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How Literary Agencies Are Structured

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Some literary agents choose to work on their own, with little more than secretarial assistance. They can rent space in an office building or work from a home office.

Other agents prefer to work within a literary agency, either as the owner or as one of the associates. They can still function independently, choosing the writers and book projects they want to work with.

In an agency, agents must usually contribute a percentage of their income to cover the offices operating expenses.

Training and Qualifications

Most editors and agents have at least a bachelor's degree in communications, English, journalism, or any relevant liberal arts or humanities major. It is helpful to also be familiar with publishing law and contracts, and to know how to type or word process.

In publishing it's rare for someone to start out as an editor or agent without any prior experience. Many agents work for publishing houses first, becoming familiar with the editorial process and contracts before moving into a literary agency.

Within a publishing house there is a distinct ladder most editors climb as they gain experience and develop a successful track record. They usually start out as editorial assistants, answering the phone, opening and distributing the mail, and typing correspondence. Some editorial assistants are first readers for their editors, reading a manuscript then writing a reader's report. If it's a good report, the editor will take a look at the manuscript.

Most editorial assistants learn the editing process from the editor they work for and, over time, move up into editorial positions with more and more responsibility.


Editors are generally paid a set salary. Although their salary is not dependent week to week on the sales success of the books they choose to publish, an editor with a good track record is likely to be promoted and given raises. Starting pay, however, is not particularly spectacular.

Agents, on the other hand, must sell their clients' manuscripts to pub-lishers in order to earn any income. Agents generally work on a commission basis-10 to 15 percent of the money the writer earns. If an agent has a lot of market savvy, carefully chooses which manuscripts to represent, and has success bargaining for big advances and royalty percentages, then he or she can make a very good living, often much more than the editors to whom he or she is selling.

The downside for agents is that the marketplace is fickle, fads come and go, publishing houses merge with each other and often decrease the number of books that will see print. In a bad year, an agent might have to struggle to make a living.

Radio and TV Stations

Although the golden age of radio passed five or six decades ago, radio is still considered one of the most effective of the mass media, especially for quickly disseminating information to a large number of people. In the United States alone there are more than 10,000 radio stations on the air, with an estimated 500 million radios in use.

Television is as equally effective. Elizabeth Kolbert, writing about televi-sion in the New York Times, noted that: "Television has created not so much a global village as a global front stoop. Instead of gossiping about our neighbors, about whom we know less and less, we gossip about national figures, about whom we know more and more. The color set in the den has so successfully replaced the sewing circle and the hamburger joint that we are now trying to get from television that which television has caused us to give up."

Radio and television stations provide a wide range of jobs for communications majors. Several positions, such as announcers and news directors, exist in both settings and some jobs at radio stations will open otherwise closed doors at television stations.

The jobs in communications majors are most qualified for are: announcer/ DJ, music director, program director/production manager/public service director, news writer/editor, and scriptwriter. The duties of each job will vary depending on the format and the size of the station. Radio stations, for example, can offer specialized programming, such as country music, oldies, alltalk shows, all-news, religious broadcasts, or a combination of programming. An all-music program would require less scheduling than an all-news station. Similarly, a DJ working for a music format station will have less preparation to do than a talk show host would.


This is the most visible and the most competitive position. Successful DJs build a rapport with their audience and can sometimes become well-known personalities. Talk-show DJs are able to articulate and defend opinions on both sides of any topic. They also need to have an entertainer s instinct for performing.

Music Director

The music director selects and organizes prerecorded music that fits the stations format. Ideally, the music director would be a fan of and knowledgeable about the stations particular area of programming, sharing the taste of the listening audience. Some music directors also double as announcers.
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