What do you love about being a literary agent?
What I really love is working directly with the author and developing an idea to a full-fledged published book. It’s a wonderful feeling when you walk into a bookstore and see a book that you have had a hand in. Or seeing a stranger reading a book you worked on. There’s also a wonderful joy in seeing the progress of a title as the book develops from an idea or first draft to the finished product. Agents are there to help the writer; we’re the cheerleader, editor, helper, lawyer, bookseller, publicist, advisor for all things. And that close relationship can also lead to develop life-long friendships.
Q: What advice do you have for unpublished authors who want to find a literary agent?
When you spend months, years, decades writing your book, you should spend some time when looking for a literary agent. I receive too many ‘mass emails’ addressed to ‘Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern’ – I even received a ‘Dead Mr. Agent’ once! This tells me that person just emailing every-single-email they can find. It’s best to research the agent, know what they work on, understand what they are looking for – and then if you think it’s a match, reach out using specifics. Tell me why you think I would work best for you. Agents receive hundreds of submissions a week – hundreds! There is no way we can read everything that comes in and do our day-to-day jobs. So if a manuscript comes to me and it is clear it’s a group-submission, it doesn’t go to the ‘to read’ pile.
We are all on-line and many agents participate at conferences, festivals, writing workshops etc. Most agents have profiles and biographies – so have a look at what we do (and who we represent) before sending your book out to us.
Still stuck? Have a look at the books that you think would sit happily next to yours. Most authors will thank their agents in the acknowledgements – that’s a good way to find out who is representing books that are similar to yours.
If that doesn’t work – attend festivals and conferences where you know agents are scheduled to talk or be on panels. There are some excellent festivals and conferences happening – as a writer, attend! At the very least, you’ll meet some wonderful people.
Q: Tell me three things you look for when you see a manuscript for the first time
I look for and read for (in order!)
Voice. Does the author’s voice on-the-page work and capture my interest. The twist of phrase, sentence structure, looking at things in a new way.
Pace. In any book – fiction to non-fiction – you want to read something that ‘keeps you turning the pages’. So pace is very important to me. I once spoke to someone who wanted to send me a script to look at and they said ‘it’s a little slow in the beginning, but really picks up around page 100.’
Story. The story! Try hard not to complicate things and include a huge cast of characters. Make sure everyone is there for a reason. If there are two characters in your book who are doing the same thing – and sound the same – then maybe those two people should be edited down to one. Make sure the story is exactly that – tell me a story. Keep that in mind as you write – ‘am I telling a story’ and you’ll find yourself self-editing, thereby quickening the pace and bringing your voice out even more.
Q: Is the book ‘concept’ as important as the quality of the writing when you are considering working with a writer?
For non-fiction, concept is key. And making sure that whatever your non-fiction concept is, you are the most qualified to tell it. For fiction, concept is certainly wonderful – but it is not the most important factor when I read. A ‘coming of age’ novel is certainly not a unique concept, but when told in the right voice with pace and story – then it can be quite special.
Q: Tell me about publishing trends at the moment
The trend is never pay attention to trends. Because once a trend hits, the market will be flooded with ‘like’ titles. If you are brave enough and fast enough to get into trend publishing, and make it work, then that’s a skill. At the end of the day, the best trend is a great book. So publishing needs to and has to always pay attention to the quality of the title – whether that’s a full-color fashion book or a debut novel. The trend that will never go away is quality.