The results of this year's Association of American Literary Agents (AALA) biannual membership survey indicate that the agency sector of the book business is diversifying more rapidly than its counterpart in the publishing houses. Still, the sector remains predominantly white, and other issues—including anxiety over the state of the book business, burnout, and inequity in pay for agents of color—remain of concern for members.
In 2023, the AALA once again found "the vast majority of respondents identify as white, cis female, straight, and without disabilities or chronic conditions." However, this year's respondents are slightly more diverse than they were two years ago. Some 83.1% of respondents identified as white/Caucasian, a notable decrease from the AALA's 2021 survey, which found that 88% of respondents identified as white/Caucasian.
In comparison, PW's own salary survey of publishing industry workers, which took a three-year hiatus during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, found 84% of respondents identifying as white in 2019 and 83% identifying as such in 2022.
In addition, the AALA survey found that the four highest BIPOC groups in 2023 are Latinx/Latino/Mexican (6.4%); Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander/South Asian/Southeast Asian (5%), Biracial/Multiracial (4.6%) and Black/Afro American/Afro Caribbean (4.1%). And notably, "the percentages of all BIPOC groups increased since 2021, though at a modest rate."
AALA officials say the jump is due in part to "changes in AALA membership categories" and "the work of Literary Agents of Change" (LAOC) to support agents of color. Nonetheless, overall, "BIPOC representation still is low," an AALA release states, "adding to the perception of the organization–and industry–as predominantly white."
The number of respondents identifying as genderfluid or nonbinary more than doubled since 2021, to 7% for those under 40, the survey found. And respondents identifying as having a disability or chronic condition jumped from 8.2% in 2021 to 20.8% in 2023.
The AALA survey also found that more young people are becoming agents, with respondents between 30-40 years old overwhelmingly constituting the single largest age group in 2023, compared to 2021, when the 40-50-year-old range dominated.
Other important takeaways from the AALA survey include:
- The number of agencies allowing some remote work rose to nearly 60%, from 37.7% in 2021
- 72.2% of respondents cited the consolidation of publishers as a concern
- 37.4% of respondents reported working 40-60 hours per week, 15.2% reported 50-60 hour work weeks, and 9.6% reported work weeks of more than 60 hours
- A quarter of respondents report burnout actively interfering with their ability to enjoy their jobs, including 35% of the 30-40 age group, with 12% worrying about their ability to remain in publishing should burnout continue at its current level
- 23% of white respondents reported no burnout, compared to 5% of BIPOC respondents, with 9% of white respondents indicating worries over their ability to remain in publishing considering burnout, compared with 21% of BIPOC respondents
- 68.9% of all respondents point to low salaries as a critical issue in the agenting world, including 90% of respondents in the 30-40 age group
- 59% of BIPOC respondents are under 40 years old, compared to the 67% of majority of white respondents above the age of 40; 22% of BIPOC respondents earn over six-figures, compared with 42.9% of white respondents
- 22% of respondents report receiving over 100 new queries per week
The survey drew a total of 221 respondents, comprising 48.7% of total AALA membership. The full survey is available here.