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What I’ve Learned in the Last 4 years as an Agent

C3195787-1446744248336031large [1]Today’s guest is Katie Shea Boutillier [2] who has been a literary agent with the Donald Maass Literary Agency [3] since 2011. She is the Rights Director handling the agency’s translation and audio rights, and selected film/TV and electronic rights. In addition, Katie focuses on her own client list of smart contemporary women’s fiction/book club; edgy/dark realistic YA; commercial-scale literary fiction; and celebrity memoir. She looks for projects with the perfect balance of plot and emotion. Katie loves novels that seek big truths, touch on important social issues, and explore unique family dynamics and unlikely friendships. She is a cum laude graduate of Marist College.

Connect with Katie on Twitter [4].

What I’ve Learned in the Last 4 years as an Agent

Last week marked my 4-year-anniversary with the Donald Maass Literary Agency . . . and a lot has happened. First, I’ve become the agency’s Rights Director, closing over 70 deals to-date. I’ve hit two agent milestones: held my first book auction and closed my first six-figure deal. While all along, I’ve become a wife and a mom.

With each passing year there have been beautiful moments, hardships, celebrations, and frustrations. Being an agent is challenging. I think we can all agree. We are advocates. We are set out to show the industry what we believe will work in today’s competitive market. We want others to hop on board with us, put a price tag on it, and give the author a chance to gain an audience. And it’s not easy. Our industry is constantly changing. But that’s no excuse. We must catch the wave of change and continue to ride. We must learn how to maneuver challenges. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Because at the end of the day, this is a business. And in every business, success is achievable. Focus on your strengths and defeat your weaknesses. Continue to be inspired.

The material I send out to editors must speak for itself. I must push my clients to the furthest limit when it comes to editorial. The stronger the material, the larger the advance. The bigger the buzz. The more copies sold. The more chance of longevity in a publishing career. The concept must attract a major audience, and it must feel different. Large advances come to those who have unique ideas, touching on a subject that has not been explored before. They come to writers who can deliver a story in a way no one has tried. I cannot hold back reservations on elements of a project that I think are not working. Because if I have doubts, it’s likely an editor will too, which will lead to a rejection. It doesn’t only affect the author. I have a reputation to hold for myself as an agent. Both of our names are on the cover page. The material must be perfect in our eyes, so there are no regrets. As long as we are working toward a finished project that feels fresh, new and modern, I am fine with taking my time with a client to make sure the material is spot-on. It’s the only way.

An author and editor must be able to work together. The publisher is making an investment in my clients’ work, and so the agent-author-editor relationship must be effective. More than that, it must be powerful. We must believe in the success of the author. We must be able to envision the author’s future and know how to brand her in the marketplace, because we all want more books. We want to see sales rise with each book and a consistent gain in the author’s readership. This will lead to continually higher advances.

It’s important to be assertive and ask questions. This goes for my relationship with clients and with publishers. On both ends we need to continue to ask each other: What’s our vision? Any troubling story elements? How can we fix those? What about marketing? How will this book break out into the market? What can we do to help this break out? Who is our competition? What kind of connections can we make to help spread the word? What can we do differently to promote? How can we help push exposure? We need to discuss all questions and concerns. Address all expectations. Collaborate. And keep the conversation going.

You must aim high. Confidence goes a long way. Authors can feel it. Editors can see it. Continue to rise with trust in yourself that you are doing everything you can to close a book deal and to achieve the highest success for your clients. Believe in the work you are putting out there. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to those who are successful. And make sure you understand why it worked.

Think volume & keep going. This goes for both the agent and the author. As an agent, I need to keep signing. The more material I have, the higher the chances are for me to have more bestselling authors. In the perspective of the author, you must, MUST have volume in your book ideas. Try not to get too invested in ideas that aren’t working. We also need to support each other, trust in each other’s opinions, and make decisions in order to better our careers. Create more opportunities, and with more opportunities, our odds are higher to succeed.

As I close in on my four-year-anniversary at the DMLA, I am inspired. It’s tough out there. But my persistence, confidence, awareness, and aspiration is a constant that cannot be destroyed. In the words of Steve Jobs, “You have to have a lot of passion for what you are doing because it is so hard . . . if you don’t, any rational person would give up.” Let’s aim high. Let’s push a little harder. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s achieve great things together.

We all know there are challenges in publishing and in the road to get there. You will experience euphoric moments and and there will be dark ones, too. But what’s most important are the ways we keep moving forward. How have you, you and your agent, and you and your editor kept things pushing?