It’s Hard Out There for a… Literary Agent?

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Curtis Brown literary agent Nathan Bransford is giving his blog readers a taste of what life is like for a gatekeeper of the publishing world by holding a “Be An Agent for a Day” contest. He’s having authors send in query letters for published and unpublished books to see if his readers can spot the five out of 50 books that actually got a book deal. The contest begins today and ends on April 20th. We spoke with Bransford about the impetus for such a contest, and what he thinks participants will get out of it.

Flavorwire: What sparked the idea to engage your readers in the process of being a literary agent?

Nathan Bransford: Recently there’s been a lot of angst about literary agents in the blogosphere, and particularly antipathy toward those agents who don’t respond to every query they receive. Meanwhile, agents are feeling a bit besieged as we’re receiving more queries than ever and it’s increasingly difficult to stay on top of the slush pile. Even though I respond to all queries and wasn’t feeling personally attacked, I had been trying to find a way to show people what it’s like to manage incoming queries. Fortunately one of my readers, Jim Duncan, came up with the idea for a contest that would simulate the experience of managing a slush pile.

FW: Who do you expect will play the role of the agent?

NB: Hopefully anyone who is curious about what it’s like to have to make a judgment on many different projects based on a short description. I don’t imagine everyone who visits the blog next week will read and respond to all 50, but hopefully just dipping in and seeing how things are going will illuminate the process.

FW: What has the response been like so far (other than the 171 comments)?

NB: So far so good. Several hundred people have volunteered their queries for the contest, and I’ve received e-mails from agents as well who are excited to see how it goes.

FW: Is this contest a way for you to test the waters on query letters and proposals that you’ve already received?

NB: It’s not so much a test for me as it is for the readers who volunteered their queries. Hopefully they’ll receive some valuable feedback and be able to see how they fare against the others in the contest.

FW: Do you have any expectations of how your readers might choose their 5 favorites? Or what direction they may lean in?

NB: I think it will vary from person to person, but this is something I’m also very curious about. There’s more to finding a publishable project than just finding something an agent would personally want to read, and we’ll see if the “agents for a day” are able to set aside their personal preferences and seeing beyond the query to the underlying project.

FW: Could this contest potentially land someone a book deal?

NB: It’s possible; some of the contestants and finalists in my past contests have gone on to be published authors.

FW: What do you hope participants, both folks who are sending you queries and those who play the role of agent, will get out of this contest?

NB: Hopefully there will be a bit more understanding about what it’s like to be an agent, which might dissipate some of the frustration out there. It’s not an easy job, and this is only 50 queries over the course of a week. Fifty is a light day for us. And I’m hoping the authors whose queries I use in the contest get some good feedback.

FW: What do you hope to get out of this contest?

NB: I’m excited to see if a group of readers are as good at spotting works that went on to be published as the experts. I’m also just curious about how the “agents for a day” will find the experience. They might think it’s really hard, or they might think it’s ridiculously easy. We’ll see. It’s an interesting experiment.

**Check back in after April 20th so find out how the “agents for a day” fared in amid the slush.**