Review of Juliet Pickering’s talk at Novel Nights January 29th 2015

Written by Grace Palmer, organiser.

Juliet Pickering is a literary agent at Blake Friedmann and gave a delighted Novel Nights audience an in-depth talk on the role of an agent and what they are looking for. She stressed that agents are keen to discover new writers, and although they get masses of submissions they do read them all. She explained how closely agents and writers work together, and that at Blake Friedmann that long-term relationship is what they want to develop. These are my notes on the answers Juliet gave:

So once you’ve written your novel,  what next?

Polish your work as much as you can and then let it go, don’t send it out too early (i.e. you know there is more to do), but also don’t hold on it for too long either.

First of all do your research to find agents who represent similar work to yours

There’s no point sending a fantasy novel to someone who doesn’t represent that genre for example.

If there’s a book that you like, and is similar in style to yours find out which agent  represents the author, you can often find acknowledgements in the credits. Writers and Artists Yearbooks is another  fantastic resource for authors.

Find out which agent represents which authors.

Is it ok to send to agents simultaneously?

Send to several agents simultaneously, but if one agent expresses an interested let the others know, then yours will be moved up the other agents reading list.

And if an agent says yes?

Juliet advised to meet with them to see if you get on as you will be working closely together

What should a submission include?

  • Cover email / synopsis / and first three chapters of your book.
  1. Cover email – Include three paragraphs:
    1. Why you’re writing to this agent (why you want them to represent you)
    2. Blurb about your book introducing the story and including where you think it would fit on the shelves. What other books is it like? Be honest though!
    3. About yourself – mention any creative writing courses you’ve been on, awards you’ve won or publications you’ve been in as this will validate your writing, however don’t worry if you don’t have this experience. Juliet gave the example of Kelly Hudson as someone who is writing in a different voice.
    4. What should your synopsis include?

“Many writers find it really difficult to write, but it’s an essential part of your submission package, and a tool for agents to use. It will give them the whole story and give them an idea of what your book is about. It should include the resolution.”

Follow submission guidelines on agent’s websites regarding length of synopsis. At Blake Friedmann they only want 200 – 300 words

What if you find it difficult to write?

Tip: Get a friend to read your book and then tell you what they think it’s about. Write a bulletted list of ten points of each of the main plots points from your main characters and build that into the synopsis.

What months should you avoid submitting your work to agents?

April and October because that’s when agents are busy representing authors at the major book fairs. Years ago November and December were quieter, but these days it’s busy year-round.

What annoys you about submission letters?

Typo’s, sloppy grammar, stupid fonts and gimmicks. One author once sent a submission with a bin saying ‘this is where it’s going to end up’ and another said her ms was so hot to handle and sent an oven glove. But this author quickly gained a reputation for the wrong reasons – the agency world is quite small and word soon got around as the agents compared notes and found they’d all been sent oven gloves. Also, don’t tell an agent what to think about the book. (Let them judge if it’s a page-turner/ best-seller etc).   Take a professional approach, address agents by name and  be personal and thoughtful.

What happens when Juliet takes an author on?

She will pitch your book to publishers. If more than one want it then a bidding war starts via auction.

Does your book have to be perfect if she is to take it on?

Agents now do editing themselves and can advise on where a book isn’t working for some reason.

Is social media worth getting involved in?

It can be extremely useful  and helpful – for example you can use twitter to eavesdrop on an agent, but it’s not absolutely essential.

Sending your submission package out.

Send it to several agents at once, but if someone expresses an interest let the others know so they can also consider your book. There’s nothing like telling an agent that someone is interested to get your book moved up their reading pile.

What is an agent’s day like?

During the 9 – 5 day an agent will be looking after their authors, chasing payments and keeping in touch with publishers and editors so they are aware of trends and what’s happening. Reading submissions of manuscripts happens in our spare time which is why it can take a couple of months before they get back to an author.

Is self-publishing frowned upon by agents?

‘No, not at all, though it’s a shame that author’s didn’t go to an agent first.’

How do you choose from your submission pile ? 

Juliet receives about 100 new submissions each week. Her process for dealing with them. If she likes the cover email and synopsis she’ll read the first three chapters, and then ask to see the whole book if she wants to take it further.

Should an author say yes to an agent if they like their book? 

She advised authors to meet their agent before they form a business relationship with them as they need to communicate well and will be working together for a long time.

What happens once an agent takes on an author? 

Once Juliet has taken on a book she will send it to between 5 – 25 editors at a time, pitching the novel before they get it. These days whether a publisher takes up a book is a group decision, involving the marketing departments who may have an idea for a campaign for the book. If more than one publisher is keen to take it up then there will be an auction and

Getting paid:

It’s not a way to get rich’ says Juliet. She gave the example of an author getting a £10,000 fee. This is paid over four instalments, potentially over 18 months. The first is received when the contract is signed. The agent will ensure that the terms and conditions are up to date. The second payment comes when the book is delivered. The third payment is on first publication of the book (which may be a special edition with cover flaps or a slightly larger size for example), and the 4th is when mass publication happens.

Part of Juliet’s role is to sell the foreign rights for translation which can add to an author’s income, and look at film, TV and radio possibilities with the media team.

Length

How long should a book be?

90,000 words is 250 pages in a paperback which is standard. Up to 120,000 is ok, but if it’s too much longer then if it can push up translation costs considerably. Books in other languages can be as third as long as in English. This makes it expensive to produce in a translated version.

Shorter books are acceptable – up to about 50 – 60,000 words and there is a trend for books to be shorter. 27,000 is not a novel but a novella.

 

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