Literary Agent Carly Watters, Artsci'09

Carly began her publishing career in London, England, at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency and Bloomsbury PLC. She completed her BA in English Language and Literature at Queen's and her MA in Publishing Studies from City University London. As an agent with Oakville-based P.S. Literary Agency, she represents a diverse list of fiction, non-fiction and children's authors including TSN host Jay Onrait,Whose Line Is It Anyway?star Colin Mochrie, fiction authors Taylor Jenkins Reid and Julianna Scott, and many more. Read her blog.
Literary Agent Carly Watters, Artsci'09You've always been fascinated by books and reading, which makes English a natural choice for you to have selected as an undergraduate degree. What was it about this experience that led you to pursue a career in the publishing industry?

I loved studying English at Queen's, and the thought that I could continue to look at fiction in an evaluative and analytical way by selecting manuscripts to work on and represent as a literary agent was the next logical step for me. Discussing manuscripts with author clients and editors at publishing houses around the world comes from my passion for literature and desire to get the next great 'voice' in fiction out there for readers to have access to.

Did you immediately set upon the idea of being a literary agent, or was this a career direction that became clear the more you explored the different options related to publishing?

In my final year at Queen's I researched the publishing industry extensively to decide what area I wanted to work in. I was very lucky upon starting my MA in Publishing Studies in London that I got a job as a literary agency assistant at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency. I never looked back. Being an agent is the best combination of all the publishing jobs—in my humble opinion!--because we develop projects with authors, help them achieve their dreams by being published, negotiate their contracts, and act as their publicist and occasional therapist. Agents are able to follow their own passions, act quickly, and answer only to themselves--all of which requires focused passion, strong conviction in talent spotting and literary tastes, and a comprehensive knowledge of the global publishing industry.

What made you choose the UK as your country of choice for graduate studies in publishing?

In Canada there are a number of great publishing programs to attend after your undergraduate degree, including those programs at Ryerson, Centennial College, and Simon Fraser. However, I wanted to learn more about publishing in a global hub with a large talent pool, so I chose London and it luckily chose me back. My MA programme at City University was a small, hands-on, focused program that afforded me an opportunity to work at Bloomsbury, a placement that I wouldn't have been able to secure on my own. I knew I always wanted to come back to Canada to work though, and when I came back I started my job at the P.S. Literary Agency as an associate literary agent.

What do you think the key qualities (both professional and personal) of a literary agent are?

Professionally speaking, you need a love of books; an eye for marketing and promotion; and strong negotiation, social networking, project management, problem solving, research, and communication skills.

In terms of personal attributes, you have to be hard working, tenacious and articulate, and you have to really enjoy meeting new people and taking in a lot of international travel (there are many book fairs to attend in New York, Frankfurt, London and beyond!).

What's been your most memorable/significant/favourite career experience so far?

My most memorable and significant career experience was selling my very first project—Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie, star of TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?—at auction (meaning multiple publisher bids and heated phone calls and offers) to Penguin Canada. It's coming out mid-November.

How do you see your career developing in the next five years? the next ten years?

I am an associate agent right now and I look forward to becoming a full literary agent soon. Someday in the future I'd like to become a partner at my current agency or start my own.

What piece of advice or pearl of wisdom do you wish you'd been given at the beginning of your publishing industry career?

It can be hard work being an agent because not every book gets an offer and, even when they do, the money doesn't come in for three-five years (contracts get held up and and books can take years to be released). Having said that, it's a job where you will meet the smartest, most interesting, kind people. It's true when they say, "If you love your job you'll never work a day in your life." I wouldn't do a single thing differently.

And finally, who is your favourite fictional literary character?

The wise Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird.