliment the author and to point out the aspects of their book that you enjoyed. Concentrating on what needs improvement within a story can often overpower a letter and make it more hurtful than helpful. One of the most brilliant pieces of advice I was ever given by an editor was the analogy that a book is like an author’s baby, and you never want to call a person’s baby ugly. This couldn’t be truer within this industry and it is so easy to make this mistake. Learn the balance between stating the positives of a book and how the negatives can be improved, and definitely remember that these letters are a very personal aspect of this job.  
Although the publishing and editing industry can be tough to break into and to learn, I have yet to talk to an individual in this business that does not love their job, and I think that speaks volumes for this field. There is no greater feeling than helping an author’s vision and words come to life; it is the most rewarding task and one that I, and everyone else in this industry, am passionate about. If you put in all of the work and push to learn and improve, there is absolutely nothing that will hold you back in this field. Everyone has to start somewhere and getting your foot through the door is always the first step."

Well, that's it for now, so remember to keep writing on!

Lane Heymont is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency, representing science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction, and attempts to write his own stuff under a wonderful pseudonym. You can follow him on Twitter at @LaneHeymont


  1. Having recently decided I want to get into this industry (editor, most likely) this was a pretty informative/helpful read. Thanks!

  2. Glad you found it useful. Lesley is awesome!