How Do You Become an Agent or Editor?
Believe it or not, I occasionally get emails from people who are interested in becoming a literary agent. (Don’t laugh, I’m not making this up.)
Why anyone would want to join the ranks of the hated and maligned poor stepchildren of the literary world, I don’t know. Maybe the same reason some people become lawyers. Or contractors.
People also write to me of their dreams of becoming an editor, either in a publishing house or a freelancer. So I’ll address them all here. (Previously I wrote in detail about the qualifications one should have to become an agent.)
The first thing you need to realize is that… (drum roll please)…
Publishing is changing.
Right. As if we haven’t heard that enough already. But what it will mean is that the availability of “traditional” publishing jobs is going to decrease, while the opportunities to work in alternative areas of publishing, (self publishing, independent niche publishing, etc.) are going to increase.
So, like everyone else who is looking for a job now or in the next decade, you had better keep your eyes and ears open to what’s happening, what’s new, and what’s the wave of the future.
But here’s the way it works if you still want a traditional publishing job: You need to get a job in publishing. Somewhere, somehow, you need to become employed at a publishing house or literary agency. You’ll probably have to start in some assistant or phone-answering capacity. Then once you’re there, spend every single day paying attention to everything happening around you. Learn the ropes, and become known as a really smart person and a great employee, and watch for your opportunities for advancement.
If you want to be in New York publishing, then you need to get a job in New York. That’s all there is to it. If not, there are smaller publishing houses all over the country where you could get your start.
You should be a college graduate, and while many editors and agents majored in English or literature, your major probably won’t be a deciding factor.
Since most of you who read my blog are writers, you may be more interested in the question:
How do I become a freelance editor?
The reputable freelance editors I know worked in publishing houses previously, and/or they’re successful published authors with copious experience working with editors and studying the craft of writing.
I don’t usually recommend people try to start freelance editing businesses without the in-house experience, and here’s why. Many people who have a good feel for language think they would make great editors. They don’t know what they don’t know. And they end up charging writers for sub-standard work.
Numerous times in the past several years, I’ve worked with authors who have paid an editor to help with their book. And numerous times, I’ve felt very bad for the authors because they wasted their money, and the proof is in the manuscript. So if you want to become a freelance editor but you don’t have the experience, I suggest you get the necessary experience first.
If you do have the right experience, then it’s simply a matter of opening your business, creating your fee structure, putting up a website, networking with writers, and getting your business off the ground one step at a time.
I hope that helps those of you who are thinking of getting a job in publishing!