A literary agent is the gateway between authors and the publishing world. Responsible for finding great manuscripts, plays, and stories, literary agents are an important and vital link between the creative world of writing and the business of publishing texts. There is no set path to become a literary agent; like breaking into Hollywood, it may take many years and a strong willingness to put up with rejection. Though it is not necessary to meet any mandatory requirements to become a literary agent, good education, internships, apprenticeships, and never-ending dedication can help pave the way to a successful agency career.
Getting a college education may be one of the first steps needed to become a literary agent. Many agents have an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as English, literature, classics, or even creative writing. A literary agent must first and foremost be able to recognize great writing, and an education in literature can help hone this ability. Another way to approach the educational step is to consider a degree in business or communications, since a literary agent can't make money if he or she doesn't understand the business world and how book deals are made. Whether majoring in literature or business, it is important to take on the task of self-education in the other aspect, since an agent needs to have both a head for business and a heart for literature.
Trying to become a literary agent is usually a long process of apprenticeship. Many agents start out as unpaid interns at literary agencies. This can be a good way to make contacts and gain experience in the real world of the agency, but is often unrewarding. In addition to little or no pay, interns are typically only trusted with basic responsibilities, including coffee runs, errands, answering phones, and fulfilling office duties. Nevertheless, internships can pay off in the long run by providing valuable contacts that can later lead to paid jobs.
Following a few months as an intern, the next step to become a literary agent is to apply for jobs as an assistant. Assistants, while still performing a lot of the grunt work, usually get paid, and often have greater access to the world of the agent. Assistant jobs may be incredibly competitive, so it is a good time to exploit any contacts made through internships or while in school. Many literary agents treat their assistants as trainees or junior agents, gradually giving them more responsibility and opportunities to prove themselves on the job. After some success, an assistant may eventually be able to broker his or her way into a job as a real agent.
Other things that can help on the quest to become a literary agent include moving to an area where agencies are plentiful. New York, London, Sydney, and San Francisco are good choices for anyone pursuing a career as an agent. It is also important to consider working at small, boutique agencies instead of enormous but famous agencies. Large agencies may prefer to hire hot agents from other companies, rather than promoting any of their many assistants or junior agents. At a smaller company, a young agent may have more opportunities for training and get to know the working agents better.