Beyond The Slushpile – Featuring guest literary agent Natalie Fischer

Hello folks. Today I bring you something really special, as promised. The first part of a three part series, I’m kicking it off with literary agent Natalie Fischer. This series is geared towards all of us writers who don’t normally get to take a look into what the business is really like for someone on the inside. I hope to shine a bit of light into the darkness here with this series.

And now, without further adieu, I give you Ms. Fischer.

So, what do I really do all day?

My answer to this is a little different than most agents; my basic agent duties are the same, but I’m also the assistant to our contracts and subrights managers, so my day gets a little hectic, to say the least. What I do is support our agency, so my day-by-day is a little peak of what goes on – after you’ve published a book!

My first step is logging on to the computer, ignoring the piles of unfinished work on my desk, and checking my email. I volley about 100 emails a day about permissions, contracts, amendments, e-book rights, client questions, random submissions, foreign sales, and general office correspondence. And that’s on the low side; my poor colleague Elise, Sandy’s executive assistant, volley’s about 400 a day!

Second, I’ll finally turn to those piles looming around me. What’s in them? Hmm, well, directly behind me, I have a pile of personal rejections to do, about a foot high, but those only get done every so often (thus the pile). To my left is my active submissions spreadsheet and pile; the client work currently out on submission I’m keeping an eye on for when I need to call or email to check in. To my right is what takes up the majority of my day – my inbox.

I’ll spend a few hours processing permissions for our authors, mailing out at least five contracts or amendments to our authors or publishers, including contracts for foreign sales (we have at least one sale a day usually) and amendments for electronic rights (my personal specialty — I’m in the middle of several electronic negotiations at any given time). I also handle the foreign tax at our agency, which means I’m the lucky one who gets to be on the phone with the IRS explaining yes, we did send that in, I have the receipt for it, and no, I didn’t need that one processed, I needed this one (the IRS certification office is the bane of my existence).

Of course, I’ll take a few twitter breaks, as it, along with outlook, are open 24/7 on my computer.

And then I’m back to the piles. Have to call AT&T, they sent us the wrong bill. *is on hold*. Have to create the hard copies of our agency agreement and mail out for new clients. Check. *is still on hold*. Have to answer a few client questions. Check. *is still on hold*. Have to send out some checking in emails, glance at contest submissions. Check. *is hung up on*. Have to find my pen. Fail – grab new one. Find old one. Have to attend weekly meeting, where we discuss works in progress, news, current publishing events, a political rant or two, and our calendars. Have to call back AT&T. *is on hold*.

The time I spend looking at slush and submissions makes up about 5% of my day. All my reading is done at home, in my spare time (unless it’s client work I’m going over on the computer). When I do get a chance to finally realize my slush bucket is overflowing, I’ll grab a huge pile and go through as many as I can. I’ll read the query and first page in the office to weed out what I’m really interested in or not. Since my reading is all on my own time, I have to be incredibly selective about what I take to read. No kindles here; only piles. Not only do I have to love it, I have to think “I can sell this,” and I have to want to read it at home curled up on the couch.

The majority of my at-home reading consists of client work, however; I can get through submissions fairly quickly, but I read very carefully for edits with client work. And usually, my clients all like to send me revisions at the same time. It’s a conspiracy, I’m sure.

Sometimes lunch is thrown in somewhere between emails and mailings, as well as chasing bound galleys, payments, and contracts. When I have a deal to negotiate, things get crazy; I’m back and forth between our contracts manager, the editor, and the author, fine-tuning the deal memo we all agree on so they can send the contract. Once the contract is in, I’ll go over it, make notes, give it to our contracts manager, who also makes notes, go over it again, and then get back to the contracts contact at the publishing house with any changes we’re asking for (most of which happens over email). After any changes, I need to call the author to discuss and make sure they agree as well. All while cramming in my usual work – which on a Friday, includes mailing out all payments to authors we received that week, along with a summary of what the payment is for.

And usually, throughout the day, I’m taking mental notes on what editor replies with what, if I come across a new contact who would be perfect for this or that, who’s buying what and who’s selling what. Sneaking in time for Publisher’s Lunch, Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times, and the SCBWI bulletin are essential. Oh, and did I forget to mention putting together pitch letters and submission lists somewhere in there? And sending out the submissions? What about scouting – when do I do that?!

Crammed in alongside everything else, of course!

And in January? Don’t even talk to me. I’m preparing and sending out both 1099s and the foreign tax papers for all of our clients.

The biggest thing to take from all of this, is that while my passion is reading, my love to sell and negotiate, the majority of my time is spent on the business side of it all. So when an agent says: it’s not personal, it’s business – no, really, it is.

Note to self: Don’t query Natalie in January. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to do this, Natalie. It’s really greatly appreciated and quite amusing as well.

Stay tuned for the next part of the blog series on Thursday with editor Jessica A. Weiss. I hope you all are looking forward to it as much as I am!

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