I want to be Miss Snark

Dear Ms. Snark,

I think I have what it takes to be a literary agent--I love reading, know lots of writers, editors and even a few publishers. I've worked in public relations (though not on books) for the past 12 years and know how essential a good "hook" is to garnering attention. In the 80s I was a real estate broker, so I'm too old to work in a mailroom. I've been researching the publishing industry (I know the Booker Prize will be announced today, for example).

I know you're snarky, but hope you'll take a moment to give me your sage advice.

You might want to find out what a literary agent actually does before assuring me you have what it takes.

Even if you don't think you can start in the mailroom, you should just sit in an agent's office for a week and watch what happens. Very few of your "qualifications" are actually relevant.


Cheryl said...

People actually send in requests like this?

That's what you get for being famously generous, Miss Snark.

BitchySmurf said...

Start applying to those assistant ads on PublishersLuncJob board like the rest of us schlubs!

Anonymous said...

I think I have what it takes to become a surgeon. I love watching medical dramas on TV, know lots of patients, nurses, and even a few doctors. I've worked in kitchen prep at a restaurant and am experienced with handling a knife. In the 90s I was a software developer, so I'm too old to be a candy striper. I've been researching the medical industry (I know that it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for example).

Geez, some people...

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

TOR wants interns. I believe you must be a college student, live in the NYC area and have your own transportation.

A taste for muffins is okay. Competing for pistachio muffins with Anna G. is probably not okay.

I think they require shoes at work. It's a safety thing. And the phones are weird in the Flat Iron building. There's also a ghost. A love for fan fiction might help.

Lemme seeeeeeee .... go check out alg.livejournal.com

And don't quote me on the ghost thing.

It's not the same as working for Miss Snark, but it might be close.

It might help to know about brick red lip stick too. .... dunno

Anonymous said...

No wonder you are "Snarkey!"

Jim Oglethorpe said...

I don't know for sure but I think that connections in the industry must be one of the must-haves for an agent. Just to break through the noise, you would have to have a list of x number of editors who trust your judgement and will read what you recommend. I also believe that it's never to late to start a new career. If I wanted to be an agent (I can pitch anything and broke through to producers at national shows with my publicist's blessing) I would put my marketing/PR skills to work by convincing a successful agent to let me help them on a volunteer basis. Whatever they needed, I would do. I'd try to learn the ropes and get an idea of what the day-to-day job is like. I'd keep my "day job" and do whatever it took. I'd sharpen pencils...whatever. No doubt when I make my next career move I'll be the oldest chick in the mailroom!

Dave Fragments said...

I read the last post and almost ran screaming from the room. Marketing and Sals Pitches and smoozing up editors and selling. . . Give me some differential equations, laplace transforms and let me design buildings, pumps, pipes, heaters, valves etc... Now that's sumthin I can handle.

In the immortal words of Victor Herbert:

Art is calling to me!
I long to be a prima donna, donna, donna
I long to shine upon the stage
I have the embonpoint
To become a queen of song
And my figure would look pretty as a page
I want to be a screechy peachy cantatrice
Like other plump girls that I see
I hate society
I hate propriety
Art is calling for me

Pixel Faerie said...

This brings up an interesting question. Say someone wanted to become a literary agent, the right method of doing so would be to intern at a literary agency? And what if you're not in college and are still interested?

I understand that becoming a literary agent is hard work (it's not for me, I don't think I could find the time), I think it would be interesting material for a future novel though.

Anonymous said...

i like how some people think they are innately qualified for lofty positions based on inflated self-perception alone, regardless of the fact that they have not put in the time to actually learn and acquire the necessary skills. i count myself as one of such people. damn it, why am i still not yet a high-profile attorney like johnny cochran, and why won't michael jackson hire ME?

damn it.

Anonymous said...

I'd want to be Miss Snark, but I'm not sure my liver could handle it.

Anonymous said...

angrylilasiangirl, "read Unskilled and Unaware of It" (pdf link). The perception of one's own skill is inversely proportional to the possession of said skill.

Here's the abstract:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

Anonymous said...

