Paths to Publishing: Sitting down with an associate literary agent


Martin Vorel |

Addie Joseph

Literary agents are a vital part of the publishing industry, representing authors in negotiating the sale of their works for publication or production and managing other facets of their careers. But while the past few years have seen a boost in inclusivity and #OwnVoices writing within the publishing industry, many of the industry’s inner workings, including the efforts made by literary agents, remain enigmatic to authors and readers alike.

Jade Wong-Baxter, an associate literary agent at The Frances Goldin Literary Agency, described finding agenting almost as an “accident.”

As a student at Vassar College, Wong-Baxter knew that she enjoyed editing her classmates’ works and that she wanted more of a social work experience after her graduation. So, she started looking into the publishing industry, where she hoped she’d find a career path that ticked both of those boxes.

She applied to many big trade publisher internships, but when she clicked on, a publishing job board and general industry guide, she discovered numerous postings for internships at companies called ‘literary agencies.’

From there, Wong-Baxter said she “figured out from the internet what an agency was and thought it might be a little easier and a little less competitive” in terms of establishing her place in the publishing industry.

She has since interned at Folio Literary Management as an agency intern, W. W. Norton & Company as a trade editorial intern and at Writers House as an agency intern. She also worked at Writers House as an interim agent assistant following her program there.

Then, in August 2017, Wong-Baxter joined the Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agency as an agent assistant, and was soon promoted to junior agent, which also meant taking on additional responsibilities as a foreign rights associate.

As a junior agent and foreign rights associate, Wong-Baxter spent a lot of her time handling administrative duties, like communicating with foreign contacts and taking care of contracts, as well as overseeing agency intern tasks.

“I think that I had definitely had this idea that I would be allowed to acquire and suddenly I would have all of these projects and I would sell them,” Wong-Baxter said of becoming a junior agent. “But it’s a slow burn as a junior agent because you have to figure out all of your admin and then figure out the time that you’re gonna have for your own projects on top of that.”

Outside of her administrative tasks, Wong-Baxter worked hard at establishing herself as a new face in the publishing community, promoting herself on Manuscript Wish List, meeting with editors and reaching out to up-and-coming writers.

“You have to do a little more hustling than you do in the later stages of your career because no one knows who you are, so you’re not getting that many queries and you really have to try and make more of a name for yourself… There was no way for me to know what worked until I tried it,” Wong-Baxter said.

To further support her endeavors, Wong-Baxter shared that she often made time to read manuscripts throughout the week outside of her work hours, whether that meant over a commute before the COVID-19 pandemic, or more recently, at home. And as to time spent over the weekends, Wong-Baxter also relayed the importance of reading new novels for fun.

“You’re reading books for fun because you wanna read,” Wong-Baxter said. “But also because you’re trying to have a sense of the market and also because you’re trying to remind yourself what a published book actually looks like.”

To students interested in pursuing a career in agenting, Wong-Baxter recommended not solely applying to positions at literary agencies but also exploring work opportunities at publishers or other related venues.

This way, Wong-Baxter said, you can see what different sides of the publishing process look like while figuring out whether agenting is right for you. Additionally, she shared that it’s vital for students to read widely and keep up with recent book releases.

“Publishing and being in an agency just really requires a knowledge of like what’s out there in the market and what are people talking about,” Wong-Baxter said. “And whether that’s the latest Sally Rooney discourse or whether that’s a conversation about race in publishing, I think it’s helpful to be on top of a lot of that discourse.”

Editor’s Note: This interview took place in December 2020, when Jade Wong-Baxter was a Junior Agent and a Foreign Rights Associate at the Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents. As of January 2021, Wong-Baxter is an Associate Literary Agent at The Frances Goldin Literary Agency.