Meg’s Q and A

MegDavisWhat was your first job in publishing?
I had a variety of jobs after taking my degree in Russian, including as a theatre techie and bookseller.
How did you become an agent?
I’d been reading the entire contents of the bookshop I was working in (which you’re not really supposed to do, but those cold February afternoons when no one’s in the shop…) and four years later was now bored. One of our regulars came in looking happy, saying he’d got an agent for his book. ‘What’s an agent?’ I said. It sounded so fascinating that I wrote to a load of agencies until I found one that was willing to hire me as an assistant. At the end of my first year, one of the agents there left, and my boss let me inherit one of her clients. That was Anne Perry, and was the start of a very successful and happy working relationship.
How long have you been at Ki and what was your previous job?
I founded Ki three years ago; before that I worked for a long time at MBA Literary Agents.
What are the key skills an agent needs to do their job?
Diplomacy and a liking for people; enthusiasm; integrity; business acumen; editorial judgement; physical stamina (it can entail long hours); an interest in the legal side; voracious appetite for reading; a sense of humour; patience and perseverance.
On a day to day basis what is the most challenging aspect of your work?
The new digital landscape has given us additional challenges – to make it work for writers, and to raise clients’ profiles so publishers and producers can get an audience for them more easily. Day to day, though, it’s all about keeping writers in work, getting them paid as highly as possible, and smoothing out any problems.
Who has most influenced you in your career?
There are many fine agents to thank for help and advice along the way, foremost among whom is Diana Tyler, my boss at MBA. She gave me my start, allowed me to try things out for myself, and patiently sorted me out in the early days when I was in danger of making stupid mistakes.
If you hadn’t become an agent what would you be doing today?
Trombone player.
Who is your favourite writer?
Besides my clients, of course! Scriptwriters Donald Ogden Stewart (Philadelphia Story), Billy Wilder (Ninotchka), Paul Rudnick (Addams Family Values), Joss Whedon; Sally Wainwright, all the writers of Breaking Bad and Madmen. Authors Jane Austen, Scarlett Thomas, Connie Willis. I guess the common theme here is an affectionate wisdom about human beings, laced with intelligent wit.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Princess Leia.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” An agent’s day is that unpredictable.
Name a book you couldn’t finish.
Loads of them, unfortunately. So much of my reading time is devoted to my clients’ work that I’ll put down any book I’m reading to keep up with what publishers and readers are excited about, if I think I’ve got a sense of it. A shorter list is the two most recent books I’ve actually read through to the end: Rene Denfield’s The Enchanted – which is a searing read, full of compassion – and Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, which is vividly evocative of what it’s like to be a teenage girl.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Take yourself seriously enough to find out what you need to do to make it: raw talent isn’t enough, and it also helps enormously to know how to deal with agents and publishers and/or producers. That being said, there’s a lot of benevolence toward a writer whose work is exceptionally good; if the writing’s good enough, basic professional mistakes will be excused.
Do you write yourself? If so where?
No; I love being an agent, and that’s where my talents lie.

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