I used to want to be an actor (could'a been a contender!) but yanno - life goes on and time runs out. Instead, one of my best friends is an actor. She appears in Alien Resurrection (does the flashcard scene with Sigourney Weaver). She and I have talked tons aout what it's really like in 'the biz.' I'm grateful I never dug deep enough into that. It's tougher than writing in that one must have the stamina to withstand face-to-face rejection, sometimes cruel: "you're too fat, too thin, too old, too tall, too short, too average, too cheap looking, too intelligent looking, too stupid looking, too ordinary." I prefer to receive my rejections by snail or email. Writing is challenging enough for me. So I guess it's a blessing to be content where I am.

Kanani said...

I guess I just don't get it. What experience do you have? Writing? Editing? Project Development? Negotiating? Prime snarkiness? A little white dog?

But you never know, agents have started in all sorts of ways:

Irving "Swifty" Lazar"
While practicing bankruptcy law during the early 1930s, he negotiated a business deal for a vaudeville performer and realized the income potential for acting as an agent. He moved to Hollywood in 1936 but maintained a presence in New York until after World War II when he moved to Los Angeles permanently. After putting together three major deals for Humphrey Bogart in a single day, he was dubbed "Swifty" by Bogart. The moniker stuck but was a name he actually disliked.

In addition to Bogart, Lazar became the agent representing the top tier of celebrities, including Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote, Cher, Joan Collins, Noel Coward, Ira Gershwin, Cary Grant, Moss Hart, Ernest Hemingway, Gene Kelly, Jessica Lange, Madonna, Walter Matthau, Larry McMurtry, Vladimir Nabokov, Clifford Odets, Gregory Peck, Cole Porter, William Saroyan, Irwin Shaw, Sharon Stone and Tennessee Williams. Lazar's power became such that he could negotiate a deal for someone who was not even his client and then collect a fee from that person's agent.

Anonymous said...

I could never be an agent. An agent's job is to get the best deal possible, talk the publisher out of money... I'm such a wimp. If I were an agent and a publisher offered my client an outrageously low amount of money, I'd be like, "Well, that's not really what I, uh, well, we just were looking for something more like, well, uh, I, uh, well... okay." This is why I need an agent so much. If for some reason I can't get an agent (say, because my writing sucks!), I don't know what I'll do!

Anonymous said...

If you can do an internship, do one.

I am interested in being an agent and also sought advice from a working agent. (Strangely enough, not all of us were born with the knowledge of how to start a new career, and some of us find asking for advice to be very beneficial.) He sent me information about interning with his agency, so I begged and borrowed and spent a summer in New York. I loved it, and I realized that this is definitely what I want to be doing.

And if you really want to do it, you'll be willing to start in the mailroom if you have to. When I graduate, I'll have a JD and five years previous experience in publishing. It'd be difficult and even a little embarrassing to be working in the mailroom, but if that's where I have to start to end up where I want, I'll be happy to do it.

Anonymous said...


Who'd want to be an agent anyway? I mean, I'm glad some people out there apparently like the idea. But the job sounds sort of icky.

I think maybe it sounds great to people who really want to write and sell their own books, 'cause they see it as an "in." Also, if agents are gatekeepers, they must be important, right? So everybody would know how important you were. Right?

But...c'mon, guys. Not a lot of money (there are exceptions, but some people get rich _writing_ for chrissake), lots of hassle, email/phone dependency issues...just ick.


Anonymous said...

Who's too old to work in a mailroom?

If you're starting over in a new career, you start over, period.

Anonymous said...

I taught Algebra for two years. There was a gentleman who was tired of a computer programmer, and he wanted to switch to teaching. Everyone knows teachers are in demand. Only he didn't want to teach Algebra, he wanted to be a Calculus teacher. I tried to explain that there are very few high school Calculus classes. Those that teach Calculus have worked their way up and taken special summer classes. He couldn't see why any school wouldn't be dying to have an inexperienced computer programmer teach its elite class. I needed a clue gun back then.


Kanani said...

I have this impression that in order to do an internship with Miss Snark, you probably have to walk Killer Yapp, take him to the vet, fetch her dry cleaning and keep the press at bay when she's out with George.
Good luck, OP.

roach said...

In regards to Mr. Lazar, I think there's a world of difference between starting in publishing nearly 70 years ago and today.

Anonymous said...

The idea that wanting to change careers and become a literary agent is akin to aspiring to be a surgeon or lawyer is absurd. Being a literary agent, as far as I can tell (as one who has one rather than one who is one) requires taste, tenacity, toughness, and connections. Basically: a high-end salesman. Of course, there would be a learning curve, but the basic skills required to be competent are few. To be a *great* literary agent is another matter.