Most of us pick up a book, check out the jacket cover, and read a few pages to decide if it’s something that will capture our attention or not. When we find one that really draws us in, we can’t wait to discuss it in book groups, on social media, or just in casual conversation.
Reading offers an escape from the everyday, and for readers there is little to no thought about anything beyond the words inside the pages. However, books are a business just like any other product and one of the biggest influencers on the business side of reading is the literary agent.
Carly Watters, a 32-year-old mother of one and expecting a second child in February, has always had a passion for books. She reads about 20 published books per year, just for pleasure, and then another few hundred for work. Her mother was a librarian and implanted a love for reading in Carly at a young age. While in school, working on her BA in English at Queen’s University, Carly started to wonder about how a book was made. This led her to grad school at City University in London, England where she received an MA in Publishing Studies. Today, Carly is a top literary agent with P.S. Literary Agency, based in Toronto, with some big names in her roster.
A literary agent’s greatest challenge is finding a book that will make an impact on the market. Just as with any form of pop-culture, trends influence readers. That may come through the look of the cover design or a twitter-trending news topic. Book trends aren’t always easy to predict. Carly, who gets pitched approximately 10,000 projects each year (from which she requests about 3–400 manuscripts), says that more significant than being on trend is to be “the book that starts the trend just because it’s a phenomenal read and it’s unique—the copycats come after that.”
Carly likens her job to a talent agent for authors. “I discover the writers—often via conferences, query letters or referrals—develop their ideas with them, sell the books to publishers, negotiate the deal, sell the TV/film rights, and help manage their careers for the long-term,” she states.
While she works from home, her job takes her around the globe a few times a year. Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and London all factor into the job of an agent and Carly spends time in each city as she pitches, negotiates and works out deals with major publishing companies on behalf of her clients.
From her home in Kanata, Carly manages an impressive client list. It includes authors Jay Onrait, from TSN (Anchorboy and Number Two), national bestseller Glendy Vanderah (Where the Forest Meets the Stars), along with Christina McDonald (The Night Olivia Fell) which has been optioned for TV by a major studio. Carly is credited with discovering acclaimed author Taylor Jenkins Reid, whose first book Forever, Interrupted went on to sell in 14 languages and launched the author’s highly successful career.
Working from home offers the luxury of picking and choosing your hours, but for Carly they have to be organized around getting a two-year-old to daycare in the mornings and gearing up for her family’s return at the end of the day. Her office is within her laptop, which means she can work from any platform in the house or even pop into a coffee shop for a change of scenery. Morning Owl and Thirsty Maiden in Kanata are regular haunts. The fact that Ottawa has an international airport, low-traffic congestion in comparison to other major cities, and is more affordable and family friendly, makes living and working in the capital very appealing.
Carly takes full advantage of all that Ottawa offers, from the museums and libraries to festivals and abundant children’s activities, but does acknowledge that winter takes some getting used to and she misses being near her favourite stores. But for now, the dynamic agent and busy mom is fully committed to serving her clients from Canada’s capital city.
Carly Watters must-read books for 2020:
- Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
- More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
- Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
- Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
- The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo