My Job in Five: Hayley Steed

My Job in Five: Hayley Steed

Describe your role. 
I’m a literary agent and book to screen agent at The Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency. I enjoy the best of both worlds—I’m a primary agent to an amazing roster of writers, selling book rights to the UK, US and Canada, plus I handle the adaptation rights for the agency’s titles to producers in the UK, US and around the globe.

What do you enjoy about your role?
The people—I’m in awe of the writers and illustrators we work with. From the talented creations of Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project and the ingenuity of The Shelf by Helly Acton, to the real life of Alexandra Wilson and her account In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System, the stories I get to read and be a part of make every day different and enriching. The people I work with aren’t bad either. 

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just closed an auction for a wonderful Toronto-based writer, Heather Marshall, whose début, Looking for Jane, is a fictional account of the real Jane networks in North America, an underground abortion service that ran throughout the 1970s when abortion was still illegal. I’ve also just signed Henry Fry from the London Writers Award who has written a brilliantly funny Millennial novel exploring modern LGBTQ+ life. 

What skills do you need for your role?
Agenting feels like such a multi-faceted endeavour, which is why I love it so much. You need to know how to edit, pitch and match up personalities, what the market wants, as well as how to negotiate and say “no”. You need great interpersonal skills and to know how to network, navigate challenges and difficult conversations, how to quell fears and worries, and how to champion someone’s work in every single area.  

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the industry?
It’s been a very sobering few weeks watching the conversations around the industry take place. Knowing how to maintain your sense of contribution and value is essential. I’ve been very lucky to feel rewarded at a great company, but I’m aware I’m part of a problem, and we should all be committed to making changes to our industry so the people within it, and the books we publish, are representative of everyone.