Friday, August 4, 2017

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Tracy Brennan

It's a great pleasure to welcome literary agent Tracy Brennan of the Trace Literary Agency to the RNA blog today. Tracy is here all the way from Mishawaka, Indiana, to talk to Helena Fairfax about her agency and about her role representing British and Irish authors.
Welcome to the RNA, Tracy!

The Trace Literary Agency is based in Indiana, and yet you represent many top contemporary Irish authors, as well as authors from the UK. Please could you tell us how this came about, and
how you came to set up your business.
This is a question I get all the time.  And I always say, “How much time do you have?” 14 years ago I was traveling with my husband and then 8 month old daughter to Dublin.
About 400 miles off the coast of Ireland, the airplane caught fire!  A cooling fan in the cargo hold overheated, causing a fire somewhere below the first class cabin.  The pilot had to take the plane down to 10,000 feet so he could open the cockpit windows to let the smoke out.  He then made the announcement that he would ‘try’ to make a landing in Shannon!
When the coast of Ireland appeared, the danger had not passed.  There was no way of knowing if the fire had damaged the landing gear.  Eventually the airport runway came into view, lined with firetrucks and ambulances.  When we did land, all the passengers were told we’d be taken by a fleet of buses to Dublin.  Unbeknownst to me, this is where the business of becoming a literary agent would begin.
I met a very lovely woman on the journey from Shannon to Dublin.  She held our daughter the entire time.  She gave us her business card and told us if we needed anything while in Dublin, to let her know.  Her name was Terry Prone, then director of Carr Communications; now with The Communications Clinic in Dublin.  We had no idea that she was a radio and television personality and very famous Irish author.
To make a very long story short (and I don’t think I’ve done a very good job here), Terry and I remained in contact for a couple of years after that trip exchanging emails, letters and even Christmas presents.
So how did I become a literary agent?  Plain and simple, the credit goes to Terry Prone. She was my first client. I started working on her books trying to place them with US publishers. Terry then introduced me to several other Irish authors.  Over the years Trace Literary Agency has grown and I now represent authors from Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and the US - may of whom are award-winning authors.

Do you often visit Ireland and the UK? Or do you feel it's possible now for agents to work with authors all over the world without the need for travel?
I usually make one, sometimes two trips a year to Ireland and the UK.  I do think it's much easier with the internet and publishers requesting e-files to do a lot of work via email, Skype, FaceTime, etc.  But it is still nice to meet face to face and talk with your clients and get to know them on a personal level.  I usually meet potential clients at book launches I attend or at Literary Festivals.  I only have a couple of clients that I’ve not met personally. 

One of your authors – Nicola Cassidy – has just signed a deal with Bombshell Books, which is a new imprint of Bloodhound Books. How do you stay abreast of publishing news/developments in Ireland and the UK? 
I do a lot of networking and research.  Sometimes I am referred to a particular publisher from editors I’ve worked with.  And I always ask my clients to give me a list of the publishers they would like me to contact, as there are quite a few that I am not familiar with.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
My interest is quite diverse.  I enjoy women’s commercial fiction, historical fiction, YA and I am now working with a lot of crime/thriller novels.  I am dabbling a little in non-fiction as well.

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
I do.  If I am uncertain or don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other, but there is just something that catches my eye, I ask a reader/book reviewer for their input.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Do your homework.  Make sure the agency represents the type of book you are writing. Write a clear, concise query letter of introduction. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself.  This is the time to brag about your accomplishments. Include a brief synopsis that tells the story without giving away the ending.  Make sure your manuscript is complete and has been edited.  There is nothing worse than reading a manuscript that an author is dying to have published, but is full of grammatical errors, spelling errors, and has poor pacing.

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
That’s such a hard question.  There are so many to choose from.  I’d probably have to say The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks.

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
I’ve enjoyed re-reading some of the books I read as a student in Great Books Seminar:
The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird and there’s more on the list.  Just never enough time!

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love traveling, boating, photography and spending time with my family.

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Busy, exciting, challenging.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Tracy. That's certainly one of the most dramatic introductions to literary agency we've encountered! I'm so glad your plane journey ended happily.

If you've enjoyed Tracy's interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!

About Helena

Helena Fairfax is a romance author and editor. Her latest release is a feel good summer romance called Felicity at the Cross Hotel. You can find out more about Helena's books and her editing services on her website

If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on


Heidi McCrary said...

Great interview, and an entertaining story of "How I got here." I always say that everything leads us to where we're supposed to be.

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