Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Special Agents

Your novel’s finished. You’ve edited and polished it until it’s as good as you can make it. The next step is to approach agents. But who do you choose? What should you do to give your novel the best possible chance? Five top agents - Broo Doherty, Carole Blake, Caroline Sheldon, Lizzy Kremer and Teresa Chris have generously shared their advice. A very warm welcome to you all.

Broo Doherty
  What are you looking for in a submission from a new writer?

Broo - Over and above good writing, I want to be taken to a place that is either familiar and the author puts a whole new spin on the place, or I want to be transported to a place I have never been but I feel at the end of the book I know intimately. I'm also looking for depth of character, emotional intelligence, and good dialogue.

Carole - I never want to be prescriptive because I always want to have an open mind. I want to fall in love with a voice, and a story, and feel passion for it as well as believing I can sell it.

Caroline - Exciting writing that draws the reader in, tells a story and holds the readers interest in the characters.  It’s very rare that a manuscript comes in and one is hooked on it from the first page but that is what editors and agents are looking for. Of course there are one off brilliances which are great but it can be helpful if the book falls within a recognised genre- crime, suspense thriller, historical novel, rom com, saga, romantic suspense, gothic, funny and now raunchy romance .

Carole Blake
As to presentation of a submission, we receive almost all by email now.  The introductory email is the opportunity for the author to sell themselves.  The more interesting the author sounds and the stronger the synopsis of the book, the more carefully an agent will read.  Include a brief description of the book.  Mention other writers in the genre whose readers might enjoy your work.  Tell a bit about your background and how you came to write the book.  If you have ideas for promotion, including electronic, give a brief outline. I would suggest the email should be presented with paragraphs in an easily readable format and reasonable type size (sounds basic, but lots don’t look good).  And it should be roughly the equivalent of one A4 page in length.  Don’t rush it – type one day – and reconsider the next. 
I would make my submission consist of an introductory email including a paragraph outline of the book (one page for the whole), separate slightly longer synopsis of the book (one page) and then complete text of the book.

Lizzy - I don’t have anything fixed in mind but I always hope to find a spark of personality and originality in what I read, as well as being able to immediately recognise something true and real, whether it is an emotion or a way of seeing the world.

Teresa - Professionalism. I like authors to have done their research about how and to whom to present their material. They should have worked hard on their novel and made sure it is of a publishable standard .

Caroline Sheldon

Why is it important that an author should have an agent?

Broo - I think the agent/author relationship is critical; editors move jobs yet agents should be a constant in an author's life.  An agent should be someone you can talk to regularly, they should be someone you feel is working for your best interests and is talking you up throughout the trade.

Carole - Authors need agents these days even more than before. Authors write the mss, but then they are required to do so much more - interviews, Face book, twitter, guest blogs for reviewers, bookselling chains, supermarkets. It's the agent who monitors the publishers' marketing promises, makes sure they are carried out. The agent who sells the subsidiary rights, the translations rights. The agent who asks why this bookshop or that chain don't seem to have re-ordered once they've run out. 

Caroline - Some of the things an agent should do:
Sell your work,
Advise you on how best to present your writing – title, synopsis and in some cases suggestions of content or genre,
Negotiate financial provisions and contract – and of course contracts are becoming ever more complex,
Help you manage your writing career to achieve the biggest success possible.
If your career flags, find ways to help you back up the greasy pole.

Lizzy - A good agent can make all the difference to an author’s submission before it’s even made, through tweaking the author’s approach to best suit the market and their own aspirations for their work. A good agent can make all the difference between a bad deal and a good one; between being offered one contract and building a career. A good agent will stop opportunities from slipping through an author’s grasp and will be a close friend and collaborator throughout the whole, sometimes lonely and confusing, process.  

Teresa - Publishers certainly pay more attention to submissions from agents whom they respect. The publishing world is so complex today, an author needs an agent to exploit all their rights rather than just hand them over to a publisher. An agent also handles the writing career of an author and is there when things go wrong.

Lizzy Kremer
What makes a good working relationship between an author and agent?

