It has been said that you must be short to be an agent. Not true. If you love books, have a comfortable shoulder on which writers can cry on, can generate ideas and see trends in what readers want to read and learn about, and if you like to be taken out to expensive luncheons paid for by editors, then you might want to think about being an agent. Again, you have to start at the bottom of the food chain as an assistant and do a lot of crappy jobs.
The typical tasks of an agent’s assistant is to read and evaluate manuscripts; submit manuscripts to publishers, handle contracts, checks, and royalty statements; write permission with pitch letters; and handle the boss’s schedule, phone, and expenses.
The way to get a job as an agent’s assistant is to move to New York City, read mediabistro.com and the half dozen other on-line websites that are focus on this world, and network. The best agents are those people who don’t want to write themselves but love to read. They are people who want to be their own boss, self-starters, and are really good on the phone. The best (and rich agents) are those that can spot a writer who may not be able to write, but has the ability to plot and write a narrative. Increasingly the agent has to know about e-rights and the new ways that ‘books’ are being produced and sold. The new wave in publishing are e-books and they will change print material forever.
It also helps to be an agent if you are someone who likes to read contracts, especially the fine print of contract. When you are really successful you can just go to lunch at expensive restaurants and let your assistant worry about the details and answer your phone!