JOB PROFILE: Agent/Literary Agent

Qualifications and courses

Most entrants will have a degree but enthusiasm, good industry knowledge and the ability to make good contacts are equally important. For entry onto a degree course you will usually need a minimum of 2 A levels/3 H grades and 5 GCSEs/National 5s (C or above, or 4 or above in England).

Most entrants to this work will have previous experience and qualifications in related fields such as sales, business, music, performing arts, public relations or publishing.

It is also possible to start out as an assistant or administrator and then work your way up to an agent or manager.

Contract law knowledge and a second language may be useful in the negotiation of rights deals. Knowledge of the existing client lists, up-and-coming industry figures and working knowledge of the industry in which you wish to work will always be beneficial, for example as a literary agent you should have a strong knowledge of the genre of books you wish to specialise in (e.g. business books, children's fiction, commercial fiction, etc.).


What the work involves

Agents represent and promote artists and creatives in the film, television, radio, theatre, music and publishing sectors. They can also play a similar role for sporting professionals. You will be expected to work proactively to enhance your client's career by securing work and negotiating to ensure that the client attains the best work at the highest fee.

Literary agents are responsible for assessing the quality and commercial potential of manuscripts submitted by authors. They will work with a selected author to create a more polished manuscript that would be marketable enough to send to publishers under their recommendation.

You will also have to develop publication and rights agreements with publishers and TV, radio and film producers on behalf of the writers.


Type of person suited to this work

As you will be acting as the link between your client and the world they work in, you will need excellent communication skills. The ability to develop good contacts and a name for reliability is essential. It is also important to develop good working relationships with clients.

You should have a good head for business and an assertive approach will be helpful when it comes to agreeing contracts on behalf of clients.

You should have a good knowledge of the law and how it applies to your client's sector, as they will rely on you for professional advice in this area.


Working conditions

Agents are office based and can be self-employed or work for agencies.

Although, theoretically, they could work anywhere, most agents are based near London. Literary agents can also be found in Edinburgh, which is an important centre for the UK publishing industry.

Travel is common and you should expect to work 30–40 hours a week, including evenings and weekends, as some of your work will involve attending performances and social events to network and raise the profile of your clients.


Future prospects

This is an extremely competitive profession, made increasingly more difficult to gain employment in due to the rise in opportunities for digital and self-publishing meaning agents are less in demand. Agencies are constantly being set up but few stand the test of time. Most agencies, particularly literary agencies, are relatively small, although there are a few large ones. However publishers increasingly prefer to respond to new publication ideas through agents.

Your success will be determined partly by the standard of the clients you represent but, also, by the quality of the advice you can provide to them.

With sufficient experience you might have the opportunity to work abroad in entertainment and publishing hubs such as New York.


Advantages/disadvantages

You will have the satisfaction of supporting new artists and helping them to succeed.

As you will earn your income from commissions, you will be under pressure to identify and promote new artists.

Unsociable hours and extensive travelling can affect your personal life.


Money guide

Salaries vary widely according to the nature of the agent, the number of artists they work with and the success they have in their field.

Literary agents are paid commission which is usually between 10% and 25% of authors’ earnings.

New entrants can expect to earn £15,000 in a large agency, progressing to £30,000 with experience.

Top agents with prestigious clients can earn in excess of £100,000.


Further information


Content generously provided by Indigo Trotman.


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