To be a good agent you have to be good at talking to people, expressing yourself while loving both books and writers. As a publicist in my previous job I had worked with high profile, commercial authors and had also had some experience of selling rights. I really liked the idea of agenting, spotting a good thing, seeing its potential and then selling and negotiating with a combination of stubbornness and persistence. So I wrote to 20 of the top agents asking if I could work for them.
Ed's assistant had resigned the day before my letter arrived and I was asked in for an interview. We got on well. Ed combines being bookish and erudite with go-getting commercialism and I think I have the same streak in me. Ed immediately struck a deal with me, he said "be my PA and I will teach you everything there is to know about being an agent" and he meant it.
I had a wonderful introduction to the office because my first day happened to coincide with an annual office trip to Clivedon in Ed's Royce. Ed is a charismatic character, tall and striking in his well tailored eccentric suits. Being American and colourful he stands out in grey London, but he's not at all pretentious, instead he's honest and straightforward.
Our day begins with a meeting between the eight of us who make up the office. Ed opens his letters and reads out the important bits in order to share the news - it's a good way of learning the trade. Most jobs involve divorcing business from friendship, but agenting is different because the agent supports the author both in business matters and throughout the writing process. The author has to be able to confide any worries to the agent and the agent has to be able to talk honestly to the client. It's a unique relationship.
Ed said that before his old PA left some of the authors had got to the stage where they would rather talk to her than him, so I was flattered to be entrusted with her job. The authors are very friendly to me because I'm Ed's assistant and they like him. Ed socialises with his clients, who include Richard and Ruthie Rodgers, Maurice Saatchi and his wife Josephine Hart and Nigella Lawson and John Diamond. I wrote on my CV that I was used to working with celebrities, which is an important skill for this job.
I was a bit star-struck by Will Self, because he has such a public persona, but he is very friendly on the phone. A number of authors also have their own PAs and together we live in a shadow world, rather like nannies who talk about their bosses and kids with each other whilst remaining unfailingly discreet. I'm fascinated by how other PAs' offices are run, especially Andrew Lloyd Webber's, because it's in his own home.
My husband and my family were aghast when I told them I was going to be a PA - I'm headstrong and quite cheeky, so they thought it wouldn't last. But I work hard for Ed and do what he tells me because I really respect him. The worst thing I've done was to accidentally erase several hours of his dictated notes and memos. It was a disaster and I could understand why he was so upset. My punishment was hearing him tell the story to all his high-powered friends. Ed's very proud of his own typing ability because his brother taught him to touch type at nine, using him as a guinea pig for a psychology paper about teaching children.
I have a number of responsibilities, including helping with contracts and looking after the sale of film rights. Ed does most of his work on the phone and I had to master his phone system early on, remembering not to put my phone down and disconnect his conference calls, for example. He's always contactable, being available is, after all, the key to agenting, but I know enough about his work to at least make the right noises to a client in the meantime.
When Ed goes to Long Island for June, July and August I fax him every morning, summarising his letters. The nice thing about the job is that Ed does let me speak for him. He is very honest, if an author has an unrealistic expectation he will tell them, and if he says he loves a book he means it.
Agenting isn't a profession you can just rush into, if you negotiated a bad deal you would seriously jeopardise your client's livelihood. Building up contacts is essential and at the moment I have the mammoth task of updating his address book, because it could be disastrous to fax someone after they had moved to another company. All contacts have to be called and numbers checked. I've got to J now, which represents 1,900 entries. It has to be done because the address book is his bible, the tool of his trade. I've promised him I will have finished by Christmas.
The key to my relationship and the office atmosphere is that he loves his job and I love mine; put together, we make a good team.Reuse content