Welcome back to Helena Fairfax with another of her popular agent interviews.
I’m delighted to introduce literary agent Eve White, who has very kindly agreed to give up precious time to answer my soul-searching questions. Eve’s answers are thoughtful and in some cases surprising – as you will see!
Thanks for joining us today, Eve.
Please tell us a little about the Eve White Literary Agency, how long it’s been established, and how you came to set it up.
I was a drama director and actor for 25 years and during that time I wrote many plays. I had always
thought that running my own business was something I’d be good at and one day I decided to give it a go. I didn’t tell anyone, I just said to myself, ‘I want a business that I can run from home that has a strong creative element.’ A few weeks later, a friend gave me a manuscript to read. I gave him some editorial suggestions and he asked me to be his agent. Just like that - out of the blue. So that was it! I got started and never looked back. At the time, he was self-publishing the first of a series and I realised that what he really needed was someone to do his sales, marketing and PR. I took the book to the head of sales at Waterstones and got it into the nationwide 3 for 2 promotion. We sold so many copies in the first three months that it wasn’t difficult to get interest from mainstream publishers. My first deal was done after a three-way auction.
I found living off my own wits enormously satisfying. If a bill dropped through the letterbox and I had no means to pay it, I would just say to myself, ‘something will turn up.’ I worked very hard and something did always turn up. After being pushed and pulled around Britain and Europe at the whim of directors and producers, it was wonderful to be in charge of my own life again. And knowing what it was like to have an agent was very useful – I knew what it was like from the other side.
Being a literary agent gets me up every morning. I am still extremely motivated by it 13 years later and have negotiated contracts for 330 books, many of which have been published abroad – some into over 30 territories. Many of these books have been or will be adapted for TV and film.
What do enjoy most about your job? And least?
I really love a bidding war but I think what gives me most joy is calling a debut author and telling them I have had an offer from a publisher.
I have been struggling to come up with something I don’t like. I’ve even consulted my assistant and we still can’t come up with anything.
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 would never ask for specific plots or themes or I’d be seeing them all the time and what I really want is something unique. I say to clients that they should never try to write for the market. I say, ‘Write what you are burning to write, what you cannot resist writing and write it from the heart.’
When reading submissions I try to imagine that I have picked this book off the shelf in Waterstones. As a customer I’d be saying to myself, ‘Is this a story I can get lost in and am intrigued by? Will I find it hard to put down? And, if so, would I push it into the hands of a friend?’ If it makes me laugh or cry, all the better.
Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
We make a point of keeping in touch with as many writing organisations as we can. We get the anthologies from all the creative writing courses and we go to their launch parties.
This is how we found Jane Shemilt, whose debut, Daughter, became the bestselling debut published in the UK in 2014.
Paul Cooper (River of Ink, Bloomsbury Jan 2016) did an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. This is a stunning novel about a poet who is in love with his servant, whom he is teaching to write.
It takes a lot of hard work to develop the skill of novel writing and the more help a writer can get, the better.
What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
We receive 10,000 submissions a year from hopeful writers and invite a small percentage of these to submit full manuscripts. It isn’t worth burning your bridges with agents by sending a very early draft.
Write, rewrite, polish, get editorial feedback from a college or writing group and submit your work to me when it’s the best it can be.
We will then work editorially to help you improve it, so that by the time we submit it to publishers it has the best possible chance of being accepted.
Do you think romance writing has a negative image? If so, why? And what can romance authors do to counteract it?
A new generation of readers is coming along and how they conceive of what is romantic could be quite different. Most female readers now see themselves as stronger and more in control of their lives than the protagonists of traditional romance novels. Readers often need more than the satisfaction of the lead character winning her man; I like to have an element of mystery or some kind of suspense to keep me turning the pages. There is a huge trend for psychological thrillers at the moment and they tend to have very interesting female leads. There seems to be an edginess to what’s popular at the moment.
What benefits do you feel an agent can offer an author?
This is endless but to summarise, I give my clients more time to write by looking after the business side of their careers. I can do better deals than they might be able to do for themselves. More time. More money. And time is money!
What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Pride and Prejudice
Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
Fish Bowl by Bradley Somer – Ebury Press. A brilliant story about the isolation of modern living. One episode had me laughing and crying at the same time.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – Vintage
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – Harper, Perennial. Each page is exquisite; there are sentences you have to read two or three times.
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw – Fourth Estate. Five fascinating and wildly different characters come together in contemporary China.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My job involves a lot of sitting so I squeeze in a cycle ride most days and I try to do yoga once a week. Living in central London allows me to go to a lot of theatre and concerts. I love staying in a place by the cliffs in Norfolk and cooking for friends and family from whatever grows in the garden.
If you could describe your working day in just three words, what would they be?
It was great getting to know you through the RNA blog, Eve. I enjoyed your answers very much. And how lovely to dislike nothing at all in your job! Thank you very much for taking the time to join us.
Helena Fairfax writes contemporary romance novels, and sometimes branches out into romantic suspense when she’s in the mood for danger. Her latest release is The Scottish Diamond, a contemporary romantic suspense novella set in the wonderfully mysterious and romantic city of Edinburgh. The Scottish Diamond is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
Thank you, Helena and Eve for a most interesting interview.
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