A Day in the Life of Literary Agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

Today I've got a special treat for you guys! Lovely literary agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock is here today talking about a day in the life of a literary agent. Enjoy!

One of the literary agent truths that I usually find delightful (but is occasionally maddening) is that there’s truly no typical day. We do so many different tasks that there’s constant variety. With that in mind, though, here’s what one version of my day might look like:

  • 9ish: I wake up, reluctantly. I’m really not a morning person nor an early riser. I glance at my phone to see if I got any emails overnight—one of my clients lives in England, so sometimes she writes to me during her morning/our middle of the night. There’s nothing urgent, so I get ready for the day. I go to our office once or twice a week to check in, but today is not that day. 

  • 10-10:30: I answer emails—confirm lunch, weigh in on a client’s ideas for her next book, respond to an invitation to participate in the agent’s round of a writing contest, and skim through the first round of a client’s copyedits. Meanwhile, I gchat with my colleague, Caitie Flum, about the manuscript I read last night. 

  • 10:30-11:30: I work on editing a new client’s manuscript. The macro changes I want her to make—amping up the sexual tension, quickening the pace at the beginning—aren’t too significant, so I go ahead and start a line edit. It’ll take me several uninterrupted hours to finish, so it’s best done on the weekend, but I can get into it now and have a better sense for how much work it needs. 

  • 11:30-12:15: The daily dose of news and deals from Publishers Marketplace comes out. There’s a deal that could be a good comp for another client’s book that’s almost ready to go on submission. I pull out that submission list and research possible editors. 

  • 12:30-2: I run down to the West Village to have lunch with an editor from Penguin (every house has their neighborhood spots)—she saw the deal announcement for my last book and wanted to meet to chat more about what we were both working on and looking for. I tell her about the book I started editing earlier. 

  • 2-5: An email came through while I was at lunch with a contract for the deal I closed last month. I push the edits aside to focus on this—I want to respond as quickly as possible so the author (and I) can get paid. I pull up the most recent contracts the agency has done with this publisher to compare. 

  • 5-6: I have a response drafted for the contract, but I want to look at it one more time in the morning with fresh eyes. I don’t have the energy left that edits require, so I turn to my query inbox and spend an hour reading and responding. 

  • 6-8:30: I go to a mixer for acquiring editors and agents working in adult fiction. Publishing mixers can be tiring—a room full of introverts being forced to people!—but it’s a great way to meet many editors you haven’t yet connected with. I leave with several business cards and a new submission possibility for one of my clients. 

  • 8:30-10:30: Food. TV. Break. 

  • 10:30-11:30: I get in bed and read a couple partial manuscripts I requested. I make notes on my phone with thoughts for my responses. 

  • 11:30-12:30: I read a non-work book that’s still kind of a work book—a recently pubbed, prominent work of women’s fiction that I want to discuss with a client when I’m finished. 

  • 12:30: Nightnight. 

And that’s my day…or one version of it, at any rate. I obviously don’t go to a mixer or have a contract to review every day. Sometimes I have a call with a potential client or email back and forth with a client about a cover. Occasionally I won’t have a lunch, but I’ll have an afternoon coffee or evening drinks date with an editor. Very occasionally (and getting rarer every day), I won’t have anything pressing happening, and I can read submissions during the day. And of course, I’m on email and Twitter throughout; none of the tasks are quite that uninterrupted.

But I hope that gives you a glimpse into the many sorts of tasks that an agent performs. Keep in mind also that the balance of tasks shifts as an agent move throughout her career. Newer agents often have more time to devote to potential clients—but many of them are also juggling second jobs or assistant duties with their agent work. This job can be tough, particularly since I only get paid when my clients do (so much pressure), but I’m never, ever bored.

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent's assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

Twitter-sized bites: 
Curious about a day in the life of a literary agent? @JJohnsonBlalock shares what one day might look like. (Click to tweet

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