Laura Cummings is an assistant agent at Foreword Literary.
When we followed one another on Twitter, I wondered what exactly an assistant agent does. I also thought it would be interesting to get her perspective on the publishing industry. She enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed. Thanks, Laura!
Before I dive into this interview, I’d like to thank the fabulous Theresa for inviting me onto her blog. Also, to any readers out there, please feel free to ask me more questions in the “comments” section. I’d be more than happy to answer them!
I see from your description on Foreword Literary that you’re the assistant agent to Laurie McLean. How did you become an agent assistant?
The short answer: Connections I’ve built over the years.
The long answer: At the beginning of the year, my internship with another agent—the fabulous Verna Dreisbach—came to an end. When I told Verna that I’d like to continue interning in the publishing world, she very kindly recommended me to Laurie McLean. I sent my resume to Laurie, we chatted back and forth a bit, and then met at the San Francisco Writers Conference for an interview. She graciously took me on as her assistant, and I’ve been working under her ever since!
What does an agent assistant do?
It feels like my job changes every day! My tasks are always varied, but a few constant ones are:
· Sorting through the query inbox. (One of my favorite parts of the job! It’s such an honor to be able to read all the queries sent in, and to experience the genius of writers first-hand.)
· Evaluating requested partials
· Reading requested fulls (Laurie always makes the final decision on whether to reject fulls, but she very kindly allows me to give my opinion.)
· Answering questions from writers. (Another one of my favorite parts! I love dealing with writers hands-on, and helping them through the submission process.)
Do all or most queries go through assistants first?
It really depends on the agent/agency and their personal policies.
Here at Foreword, Laurie is an extremely hands-on agent, so she reads most of the queries that come in. However, it’s my job to read them more in-depth, evaluate them, and pass along the golden ones to Laurie.
What types of manuscripts pique your interest?
Young Adult will always hold a special place in my heart, although I also adore New Adult. I’d love to see some more Fantasy or Sci-Fi NA, and YA with a male MC and a truly accurate voice. Also, any novel with a kick-butt LGBT character will likely make me break out in fan-girly squealing.
Is there a genre or category that’s big right now?
Well there’s NA, which has recently exploded in popularity, largely due to indie authors. It just received its own category at PM, which seems to have many publishing professionals giving the genre a closer look.
I’m also noticing a large surge in the amount of serialized novels being put out, probably sparked by the success of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series. And I think we’ve all noticed the huge amount of erotica published since 50 Shades of Grey became a phenomenon.
Can you tell us the process from reading the query to an offer of representation?
The process at Foreword Lit is pretty typical for a literary agency. There’s always some variation, but it usually goes something like this:
1. The process starts with the discovery of the author, whether through a conference, pitch session, or query.
2. A partial is requested.
3. The partial is read and evaluated.
4. A full is requested.
5. The full is read and evaluated.
6. If Laurie likes the full, she sets up a call with the author.
7. The author and Laurie chat, and if they both seem like a good fit, then an offer of rep is given.
8. If the offer of rep is accepted, then lots of hugs and chocolate and cupcakes are distributed all around!
Where do you see your role in the publishing world in 5 years?
As for the general role of agents and their assistants, I see it changing over the years. I think indie authors are going to more frequently become clients, and I believe many agents are going to have to change their policies/perspectives to accommodate for that. I think digital publishing is also going to add a whole new twist to the industry (it already has!), and agents will have to rapidly shift with the constantly-changing digital world.
As for me personally, I’d like to think I might be an agent in five years-time. But, as for now, that remains a dream. :)
Since you’re younger than many long-established agents, do you think you have a different perspective on the state of publishing or what would interest younger readers?
Yes and no. Some literary agents, like the agents at Foreword, are totally understanding of the changing industry and the interest of young readers, and our views are very similar. And, despite the advantage of my young age, I think the agents at Foreword have a way better grasp of those concepts!
However, there are other agencies that don’t seem to be adjusting to the changing times. In those cases, yes, I think I might have a different perspective than they do. I’m a huge supporter of indie authors, digital publishing, and incorporating diversity into plots/characters. I’ve seen agents who don’t agree with these views, so it seems my opinions do clash with some agents.
That being said, I will always have something to learn from established agents, and I fully respect their varying opinions. :)