Interview with an Agent: Katie Blagden
last updated 29 March 2023
Interview by Rachel Moffat
Our agents move mountains, working with our artists to make dreams come true. In this blog series, we sit down with our experts and give you an insight into their story and their passion for all things Bright.
Join us now as we interview Literary Agent: Katie Blagden
How long have you been working for Bright? Tell us a little about your career journey.
I had a strange and spotted route into publishing! I studied film and literature at university and went into film & TV production, ending up as a producer at a small production company. I helped make ads for Nivea, HSBC, Clinique and more. However, in classic millennial fashion, I had zero work-life balance and experienced pretty catastrophic burnout. I stepped away from production entirely and became a bookseller at Waterstones, going back to my first love of books. While I loved bookselling, it didn’t pay very well, so I started looking at other options. Bright happened to be looking for a marketing assistant and it seemed like a perfect fit for me!
I started working at Bright in 2019, in a pretty limited marketing role to begin with, producing campaigns and helping out the core trade team with their social media. But the role grew and I stuck my oar into everyone’s business until I was helping run the entire agency’s marketing!
Then, an opening came up for a Literary Associate and I rather cheekily put myself forward. I know it was a bit of a shock to Arabella (Head of Literary) as she hadn’t thought I’d been interested in agenting at all, but I’m so thrilled she gave me the opportunity to be interviewed for the role – and that she hired me! Since then, we’ve worked on building the Literary list, and I’ve now graduated to the position of Literary Agent.
Illustration by Sam Prentice
Where did your love of books come from?
I’ve always been a total book nerd! I used to be called ‘head in book’ at school because I would walk around reading in between classes. Looking back, I think I subconsciously chose film as my first career as I thought it might be better paid rather than because I really loved it. I definitely wouldn’t endorse this as a good reason to choose what you’re going to do with your life; you can see how that ended up for me! I’m glad I did it though because it taught me a lot about myself, specifically where my limits are and what makes me happy. It’s weird being where I am now because it feels like it was always inevitable that I’d end up working with books, despite the twisting path I took to get here!
Katie and Brenna Nation on her publication day for The Shattered Lands
What do you look for in an author?
Uniqueness and authenticity. It sounds vague and annoying, but it’s true. As an agency, we represent such a wide range of authors; adult, children, non-fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, crime thrillers, middle grade, chapter books, graphic novels… We’re doing a bit of everything, which is exciting on the one hand, and on the other hand it means we are looking for the very best voices regardless of what they’re writing.
It’s not that you have to be a perfect writer; we see a lot of submissions by people crafting, crafting and crafting. But it really has to sing with your voice and story; there are so many writers out there, but there’s only one you! So, make sure you’re being the most ‘you’ you can be!
Illustration by Sam Prentice
Tell us about the first/most exciting project one of your authors worked on?
I’m excited about SO many things! I wish I could spend pages telling you all about my wonderful authors and their work, but I feel like that would turn into a dissertation!
The first book I sold at Bright was Sam Prentice’s debut graphic novel duology, ‘Arcana’. Sam is currently working on it with his publishers, Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan US), and it’s the most wonderful contemporary found-family YA fantasy with an adorable cast of young, queer characters. I want to squeeze them all! Sam is such a talented artist and writer, and I can’t wait for his work to be out in the world getting all the love it rightly deserves.
Arthur McBain at a Book signing for In the Dead of Night
When you’re not working, what does a day in the life of Katie look like?
I’ve got a small barky dog who is the boss of me. So, lots of walking him and making sure he has the best possible life – I’m a typical millennial, with a dog as a child replacement. A day in the life would begin with me bickering with my partner about who’s turn it is to get out of bed and make tea (almost always her doing this - ha). Once we’ve taken the dog for a walk we might go to the local market. At home we’ll put something crappy on Netflix, do a bit of admin and cleaning. We love to go out with our friends for lunches or dinners. I also spend a fair amount of time doing meetings at Overeaters Anonymous – I’ve been in recovery with an eating disorder for a while now and it’s really important for my health that I keep a good routine around this.
Every other Thursday, I’ll be late at the office running the Bright Dungeons and Dragon sessions. I also do the Graham Norton Book Club Podcast on audible, so I get to record that every now and again!
Illustration by Tom Humberstone
What has been your best day at Bright?
It’s hard to pick out one day, there’ve been a lot of great ones!
My first day was super memorable as it was a company day at a lovely restaurant and I felt amazed that everyone was so welcoming and generous to me on day one.
Then, I was so excited on the day I was told I was going to be a literary agent; it was such an affirming moment for me. Equally, my first book fair was so much fun… And of course, there was the day my first book offer came through – I was on holiday at the time but it was such an amazing moment to celebrate.
Hannah Peck’s book launch for Kate on the Case: The Headline Hoax
What has been the biggest hurdle in your career?
My biggest hurdle has been my mental health and eating disorder. After choosing a career that wasn’t healthy for me and experiencing that burnout, I felt that I was really back at square one. I was incredibly lucky to have a family who supported me. That experience informed how I work now, and how I work with artists, authors and co–workers. Nothing is worth your health. In the past, when I’ve been struggling with addiction and my mental health, it’s felt like it was the end of my career, but Bright have been so supportive with this. I cannot begin to explain how amazing they’ve been throughout my ups and downs, and it means that I’ve grown, learned, and been more productive and better at my job.
The Kate on the Case trilogy by Hannah Peck
What do you know about the industry now that you wish you could have told yourself when you first started?
It’s all about relationships and it’s all about people who genuinely love books. Yes, it’s a business and yes, we have to sell books, but almost everyone you meet in this industry is a genuinely lovely person who adores books and is trying to get incredible stories to readers. It’s not a cut-throat thing where we’re all against each other. So, my main advice would be don’t be scared, dive in, you’ll get there.
Night of the Living Pasta and In the Dead of Night, written by Arthur McBain
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write, write, write. Then, write more and write different things. What I find most frustrating is that sometimes you’ll get somebody who’s written an absolutely amazing opus that’s their life’s work and for whatever reason it’s not quite right for our list. And you’ll ask them, ‘What else are you working on?’ and they don’t have anything. We don’t take on single books, we take on writers, so we really want to see what they look like across different books, what their author’s shelf will look like in a decade. Writing is like any skill, the more you do it the better you get; you need to challenge yourself to try lots of different things. It’s also not a get-rich-quick career. You have to put in a lot of time and passion before you get anywhere, so don’t give up. For every agent that says ‘no’, there is someone who will love your work.
Literary Agents Katie and Arabella at a Bright event in 2022
A final message?
We’re always open for submissions and we have useful resources on the Bright Blog that show you how to submit your work. Send us your books! I love reading and seeing new things, it’s my favourite part of the job. The door is open!
To work with Katie, get in contact here.