Today we have a special treat here at WeLoveYA, Jacinta di Mase is a literary agent with over fifteen years experience. Her client list is long, but one of my favourite authors, Michael Pryor says she’s great. She’s agreed to take a few moments out of her busy day to answer my questions. I must admit we had a few technical difficulties conducting the interview and I will blame that on the conjunction of Jupiter in Saturn’s rings, but Jacinta was gracious enough to keep going.
- What drew you to becoming a literary agent?
I loved the idea of agents, even though I didn’t really know what being an agent involved. Rose Creswell wrote a book called Colouring In in which she described having long boozy lunches with authors and it sounded like fun. Unfortunately real literary agents don’t get to take long lunches, they’re usually frantically finishing off deals or some other office work.
I was sharing a house with a friend who was involved in book design and she suggested I should look at getting into publishing. I gained a job in a bookshop and learned about selling books, the basics of publishing. I also was able to read the Weekly Book Review which gave insights into jobs at publishing houses. I applied for a job in customer service at Pan Macmillan, and from there I was able to gain a job as a junior literary agent.
I found out I had the skills to be a literary agent, such as administration skills, making connections with industry professionals. I don’t switch off, I’m always thinking about clients, book deals and so forth. When I read for pleasure I always look at who the publisher was, how many reprints the book’s had.
- Why do authors need an agent?
Continuity would be the key. Agents have continuity in the industry, we are there for the long term, so we are able to give clients a perspective that keeps up to date and have inroads with publishing houses. We know who’s who in the industry, even if editors change houses and publishers restructure we are in the middle of it all so authors don’t need to stress. We’re also a good sounding board for authors and have some input with improving the work and/or helping authors to prepare publishing proposals.
The second thing is that we help authors with contractual problems. Copyright is all an author really has to trade and we make sure the author gets the best deal possible. I’ve spent 15 years working out contracts and I bring that to the table when I sign on an author.
- That brings me to the next question, how do you choose your clients?
I have a commercial instinct, I look at the novel or non-fiction project an author is offering and I can tell if it’s commercially viable. I also need to have a genuine rapport with the author. It’s a business and I like authors who are able to work with me in improving the story we offer publishers, an author who is open to my suggestions.
- What is your most favourite fiction book (other than your own authors stories)?
I love reading acknowledgement pages of the books I read. In most cases I know at least one or more of the people mentioned. I will often stop in the middle of a book and re-read the acknowledgement page again.
That being said I love fiction based on fact and a terrific example is The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif . I also love Dirt Music by Tim Winton. I have just re-read The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald. I do try and read books by Australian authors as often as possible (I have just finished Jacinta Halloran’s Dissection (Scribe) and Karen Hitcock’s Little White Slips (Picador). I read every night before I go to sleep, actually I have to read or else I can’t sleep.
- What advice would you give teens who are trying to break into publishing?
Read, read, read, read all types of genres, but most of all read. Read the latest books published, read the classics, read.
For those wanting to get into a literary agent/publishing career I would start working in independent bookshops if possible rather than the huge chains that buy in bulk, but your independent bookshops where sales reps come in regularly; you get a real hands on feel to the business. Also they get copies of Weekly Book Review (I’m not sure if this is actually called The Weekly Book Newsletter), which is an invaluable resource for in-house jobs.
I completed a Graduate Diploma of Editing and Publishing at RMIT and highly recommend it. Creative Writing courses don’t really give you the experience or knowledge you need for editing or literary agency work.
Once you are in the job then you can move around, so even if you start in customer service as I did you make connections which last. These can lead to wonderful opportunities for advancement in your career. Independent bookstores help you to get your foot in the door.
- Any advice you’d give to unpublished/unagented writers at the moment?
December is very busy month, and the two months leading up to it also cause headaches. Don’t send your manuscript in at this time. It’ll just end up on the slush pile waiting and waiting. Use the time to repolish it to the best of your ability. Send it out to others to read and give feedback, make sure that you send in only the best possible manuscript you’ve got; because just like publishing houses agents have high standards.
Wait until February before you send in your highly polished work, this way the agents are relaxed, they don’t have the December deadlines looming over their heads and they are fresh at the job. You’ll have a greater chance of piquing their interest.
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us today Jacinta, I know that you’re terribly busy but we do appreciate the time you took out of your day for us.
Jacinta heads the Jacinta di Mase Management Literary Agency in Melbourne, her details for submission are available from the Australian Writers Marketplace. And again take her advice, don’t send in something half polished (here I am putting my hand up sheepishly saying, um that was me over a year ago). Polish it to the best of your ability and wait until February.