Broo - It is a relationship based on mutual trust and respect - and without that it cannot work.  I also think it relies on regular communication and a belief that you are working together towards a common good, namely promoting the author's books and endeavouring to get them as much exposure as possible and consequently increasing their sales.  

Carole - So many things, but they are all based on trust, and a good understanding from the beginning that they are aiming for the same goals.  Good communication between the 2 is vital.

Caroline - That you like each other; that you have the same belief in and ambitions for the writing; that you can laugh at the end of a long Friday afternoon.

Lizzy - Finding someone you can communicate honestly and effectively with from the start is the key. You should instinctively trust your agent’s judgement, but never be afraid to query it. They should love your work and be available to you.

Teresa  - Trust and respect. I only take on an author if I’m passionate about their work and feel comfortable with them. 
Teresa's dog - Truffle
In your opinion, how is the market from romantic fiction at the moment?

Broo -Like all markets, romantic fiction is tough at the moment, but I firmly believe that good stories, well told will succeed. 

Carole - 'Romantic fiction' is a label that covers such a huge area of fiction, that it is never out of fashion. There has been a lot of ill-informed journalism recently about falling sales numbers for women's fiction, but it is always a vast part of book sales in this country. There is always going to be a hungry market for well written romantic fiction.  Romance - relationships - are at the heart of so much of our lives, so much of what people want to read about.

Caroline - Quite a tricky one this. Over the last ten years what might broadly be described as the market for women’s fiction has lost out at the expense of categories such as thriller.  The great days of the mega-massive sales of an author such as Rosamund Pilcher are at least temporarily past and in particular the top sales of UK authors in the USA have declined.  But publishers are still publishing chic lit, sagas, historical fiction and other sub genres of romance very successfully.  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a complete gamer-changer.  There will be other erotic romances riding on its coattails in the months to come and with sales dwarfing those of all other books it takes “romance” back to the top of the bestseller list.  

Lizzy - I don’t sell any genre romance so I can’t speak about that part of the market. Trade publishers are not really looking for romance, but every book they publish is about love. The trick is to write a love story which isn’t predictable or derivative and which doesn’t speak down to the reader. The best writers are doing well at the moment; less stylish or adventurous idea-driven books are suffering.  

Teresa - Tough. After the dramatic crash of women’s commercial fiction last year, there’s been a shake up and  many authors have been dropped. - there has been a winnowing out.

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers looking for an agent?

Broo - Do your research: think carefully about whether you want to be represented by a large or a small agency, study their client lists and see whether you are a natural fit, if possible chat to some of their other clients but above all believe that the agent you approach is an agent that you want to be working with for the next twenty years. 
Carole - Don't think just any agent will work for you. Do your homework, work out which agents really know about the market, hold out for one you believe in.  Meet them before you accept an offer of representation. Be persistent. Believe in yourself.  Have patience: getting the right agent may take time, but it's worth investing time to get it right.
Caroline - Present yourself as carefully in the material you send as if you were going for a really tough interview for a job you really wanted.  We probably take on something in the region of 1 in 3,000 of the authors who approach us. You need to make sure your writing is noticed.

Lizzy - Just one? Make sure you do it at the right time – when you have the right book, not always the first book; when you have a book you’re proud of; when you have time to pitch your book well. Don’t despair at the first, or tenth, rejection.

Teresa - Do your research about the type of fiction an agent represents. Look at their websites and follow the instructions for submissions. Be professional.

Thank you very much to Broo, Carole, Caroline, Lizzy and Teresa for taking the time to share your experience and advice. Best wishes, Kate.

To find out more about our Special Agents visit their websites at:


Janice said...

Valuable advice and interesting reading. Thank you very much.

Deborah Swift said...

Great interviews and advice, I'll be recommending this article to anyone seeking representation.

Laura E. James said...

Thank you - following the pitches at the conference, the advice that stood out was I needed an agent. This post is priceless.

Anonymous said...

Broo's surname is Doherty not Docherty.

Rosie Hendry said...

Apologies for mis-spelling Broo's surname.
I've corrected it.