I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Insider Scoop – Interview with Caitie Flum, ex-agent intern and proofreader (Part 1)

Welcome to The Insider Scoop, where I’ll be bringing you interviews, useful tips and tricks, and all sorts of insightful information from those deep within the children's book industry.

Today, I’m pleased to introduce Caitie Flum, a past agent intern with Hachette Book Group and Writers House, and a proofreader in the medical industry. Caitie has kindly agreed to answer some questions and give us the insider scoop on a day in the life of an agent intern, how to stand out from the slush pile, and the query assessment process. Look out in particular for Caitie’s insights into the specific things that agent interns – often the first line of defense for a literary agent when dealing with unsolicited queries – keep an eye out for in a query or manuscript submission.

I’ll be posting this interview in three parts as follows:

Part 1 – a day in the life of an agent intern (today)

Part 2 –evaluating queries (the inner workings of a literary agency) (Monday 4 October 2010)

Part 3 – the specific things that agent interns report on when assessing queries/manuscript submissions for a literary agent, plus more about queries (Monday 18 October 2010)

Well, without further ado, let’s dive into Part 1 of this interview…

Question 1 - You've interned for Hachette Book Group and Writers House in the past. Are you working at an agency now?

I am actually not at another agency right now, I am working as a proofreader in the medical industry and WOW is it different! I miss books.

Rach – that would be a pretty different world I imagine!

Question 2 - Can you share with us the average day of an agent intern?

At Writers House I was always one of the first people there since I had a far commute and it was easier to come in early than stay later. I would go up to my desk outside of the assistant's office and do what everyone would expect an intern to do -- make the coffee. Sometimes, if no one was at the front desk yet, I would buzz people in. But, most of the time, my day would start with me checking the intern email that my assistant set up to see if she sent me anything the night before (I had to bring my own computer and find the Ethernet cables).

Our emails were connected, so there were a lot of times that she would have instructions attached to the email queries we got (rejection, ask for partial or the elusive ask for exclusive full). After a while, she decided that since people technically shouldn't have been sending queries to the email, I got to make the decision. I think it was also because she trusted my judgment.

After going through the emails, I would go back downstairs and check for mail...and we got a LOT of mail. WH prefers snail mail submissions so that meant a lot of sorting. After that I would take the mail up for my two agents and go through it. Queries would all go in a pile, then I would pass the contracts and statements to the assistant and personal mail to the agent.

Then the query process would start. I would read through all the queries and usually just marked one letter at the top Y, M, or N. A lot of times I put an explanation just so she could see why I was giving opinions, or more likely, when I was trying to get the assistant to request something. In the second half of the internship, she trusted my judgment on these too and started only asking to see the ones I said Y or M to (since in my first 3 months there I had never said N to something she would have said Y to).

Usually I finished in time to go grab a quick lunch. My afternoons were mostly spent reading through partials. The assistant would email me the writers email with the attachment and I would be able to read them on my computer. I would also have their original query so I could remember why we wanted it in the first place, and so I could write my comments on the back. It was the same kind of thing - a Y, M, or N with a much more detailed reasoning. I always put those in her box so she could look and anything that I would start pushing her to read the ones that I loved (which was a HUGE part of my internship. Assistants hate slush.). At this point, if I had said M to the query and it was not absolutely fantastic, I would just reject it.

I would usually do those all afternoon along with other tasks with contracts, royalty statements etc.

Rach – Wow, That’s fantastic insight, Caitie. We always hear about the dreaded slush pile, but it’s fascinating to hear how our query or partial is reviewed. It’s comforting to know that our work at least gets looked at, but more than a little intimidating to see just how the process works!


A final word from Caitie:

I have a book blog where I also discuss the publishing world at caitieflum.wordpress.com. If you look on that blog, you will see I am currently accepting queries/partials from writers who want a critique. I will give you what I gave the assistant.

Thanks so much for your time today, Caitie. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview…


Megan K. Bickel said...

Very interesting interview! Thanks for the insight, Catie. This is a perspective I hadn't heard yet!

Serena said...

very interesting post, as i guess a newbie i havn't the foggiest what happens in the publishing side to a finished piece of work. Maybe im showing my divvy brain for what it is here but what exactlly is a slush pile? Sound like a place i dont want to be, that and the N pile.

Rachael Harrie said...

@Megan, thanks, great you could stop by :)

@Serena, thanks girl! :) The slush pile is the pile of all the unsolicited manuscripts (whether email or snail mail) that sit with the agent/editor until they get round to looking through them...Often the agent interns have first crack at the slush pile, weeding out the good from the bad. So, it's really helpful if you're thinking about submitting to get ideas from them about what they're looking for... :)

Tessa Quin said...

That's an amazing insight! Thanks so much for posting this.

Suze said...

Informative post, Rach. Thanks.

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