Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent, Amanda Preston

It's time for another of Helena Fairfax's agent interviews, and today we're absolutely delighted to welcome Amanda Preston of the LBA Literary Agency.

Thanks very much for stepping into the spotlight, Amanda, and for taking the time out from your busy job to join us.

Please tell us a little about the LBA Literary Agency and how you came to be a part of it.
I set up LBA in 2005 with Luigi Bonomi and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!   Before that, we’d both been at another agency for just over 8 years.  While LBA is one of the smaller literary agencies, we definitely punch above our weight and have a wide variety of best-selling and prize-winning authors and journalists on our list. 

What do enjoy most about your job? And least?
That’s a tough one to answer as there are so many parts of the job that I love.  I love reading and discovering new authors; I love helping existing authors get to the next level; I love negotiating and I love brain-storming ideas with my authors.  What I don’t love is when an author doesn’t get the publishing experience that they deserve.  While we, as agents, do everything in our power to prevent that from happening, sometimes it does happen and when it does, it’s very disappointing. 

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 want to be hooked from the start and I need to be able to identify with the novel.  Whether it’s through a character, a plot line, or a setting, I need to be completely connected and immersed in the book’s world. And once I’ve finished reading the whole novel, if the characters / plot / writing still stay with me and won’t let go, then I know it’s definitely something for me. 

What advice would you give someone submitting to you? And what do you look at first when you receive a manuscript - query letter, first chapter, synopsis?
Do research who to approach: There is a comprehensive list of agencies in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, lots of information on the internet and you can also check acknowledgments page of the authors you like to see if they have mentioned their agent. 

Do write the book:  I know this might sound obvious but before approaching agents, aim to have a complete draft of your novel. (Non-fiction is slightly different: you need to have a detailed overview, chapter breakdown and sample chapters of the book).  

I look at the query letter first so do make sure it’s as polished as possible. This is your chance to pitch your book so use it wisely. 

·         The first paragraph should be on what the novel is about (including the word count). This paragraph should immediately give the agent a clear impression of your setting, your character and the conflict / plot premise - just like the blurb on the back of a book.

·         The second paragraph should be on yourself and remember to include anything that is relevant to what you’ve written and to you as an author.  For example if you have completed a well-recognised creative writing course, then say so.  If you are a professional writer in any other capacity i.e journalist, tv, radio etc then say so.  If you’ve won any writing competitions or belong to any writing groups, then say so.    If you are writing a crime novel and you have a background in policing or forensic psychology etc, then say so.  If none of the above applies to you, then focus on the authors / books you love to read. For example, if you have written a historical romance, mention other writers in this genre as this shows the agent that you know your competition / market  and that you read in this genre (there is nothing more off-putting than an aspiring author saying they’ve written a novel in a particular genre but have never actually read any books in that genre).  The publishing industry is all about selling so you need to sell your book to the agent…

·         You’ve already researched the agencies you are approaching so mention some of their authors who are similar to you i.e if you are writing a saga, mention the saga writers on their list.  Show the agent that you’ve done the research. 

·         DO say if you’ve been referred.  For an example, if an author advises you to try their own agent and says, "mention my name," then by all means do so.

·         DO NOT lie about being referred because we will know!

·         DO NOT go into detailed personal history about yourself, your pets, your relationships.  Listing every name of every pet you’ve ever had does not add anything to your submission, rather the opposite.  

·         DO NOT criticise any other authors (one of them might be represented by the agent!).

·         DO NOT be over familiar in your letter or brag about how many books you are going to sell etc! 

·         Finally, focus on only one book in your submission letter. You'll dilute the impact of your submission if you get lost in a long explanation of the eight other books you're currently writing or planning to write.

Do you think these days 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?
Not necessarily but I do think that publishers need to know what aspiring romance writers are writing next and if it is in the same genre to what they’ve just written.  For example, if an author is trying to get a historical romance published and their second book is a science fiction novel, that makes it a much tougher sell! 

Ever since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, book titles containing the word “girl” have been immensely popular. Have you noticed any other recent publishing trends and (the million dollar question!) what do you think will be the Next Big Thing?
Words that are easily identifiable and descriptive in a title always work – so in the psychological suspense genre along  with ‘girl’ we have ‘mother’ ‘husband’ ‘wife’ ‘sister’ used again and again and the reader straightaway knows it’s a story about a girl, a mother, a husband, a wife etc.   Or if you look at this year’s Christmas romances, apart from the seasonal references there are a lot of cosy cafes or little teashops , bakeries etc - again the reader can easily identify the setting of the novel.  As to the Next Big Thing, I wish I knew (!) but I do hope there’s romance at the heart of it.

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Ooooh, while Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of my favourites, I think my favourite childhood romance is Anne of Green Gables.  Not only is Gilbert Blythe incredibly handsome, he also has a great sense of humour and would get all of my jokes.  I don’t think Darcy would quite get my humour… 

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
I loved The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood - I couldn’t stop thinking about it once I’d finished. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spending time with my family, discovering something new, reading and hanging out with my colleagues at Nashville concerts! 

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Fulfilling, busy and creative.

Thanks for joining us, Amanda. I'm totally with you on Gilbert Blythe :) And thank you so much for your thoughtful responses, in particular on how to submit. This is exactly the sort of useful advice many of us are looking for.

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

helena fairfax

About Helena:

Helena Fairfax's engaging contemporary romances have been shortlisted for The Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her latest release is a boxed set of romantic suspense novellas called A Year of Light and Shadows, now available on Amazon and from other e-book retailers.

Thank you, Helena and Amanda for a most interesting interview. The RNA blog is brought to you by,

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

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