New Agents Don’t Have Cooties

by Maria Vicente (@MsMariaVicente), a literary agent intern

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately in the writing world about whether it’s a good idea to query new agents. There are some people who will throw themselves in front of a train before even considering the possibility. Other writers flock to new agents, hoping that their queries will stand out more in a not-so-flooded inbox.

New agents don’t have cooties. There’s no reason why you should avoid the whole group of them. However, you also shouldn’t send a query to each and every one. There are many things to consider before querying a new agent, and it’s a process that should take a decent amount of time.

Remember that everyone starts somewhere. Those agents with years of experience? They were once new agents too. The thing is, there should be a starting point. If an agent has recently joined an agency, his/her bio will have details outlining their publishing experience. There should be some indication that they’ve learned a little bit about this crazy publishing world. If they’re a new agent, they won’t necessarily have deals and clients to boast about – but they should have had some education or training to lead them into this side of the industry.

Your next major consideration should be the agency’s background. If a new agent is taking on clients, it is very important that there are knowledgeable people within the agency to help them out. There’s no formal training program for agents and no one is going to know everything right away. That’s why you need to make sure the agency has a good reputation and has other, experienced agents to hold the new agent’s hand for the first little bit. If the agency is brand new – and the other agents have little to no experience – then you’ll probably want to steer clear.

Always find out the agent’s interests. New agent or not, it’s important to understand what type of writing he/she is looking for. If a new agent joins a reputable agency and they’re accepting your genre, then you’re golden. A new agent does have a client list to build, so they’ll really be looking out for the queries that interest them the most. New agents will want to start their lists off right, which means they’re going to represent genres they know and love.

You should also use social networking to your advantage. If this new agent has a Twitter account and they’re approachable, then ask questions! There’s a wealth of information available for writers thanks to the immediacy and slightly creepy lack of privacy of social media. We live online for a reason. You should be able to analyze a new agent’s involvement with the publishing community and use it to your advantage.

Honestly, an agent is an agent is an agent. You should be doing just as much research about new agents as you are about agents who have been in the industry for 20+ years. An agent with a ton of experience is not necessarily the best match for you as a writer. Similarly, a new agent with limited experience (because they should have some) is not automatically wrong.

You’re asking an agent to take a chance on you. Guess what? You are (most likely) a NEW writer. If everyone does their research and good matches are made, I think taking chances on new talent is a very good idea.

Why I Love Being An Intern

My name is Maria and I am an intern.

Internships have been under a lot of scrutiny lately. I can’t begin to count the number of recent articles that argue against the value of internships. Interns are overworked. Interns are underpaid (or not paid at all). Interns are given meaningless tasks.

All of these things may be true. People have lived through real-life nightmares as they try to complete an internship. Some interns do spend their days purchasing coffee and photocopying paper. However, the stigma attached to interning is somewhat unnecessary. Not every position is a waste of time and energy.

While some industries have internship positions that are quite useless (I’ll refrain from mentioning names or fields), others choose to go the internship route for a very specific reason: it’s truly the only way to learn.

I love my internships. I am an intern for two wonderful literary agencies and I work closely with some incredible agents. Completing internship assignments are often the best parts of my day. You may think I’m a nerd, but receiving an email with a new project makes me giddy. Without going through the trials of interning, I wouldn’t know for sure that I want to work in publishing – and I certainly wouldn’t have the skills to do so.

An internship takes time. They are mostly unpaid, so you need to weigh the positives and the negatives of having very little money for an undetermined amount of time (depending on how long you’re willing to be an intern). If you live in a major city with publishing houses and literary agencies, certainly apply to work in an office. I would love to be able to go to an office every day and see my bosses (better thought of as mentors) in action. Unfortunately for me (and, truthfully, for most people in North America), that isn’t an option. You’ll be happy to know that there are remote internships and these positions are actually quite common in the publishing industry. You’re wrong if you think a remote internship isn’t worth your time and effort.

I am still learning, regardless of the fact that I complete my internships from the comfort of my own home (I love having the ability to wear my Super Mario Bros pajamas while responding to emails or reading manuscripts in bed). As I mentioned, I work with some lovely people. I’m given assignments that force me to learn new skills and explore behind-the-scenes of the industry. You can also make wonderful connections. Not only do I work with specific agents, but I also get the chance to stalk editors (only online – if you’re an editor, I will not be creeping outside of your office window) and interact with the writing community (I have no idea how writers do it, but I sure am glad that they do). Not to mention the amazing manuscripts and proposals I get to read before anyone else.

I didn’t have many expectations when I started my internships.  Upon reflection, I am so happy that I gave it a shot. (Even if my bank account is less than enthused.) My brain is crawling with knowledge (does that phrase gross out anyone else?) and I’m excited to discover what else my training has in store.

I highly recommend completing an internship if you want to get a job in any realm of publishing. While it is hard work (and the fun stuff probably won’t happen until you’ve proven yourself), the hard work pays off. You will learn. You will make connections. You will have fun.

Please leave a comment, send me an email (maria at mariavicente dot com), or pester me on Twitter if you have any questions about publishing internships (or if you want to simply say hello).