I used to work in publishing. I worked for a literary agency in Chicago, acting as the general office manager (sort of – I kept track of interns and ordered supplies), and I was an “associate agent” and handled a lot of the foreign rights crap. My original boss was a wonderful, intelligent and fantastic lady who, unfortunately, passed away about a year and a half after I started. Sadly, she made what I think is one of the few poor decisions in her career shortly before, firing the existing VP and hiring another person who had worked for her before. The new person was a good agent but had/has no head for business. D would freak out over little things, slack off when something didn’t appeal and generally was insecure about those of us who were there first might think we were smarter or better than we really were. This forced D to do crazy things in order to let us know that we weren’t so smart. And the pay was shitty. I mean, nowhere in publishing is the pay good for an entry-level position, but the pay was really, really bad. When I was working for my first boss, this was ok. It was paying my dues and I was learning a lot. It was a field in which I felt I could make a very satisfactory career. With D at the helm, it was soul-crushing. So, I left. I got an internship through my uncle as a Marketing Assistant, which turned into a permanent job. I applied and was accepted to grad school to get my masters in English Lit. I was thinking that maybe teaching really was my passion. However, I can’t seem to escape my former profession – and I don’t want to. I liked publishing. I loved helping people take their writing to another level (not that I got to do that often, but… the possibility was there). I am reminded of this whenever the publishing process comes up in class or one of my writer friends asks me for help.
Today, I read through a short story of a friend of mine. It was a very rough draft, and was unfinished. My friend is a great writer. It was so fun for me to read where she started and talk to her about where she wants the character to go and how to get her there. I love the idea of taking a great piece of work and helping it find its home in the world. So, I was thinking that, if my friend manages to write a novel – which she is totally capable of doing (really, you are) – that maybe I could rep it. Maybe, if lighting strikes and she becomes a New York Times Bestseller, I could really have my own agency.
Alas, I don’t know if this is possible. I’ve already been out of that industry for almost two years and I didn’t have that many contacts to begin with. Everyone who is an agent starts out somewhere else in publishing. I like fiction. I can appreciate non-fiction and of course, as an agent, I would rep it, but if I were to be an editor, I would want to be a fiction editor. Unfortunately for me, there is very little fiction in Chicago. There’s business publishing, some magazines, educational publishing and lots of other stuff I’m not really interested in, but no fiction. The only fiction is way, way, way far out in the ‘burbs – far enough out that, when I interviewed, they basically said they don’t hire people who live in the city because the commute kills them. So, what am I supposed to do?
In a perfect world, these details wouldn’t matter. I would finish school, teach at a community college and slowly build the best clientele ever, working from home. Once I got some steady authors, who I could depend on, I could quit teaching and run my own agency full-time. I’m just afraid that this is not really an option. AND to make matters worse, my old agency is really, honestly, the only successful one in the entire city and surrounding suburbs. Outside of LA and NYC, there are not a whole lot of successful literary agents. It’s tough to get the ear of NYC editors (and they’re ALL in NY) if you can’t take them out to lunch on a regular basis.
So, I’m left wondering: what will happen to me when I grow up? I think I would be a good teacher, and I think I would find it satisfying, but I know that what I really want to do is be in publishing. That thought, however, is always followed up with – but not as much as I want to live in Chicago. I mean, how could I leave all the pizza? It’s really tough. NYC is not an option. I just don’t want to. And California? Um…. No. I’d rather… I don’t know but California is just not an option for me. I’ve already found my home. I like it here. I guess I just have to hope that the rest will work itself out.