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Agenting in the time of social distancing – can it be done?

Posted on 20/05/2020 in

Hello from our home offices!

Bonnier Rights Sweden is currently in our 11th week working from home, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be seeing our much-missed offices at Sveavägen for a while. We’re by now all old hands at the various digital meeting platforms and any inhibition we may have harboured about inviting industry professionals into our (messy) homes via Teams or Zoom has completely gone – I’ve had videoconferences interrupted by wifi-outages, barking dogs, children (sometimes clothed, sometimes not), and watched the odd cat do their mid-afternoon toilette in full view of the camera. I may have even been the cause of some of those disruptions…

The question remains: how do we best do our jobs in this time in the industry of no face-to-face meetings, and if we can’t travel? I’ve worked in the industry for nearly 15 years and it’s not a question we’ve ever considered, as so much of the selling and buying of rights has to do with us agents showing up in editors’ offices, wherever they may be. Some aspects of an agent’s job–considering new manuscripts, managing submissions or negotiating contracts– actually work better from home (see, there’s the silver lining) but the real life meetings between authors, editors and agents just can’t be replaced by a video conference. I miss my fellow book nerds, basically!

The way we sell rights has hardly changed in the last 50 years, perhaps apart from exchanging paper manuscripts for pdfs (I don’t miss the bundles of printed manuscripts we had to bring to book fairs when I started out – yes, I’m that old) and that we don’t ever get any offers by fax these days (gathering around the fax in-tray in the mornings, those were the days), but suddenly we need to reinvent the way we do business post haste. So many new business models and nifty solutions will come out of the lockdown, I’m sure – it’s all quite exciting!

So, what are we doing now? Personally, I’m planning for the worst (no work travel for a while yet) and hoping for the best (life will go back to something resembling normality post-summer), but truth be told I’m undulating between being super excited about the autumn season and our amazing list, and the next moment worrying what kind of book industry we will come back to once the lockdown is lifted. One thing is for sure, we’re using this time of slower working life to come up with brilliant ideas about how to get our exciting titles across to the right editors without going to see them, and I do think we’ll be the stronger for it once we are able to hit the road again.

While waiting to pack my passport and don my trusty travel shoes again, I’m going to enjoy my home office with its super relaxed dress code and my furry colleagues (our two Springer Spaniels are sleeping next to me as I write this). And another upside: our coffee at home is muuuch better than at work!

Hope to see you out there in the world soon, stay safe!

Elisabet

Literary agent

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