Helena Fairfax returns with another interview in her super, ‘Ask the Industry Expert’ series.
It’s a great pleasure to welcome Clare Wallace today – an agent who inspires with her enthusiasm and
love of all things bookish. Thanks for taking the time to visit us, Clare, and for letting us get to know you. We appreciate your giving up valuable time!
Please tell us a little about the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency, how long you’ve been with the agency, and how you came to join.
The Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency is proud to specialise in a broad range of commercial titles, including thrillers, mysteries, crime, accessible literary, sagas, historical and commercial women’s fiction. The agency was founded in 1988 by Darley and has been going from strength to strength ever since.
I started at the Agency in January 2011, initially in the rights department, selling translation rights, and then I started to gradually build my own list of authors alongside managing the rights department. After a while my list grew so I moved over to fulltime agenting in January 2015.
Like many people trying to forge a career in publishing, I’d been working in various internships at agencies and publishers for six months. During that time I applied for a lot of jobs and got a lot of rejections. And I was close to giving up my working-in-publishing dream as my savings were gone and my confidence was definitely dented. But then, just at the right moment, I found out about the opening at Darley Anderson and someone rather lovely I’d been working with recommended me for the role. After two interviews, I was offered the position.
What do enjoy most about your job? And least?
There’s so much I enjoy. Finding a brilliant submission, meeting new people, negotiating, just being amongst books and people who love them every day. I don’t take for granted that I look forward to going to work, and I know that’s a luxury that isn’t shared by many. I suppose, in all honesty, there’s nothing quite like phoning a début author that you’ve been working with and telling them you’ve received an offer. That all their hard work and belief will be rewarded. That an editor and publishing team, who have the expertise and means to champion a novel to the public, see the same potential and talent that you can. And the worst is doing the opposite. Accepting when the manuscript you’ve sent out on submission isn’t going to find the home you were looking for. I also dislike sending rejections. There’s nothing fun or fulfilling about saying no to aspiring authors, but sadly it is a necessary part of the process. And finally, just the lack of time. I always, always, wish for more time to read.
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?
I’m looking for voice. A strong, individual, immediately engaging, voice. Characters that you want to stay with, that you’ll sacrifice a good night’s sleep for. In terms of plots and themes, I like an unusual concept, a gripping ‘what would you do if’ kind of question or dilemma. One of the hardest things, I think, in terms of placing a début novel with a publisher, is it being different enough to what’s already out there. It needs to stand out amongst its competition. Being well written and competent isn’t enough. So, I’m looking for that punchy pitch as well, although of course it’s the talent of the author that brings the narrative to life.
Where do you find your new authors, and how?
In my inbox. In my submissions folder. And I go to events to meet authors, like the Festival of Writing in York, and I’m involved with events held by Writers’ & Artists’, for example, but mostly through reading the submissions.
What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Make sure you’ve had a look at our website and our clients, so that you think we really would be a good match for you, and have a good look at the submission guidelines. Tell us why you’ve picked our agency. Have a clear pitch. Hook us in, think of the agent as a reader. If we were browsing in a bookshop and we picked up your book and turned it over, what would the blurb look like? Identify what genre you’re writing in, and who your readership might be. Really polish those opening chapters, think about where you’ve started your story. Is it relevant to the narrative? Is it full of intrigue? Don’t rush, check and double check your submission is exactly as you want it to be before you press send.
Do you think aspiring romance writers have a better chance of being published if they are planning a series? Are stand-alone novels more likely to be rejected by publishers and agents?
I don’t think so. I think it’s all about the writing, ultimately. The goal is to establish an author and have a clear brand, which can be done with a series or a stand-alone. If you are writing a stand-alone novel though, it’s very helpful to have a second idea, even if it’s only in blurb form, to show that you’re serious about continuing in the genre, and that you’re committed to delivering a brilliant, and suitable, second book.
What benefits do you feel an agent can offer an author?
Ah so many. Editorial support and passion for your writing - because it can be a lonely business. The ability and confidence to negotiate and handle a contract – we can ask the difficult questions and won’t worry about querying a royalty rate or asking for a higher advance – we don’t find it awkward, in fact we like it. Insider knowledge – we might know an editor who has just yesterday told us they’re looking for a manuscript just like yours. And care. It’s your agent who might talk through early ideas with you, who might see the first draft, who you might tell if you’re having trouble meeting a deadline, who you might confide in if you’ve decided that your main character isn’t the person you thought they were. Ultimately, agents offer support in all sorts of ways – they’re part of your team and on your side. It’s a relationship of trust. And it’s not just your primary agent, at the DA agency there’s a rights department who are looking to sell your novel in translation, to the US, in audio, in film and TV, and there’s a finance department who make sure you get your royalties on time and can give you fiscal advice. It’s our job to make sure you get the best deal you can, in as many ways as you can, and that your relationship with your publishers is protected, so that you can concentrate on the writing.
What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Such a difficult question. A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian was my first true ‘romance novel’ love. And you never forget your first true ‘romance novel’ love.
Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
From my ‘just-because’ reading pile, I’ve just read The Complete Maus, a Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. It’s a Holocaust survivor story, which was recommended to me by a friend, and isn’t something I knew about or would have thought to pick up. Maybe ‘enjoyed’ isn’t the right word, but it’s incredible, and haunting, and brutally honest. I also loved Lianne Moriarty’s dark and funny Big Little Lies.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
‘Just-because’ reading. I love seeing my friends and doing all the endless, effortless chatting. And I’m also pretty happy curled up on the sofa, with my cat, burning my way through a box set (the most recent being The Affair.)
If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Gloriously-bookish, demanding, fun.
Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Clare. It was a pleasure getting to know you!
Link to the Darley Anderson Literary Agency: www.darleyanderson.com
Helena Fairfax writes contemporary romance novels. Her latest work, Palace of Deception,
is a romantic suspense novella featuring a princess, her double, and her fit bodyguard. The sequel, The Scottish Diamond, will be released in March.
Helena interviews authors and writes about books and writing on her blog. You can also find her on Twitter, @helenafairfax, and a list of her other books on Amazon
Thank you, Clare and Helena for a most enjoyable interview.
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