Name: Elizabeth Copps
Agency: Maria Carvainis Agency, Inc.
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role? I actually began as an intern with MCA in 2010 and had a lightbulb moment—I knew I wanted to work in publishing. A year later, I received a call from Maria. She was in need of a new assistant and offered me the position. At the time I was living in Florida, trying to determine my next career step. I got the call on a Thursday, packed a suitcase, and started the following Monday!
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well? Publishing is one of the few industries that still uses the apprenticeship model. Putting in the hours—the years—to learn the business inside and out is the best qualification there is to represent authors successfully. Unsurprisingly, almost all the agents I know come from literary backgrounds. Some of us opt for one of the New York or Denver summer publishing institutes, but it can be tough to find undergraduate majors that specialize in publishing. So, we tend to go for literature, communications, journalism, etc. A lot of agents, myself included, happily fall into the industry through college internships. Once we get that foothold, we gradually build our skill set. The industry is very competitive, but it can also be very generous. Strong mentorship makes a world of difference when you’re a young agent (or editor).
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with? First coffee. Then I wage war with the many headed Hydra that is my email account…
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day? Each day is a bit different, honestly. There are the standards—answering emails, checking on recent industry news, etc. But every client has different needs on different days so the priority combo changes constantly. Some days I spend the majority of my time talking to one of my authors about a new project—or how to revise a current project. Other days I’m negotiating a contract. Sometimes I’m completely focused on pitching to editors. However the day unfolds, it’s never boring.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day? Patience, communication, and flexibility. A good agent should have the capacity to anticipate their client’s needs. And most importantly, an agent should be an author’s unfailing champion (insert Brienne of Tarth gif). Alternatively, authors should understand that agents have full lives outside of the office. Or sometimes we’re traveling to conferences and working a seven day week. If it takes us a day or two to respond to an email, it doesn’t mean the world is ending. This enables both parties to keep their sanity.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship? Besides loving the writing, I want to get to know an author as well as possible before offering representation. Do we work well together editorially? Do our personalities gel? Does the author have clear, attainable goals? If the answer is yes, I’m excited to making an offer.
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me? Woo me with research! Our website is minimal, but I try to frequent Twitter, and if you Google me, you’ll find my Manuscript Wishlist which is a fairly comprehensive look at what I’d love to see come across my desk.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends? I firmly believe in doing everything possible to achieve a healthy work/life balance. I constantly read submissions when I travel (or on the subway to and from the office each day), but I need my weekends to recharge. Spending quality time with family and friends allows me to return to the office refreshed and ready to work each week.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out? Read everything you can, especially in your genre. Understand trends, but don’t feel the compulsion to write to them. Go to conferences if you can (I can’t stress this enough), and invest in a subscription to Publishers Weekly…
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Breathe. It’s always better to work smart than work fast.
Favourite film? The Shawshank Redemption.
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? Gilmore Girls.
Favourite book? Impossible question! But I’m a lot in love with the storytelling in White Oleander by Janet Fitch.
Favourite director? Wes Anderson.
Favourite writer? Ann Patchett.
Favourite actor (male or female)? Maggie Smith.
Manuscript Wishlist: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/elizabeth-copps/
Maria Carvainis Agency: www.mariacarvainisagency.com