MPub alumnus Claire Cavanagh becomes Literary Agent

January 30, 2023
MPub alumnus Claire Cavanagh (Photo credit: Claire Cavanagh)

The new year began remarkably for Master of Publishing (MPub) alumnus Claire Cavanagh. She recently became a literary agent for The Rights Factory, an editorial agency founded almost two decades ago by its CEO, Sam Hiyate. 

Her clientele is already quite impressive and includes Gurki Basra (who is both inspiring and multifaceted, and who you might've seen in Netflix's 2019 reality series, Dating Aroundand Mere Walton (who is a published author adapting multiple stories for film and television).

Prior to her 2022 internship and her agenting role at The Rights Factory, Claire completed her thirteen-week professional placement with the Newfoundland Women Publishers Network, a collective comprised of three publishers: Breakwater BooksPedlar Press and Running the Goat Books and Broadsides. Shortly after, she worked as a sales coordinator at Breakwater Books, a publishing company focused on celebrating stories from Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Ever since her introduction to publishing, Claire has, undeniably and expeditiously, experienced different facets of the industry. She is currently working as an agent for The Rights Factory from Lisbon, Portugal, and we were thrilled to (virtually) sit down with her to discuss her journey so far. 

Congratulations on become a literary agent! How did this incredible opportunity come about?

Well, I was working in sales at Breakwater Books, and I kind of knew that it wasn't the right fit for me, especially for a long-term role. I had thought about agenting even when I was doing the course at SFU. It was something that I had always considered, and that was a big part of why I took my professional placement in foreign rights. I wanted to become familiar with rights. But, I kept thinking about being an agent. I had a feeling it would be a right fit. It combines various skills; knowing about rights, networking and pitching, including editorial skills. 

After my professional placement with the Newfoundland Women Publishers Network (June ‘21-Sept ‘21) and working a sales-coordinator (Sept ‘21-Dec ‘21) at Breakwater Books, I reached out to Suzanne (Lecturer and Industry Liaison at SFU Publishing). She introduced me to the CEO of The Rights Factory, Sam Hiyate. We had a meeting, and it all just went very quickly from then on. 

Prior to my internship at The Rights Factory (Jan ‘22) I knew about the agency already. I was aware that they offered internships in placements. Since mentorship is very important to them, I was set up with Kathryn Willms, an agent there. I became her editorial assistant, and I started working with her on various projects. Quite early into it, she asked me about my plans and encouraged me to pursue agenting. She said, “I think you would be great at it.” She offered to guide me and was extremely supportive, so I said YES. This was some time in February last year.

So, I'd been preparing for this eventual move into agenting while I was working as an editorial assistant for most of 2022. 

Why did you want to work at The Rights Factory and where is it based? 

We have agents all over however our CEO, Sam, is based in Toronto. The agency is officially based in Toronto too, although we are everywhere. We have an agent in Vancouver and another one in New York. I decided to move back to Europe so I’m living in, and working from, Lisbon. We have an agent in the UK as well, and so it is becoming more international. The Rights Factory is widespread which is fantastic. Joining an agency that had agents across places was definitely attractive to me. 

How would you describe your experience working in different areas of publishing. You embraced distinct roles in the last few years as a foreign rights consultant, a sales coordinator and now, a literary agent. I assume being an agent is fairly new to you, but what have you learned so far? What has this process - the transition - been like?

Oh God. There’s so much! This is very much the beginning of my career. You take away a whole lot, you know. My professional placement with the Women's Collective was incredibly invaluable. It just gave me so much experience.

Taking the publishing program at SFU was amazing. You're a sponge and you're soaking everything up, but you’re learning in a classroom. Going out in a placement, you're learning everything in practice, you know? They gave me a lot of responsibility which was fantastic. Not only did I learn about the bookselling field within Canada, I also learned about bookselling on an international scale because I was working in foreign sales. I was learning a lot about what publishing looked like in many different countries. 

My experience in foreign sales has been extremely helpful. It’s given me immense knowledge on what the book/publishing landscape looks like elsewhere. It’s important because, as an agent, I am not only pitching in Canada. The Rights Factory works a lot within the state and within the UK. We have a foreign rights person who pitches internationally, but you must also consider the possibility that certain manuscripts might be more suited for a specific territory. So yes, everything I’ve learned and done so far, in school, and through my placement and internship, has been extremely useful. 

You already had an MSc. And PhD. in Applied Linguistics before you applied to SFU’s Publishing program. What made you pursue a Masters in Publishing?

I can’t believe I did another Masters! Being in academia, the only experience I had with publishing was academic publishing. Writing my own articles to publish in academic journals was common practice. Some of the skills I used during, and after, my PhD were skills that could be transferred into publishing, which I enjoyed. Editing and giving feedback to my colleagues were things I loved to do. So, I was vaguely thinking about academic publishing. I was also inspired by a friend who had moved into publishing. Even though I was convinced I would not get in, I applied anyway. I knew so little. Publishing is intimidating, at first, but my experience in the program helped me develop my confidence. I also felt that you had to have contacts at high places to succeed, and the MPub gives you exactly that. It allows for that kind of networking and mentorship. Suzanne (Norman) has helped me completely in everything. I would not be here without her. 

What would be your advice for current or prospective Master of Publishing (MPub) students? 

Be somewhat focused on what you’re interested in. I believe some of the most successful alumni from the program are the ones who knew exactly what they wanted to do or what area they wanted to work in. They knew what companies they wanted to work for. I think having that kind of focus is instrumental. However, I went into the program not having a clue, so I would also say - don’t panic. Be a sponge and soak everything up. Grab every opportunity that is presented to you. Speak to anyone from publishing that you have access to. Grow your contacts and explore different areas of publishing as much as you can. 

I remember my meeting with Suzanne about my professional placement. I discussed my interest in foreign rights. I’d also done research into publishers and I was aware that Breakwater Books had extensively spoken about rights on their website. So, I pitched the idea to Suzanne and she was pleasantly surprised. She immediately got the ball rolling which then led me to my foreign rights internship. Once I discovered my passion for agenting, again, I was able to reach out to Suzanne for help. You need to actively seek out these opportunities. Keep yourself informed. Be enthusiastic. Read and learn about the industry, and seek proper guidance. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Send the emails, make the calls, and make it happen for yourself!

Claire has most definitely made it happen for herself. From pop-culture to biographies to society and culture, she is currently seeking manuscripts that are insightful, inspiring and engaging. She is particularly drawn to literary fiction; stories that examine women, their intimate lives and lived experiences. Originally from Ireland, Claire has traveled and lived across the globe. She even taught English in Toronto, after getting her PhD in the UK, before completing her Master of Publishing (MPub) from SFU. Her own personal journey, especially her openness and love for distinct cultures and peoples, has hugely influenced her academic work and shaped her professional aspirations. 

If your company is interested in hosting one of our students, please contact Suzanne:

We are currently accepting applications for the Master of Publishing (MPub) program. Learn some useful tips to apply here. Deadline is February 1, 2023.