Harding University - Bachelor of Arts in English
Holly Root followed her love of reading to a profession that she had no clue existed. Her career in publishing began just after college when she became an editor in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. Although she enjoyed editing, a move to New York prompted Holly to make a career “readjustment,” and she switched over to the agency side of publishing.
Today as an agent for Waxman Literary Agency Holly spends her days discovering new worlds, new authors and managing a client list of her own. She represents authors and helps them with every step of the publishing path from the first query letter to the final published book.
And thanks to following her initial instinct and “readjusting” her career, Holly has been able to focus on doing what she loves: read, read and read some more.
There is no success big enough to stand in for your own sense of self.
How did you discover your current job?
When I was in college I didn’t actually know my job existed. I thought I’d work in magazine publishing; thanks to the masthead, I actually knew there were people involved in making the magazines (not sure why I didn’t extend this logic to books). After college I was working in editorial at a publishing company in Nashville, Tenn., which is where I grew up. There were parts of that job I was great at and others I was perhaps less suited to. When I moved to New York, it seemed like a natural time to make a career switch -- or readjustment, really, more than switch. The agency side of publishing seemed to highlight all the things I was best at from my prior job; I decided to go that way based pretty much just on instinct at the time, but it turned out to be a great fit in the end.
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
Sadly, the things that people would expect me to do at my job -- read books, identify and develop promising new authors -- mostly take place after hours. My business hours are spent managing -- client expectations, publisher needs, editor contacts, project logistics, subsidiary rights like translation and film, contracts, submissions, you name it. At the basic level, I work with authors to sell their books, and then I work as part of the author-publisher team to bring the book to successful publication. Some days, that’s taking offers from publishers on a hot new project. Other days, it’s juggling the publicity needs of books publishing next month while reviewing a contract for a book scheduled for fall 2014. And sometimes the whole day is spent on career coaching my clients. Writing is a job, which means that sometimes the people whose job it is will hate it even if it is their “dream.” I think that can be so hard for authors to come to grips with, and some days a big part of what I do is giving them permission to work through that.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
Although the books are obviously most personal to the author, each book is in some way also very personal to the other people who worked on it, and seeing the books (and by extension, the authors) make their way in the world is tremendously rewarding. The challenges that linger are the books that got a bad break, whether that’s a manuscript that didn’t sell despite my belief in it or a book that published and didn’t find its readership in the way everyone hoped for. It’s almost impossible not to second-guess in those scenarios.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Time, time, time. What nights? What weekends? The guilt is always looming -- I should be reading more, I should be replying to submissions faster, how long has Client X been waiting for feedback on the new proposal? You can never be fast enough. And you have to carve out time to read actual published books you did not work on, or you lose your sense of what the market is doing and what else is out there. I often wish for a giant Pause button, which I would use to read all the things I’m behind on.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
There is no success big enough to stand in for your own sense of self. In a business where you’re always looking for the next deal, it can be easy to get caught up in competitiveness or your own ego -- who sold what to whom, and what am I selling lately, and why didn’t I see that submission, and so forth. It’s a game you lose as soon as you start to play. That attitude of scarcity is a waste of energy; racing myself has to be challenge enough.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
Publishing has always been a business with impossibly low starting pay, and most people still get in by doing an unpaid internship in one of America’s most expensive cities. As someone who went to college far from the coasts, with no alumni connections in the business at all, who grew up not knowing my job was even a job, that’s a huge barrier to entry. It’s also a challenge in bringing underrepresented voices into the back offices of the publishing industry. But I think the Internet is slowly but surely changing the amount of access to the industry and expanding the pool of people who are willing to tackle the steep slope out of a belief that stories matter.
Who are your role models?
I have a spectacularly supportive family -- my parents and my in-laws are huge inspirations.
Professionally, one of the things I love about this business is that it’s totally normal to have “list-crushes” on people from afar -- often, agents who do books I wouldn’t necessarily represent, but that I love as a reader. There’s always someone inspiring within the agent community.
What are some of the rules you live by?
You can be a smart advocate and negotiator without compromising your integrity.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Read, read, read. With ebooks emerging and the many changes in the publishing business, it’s a tumultuous time -- but the desire for stories is as old as humanity, and there will always be a role for people who care about stories and their creators.
I’d also say, be prepared to put in the time it takes to learn to do it right. Agenting is still very much an apprenticeship industry -- you can only really learn it by watching someone else do it, and who you work for is key. I’m very grateful now for the experiences I had during those early “dues-paying” days. While I was coming up, I remember being so envious of the assistants at other agencies who were allowed to begin signing authors almost immediately. But now that I’m further down the road, I’m grateful for the training time I had (and slightly horrified at the idea of someone turning over their career to someone as green as the assistant I once was!) When I finally did start my own client list, I had the contacts I needed and a broader sense of the industry. I was so much more prepared for the ups and downs of managing an author’s career because I had those years of learning from really impressive pros. I’d seen things go really right and horribly wrong. In publishing, it can take two years or more to see a book from deal to shelf, so the only way to really have that knowledge that is to stick around.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Watching the third book on a particular contract I did last year finally reach publication. No really, it’s scheduled for 2016.
In all seriousness, I plan to be continuing to work with talented writers, many of whom should, by that time, be household names.
What are three things you love aside from your job?
We’ve got to give props to the husband here, right? He’s the coolest. We recently moved from NYC to LA and I am loving exploring my new hometown -- the hiking! The eternal sunshine! It’s pretty brilliant. And finally, I love TV and movies -- I find that watching stories told in a different medium is a great refresher for getting me back into the love-groove when the job feels more like work.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks very much for having me! I love that this site exists -- teen me would have loved this window into all kinds of fascinating jobs far from my own experience, and adult me loves checking out other people who love their gigs as much as I do.
-Interview by Katrina Ball