Jacinta di Mase on the joys and challenges of being a literary agent

After more than 20 years in the book industry, Jacinta di Mase started her own literary agency in 2004. We asked her to tell us what happened next. 

FWA: Tell us about the life of an agent

The life of an agent is all-consuming. For me, it seems a constant process of making connections in almost everything I hear, read, watch, or learn. I have a love of learning and I’m curious and interested in the human condition. In an agency that represents more than 75 creators across literary and commercial fiction, non-fiction, YA, series fiction and books for younger readers, as well as picture books, the work is varied and always interesting.

FWA: What is the book/who is the writer you dream of finding?

I have already found so many books and writers that have exceeded my wildest dreams. Working with creators is an inspiring and privileged role – I don’t take it for granted. For me the books that give me a frisson of excitement and potential are often surprising in unexpected ways: a picture book that makes me laugh out loud, illustrations that make me sigh in wonder, new ideas expressed eloquently and convincingly, books that challenge the status quo in exciting and enlightening ways, stories that make me want to keep reading late into the night, characters that make me feel as if I know them.

FWA: What has been the best day of your life as an agent?

I have had a lot of “best days”! Such as when the picture book, Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen won an ABIA and a CBCA Honour award, after so many rejections when I first tried to place it with a publisher. Or when Clare Wright’s game-changing book about Australian democracy, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka was acquired at auction by Text Publishing in a thrilling two-book deal and was later optioned for a television series by Ruby Entertainment. Or when Clementine’s Ford’s incendiary, Fight Like a Girl was launched at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne to a crowd of more than 1000 feminists. There are so many best days, but the main thing that marks a best day is the constant validation from readers who respond to the books created by our clients such as the time John Heffernan and Lyn White were treated like a rock stars when they arrived at a local primary school to talk about their book, Through My Eyes: Naveed.

FWA: What are the things that are really great/difficult about being an agent and working with writers?

One of best things about working with writers is helping them to realise their dreams of becoming published and finding their readership. I do this by working with them to develop their manuscripts and/or proposals and then working to find the right publisher – someone who is just as passionate as I am and who can also see the potential and take the work from manuscript to book, and beyond into the hands and hearts of readers.

The most difficult part of working with writers is managing expectations – especially regarding international rights sales. I also struggle to respond to authors as quickly as they would like when they’re waiting to hear my response to new manuscripts. It’s hard to balance the time between the mountains of correspondence, contractual, and accounting administration in a successful agency, and the more contemplative and solitary time that reading and responding to manuscripts requires. Patience grasshopper!

FWA:  How great/or not great it is working with publishers?

I love working with publishers and we are blessed in Australia to have so many committed, creative, and passionate publishers. The worst part about working with publishers is having to call and let them know when they have missed out on acquiring a book after a multiple submission-auction process. That is awful!

FWA:  …and if only new writers would (insert something here)

Trust the process. Listen to and respect their agent’s advice and expertise, and be patient. We are all working for and with you, not against you.

Find out more about Jacinta di Mase Management here.

Book your place in The Agent Engagement with Jacinta di Mase here.