Agents are often described as friends and therapists as well as a tough negotiators. The former really came into its own when COVID-19 hit. We work solely for our clients; we are the somewhat invisible middlemen (or women) whose role it is to put our authors’ needs first. But a global pandemic suddenly makes that seem so much harder – how can we reassure our clients when we are feeling that very fear ourselves?
When lockdown arrived, I was picking up the phone to offer support to our authors and illustrators when I received a letter from the NHS telling me to shield for 12 weeks as a person at risk. As agents, we try to appear unbreakable, tenacious, and immune to weakness. These past months, however, have taught me the virtue of being vulnerable, and of accepting that I can have a human response to a crisis that our clients will understand. They have shown me that I can reach out to my family of colleagues and find open arms of support. I can feel the impact of lockdown and still be a good agent.
It felt daunting at first, but then came the joyous moments – listening to Clare Pooley discussing the timely theme of human connection in her novel The Authenticity Project on BBC Radio 2; closing my first ‘lockdown book deal' on the sofa; discovering, and signing, an incredibly exciting client who reminded me why I love this job so much; and gazing at the beautiful Welsh beacons for inspiration, as well as finding a surprisingly creative soundboard for titles through my partner’s family. I was reminded of the power of books to offer comfort and bring people together, and I enjoy a glass of wine (or three) when I close a deal; I remember to celebrate the successes perhaps more than I did before. Outside of work, I turned 27, discovered a penchant for puzzles and am learning Welsh.
We welcomed a new member to the team, announced our MM Mentorship, and more than one of my colleagues received an overnight six-figure preempt. I’ve optioned five books for adaptation, recontracted three authors and sold another two debuts for publishing – but, more than that, every time I pick up the phone for a chat with an editor or producer, we spend a little while asking how the other is.
It quickly became easier to feel positive and offer genuine reassurance to our authors. The agency had a Sunday Times bestseller in lockdown, we are still selling debuts with success, and the kindness and sense of camaraderie that has spread not only within our team, but through the whole industry, has been uplifting.
I miss the buzz of the office, especially as we had only recently moved into our amazing new space at The Factory. But with our daily Zoom catch-ups and drinks (many, many drinks), this buzz still manages to reach all the way across the border, even if the people can’t.
I can’t wait to force hugs onto my colleagues and friends, and rearrange a bookshop so the MM titles are all facing outwards – and I know those days are just around the corner.