Summer of Romance

Blair Thornburgh sends us a postcard from a literary agency in New York City
Nothing makes up for sending all of those rejection emails like finding a submission that sounds intriguing."...

Welcome to our Summer Postcards series! We’re asking our students what they’re up to and how they’re making the most of this summer. 

-Jessen O'Brien, New Media Editor

When most people kick back to read a romance or a mystery novel, work is probably the furthest thing from their minds. But for me, this summer, it’s my job—I was lucky enough to get an internship working at Folio Literary Management in New York City. 

A literary agent’s job is important, but behind-the-scenes. When they’re finished writing, authors don’t just send their manuscripts directly to a publishing house—they need an agent to do that for them. Agents function as a bridge between writers and publishers. They take manuscripts from their clients, get them in the best possible shape, and pitch them to publishers. This works to everyone’s advantage: the publishers know they’re getting better quality material since the agent has vetted it and knows what their imprint may be looking for, and the author gets an advocate to help her career and work on fine details like contracts and subsidiary rights. The agent makes a living by taking a percentage of whatever the publisher pays her authors, so it’s in her interest to get the best deal possible.

Submissions come in the form of query letters, which are like short cover letters that describe a book, and part of my job as an intern is to reply to these letters. Every agent wants to grab the next bestseller—but every writer thinks that book is theirs, so I have to judge each submission carefully. This process used to be much slower and more expensive (imagine mailing 70 pages!), but most agencies now work exclusively online, so I send and receive materials all by email. 

I read mostly romance, women’s fiction, young adult, and mystery genre queries. Writers don’t have much space to pitch their book, so the query letter is pretty do-or-die and, unfortunately, most books aren’t the next big thing. Still, nothing makes up for sending all of those rejection emails like finding a submission that sounds intriguing. When that happens, I ask the author to send in a three-chapter sample of their manuscript to read. 

When the sample chapters come in, my job is to read them and write up a reader’s report for the agent to read. Since they already have a roster of authors and book projects that need their attention, agents don’t have a lot of time to spare and need the reader’s report to give a lot of information in about a page: a plot summary, the writing’s strengths and weaknesses, and my recommendation on whether the agent should represent the author. Based on the report, the agent may ask for the full manuscript and, eventually, decide if she should represent the writer.

Of course, it’s not all reading and writing all day. One of the most important parts of being an agent is keeping track of money: making sure it comes in from the publisher, gets out to the author, and that everything happens on schedule. I help maintain spreadsheets that keep track of payment and publication dates, and make sure that all the files are up to date and in order.

There’s also more to being an intern than just working. Once a week, Folio organizes “Intern Academy,” where one of the agents gives a talk on a specific part of their job, like foreign rights, writing pitch letters to editors, or how to network with other publishing professionals. I’ve also gotten to attend lots of book-related events and meet-ups in New York. I was particularly excited to go to the Romance Writers of America National Conference, where I got to talk with some of my favorite authors and was introduced to some important editors in the romance world. All in all, it’s been an amazing summer—lots of work to do, but lots to learn as well, and always plenty to read.

Tagged: internships, summer postcards