Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent, Laura Longrigg

Happy New Year! A new year and a new interview with a publishing industry expert. This month, Helena Fairfax meets Laura Longrigg of the MBA Literary Agency.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Laura!

Please tell us a little about the MBA Literary Agency and how you came to be a part of it.

MBA has been an agency for book authors and tv/film writers for over 40 years.  We’re a small team that has worked together for many years, six agents and support staff and we are based in an elegant house in London’s Fitzrovia.  Recent highlights include the publication of award-winning author Stef Penney’s new novel,  controversial footballer Joey Barton’s bestselling autobiography and Bafta winner Robert Jones’ TV series, Murder. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? And least?
I enjoy finding new writing and I enjoy making deals – not very original but always a thrill when my instincts are right that a new author is very special indeed – for instance Sue Wilsher who has a two-book deal with Sphere for her 50s set, Essex-based sagas.
I least enjoy rejections, and having to tell authors about them.  I feel very unhappy when an editor, who has expressed great enthusiasm for a book and really gets it and wants to work with an author, is then not supported by her colleagues and allowed to offer. 

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?
Our policy is to ask for a sample of three chapters and a one page synopsis  of a completed novel.  If I like these, I ask to see the whole book.  I look for good writing and plotting, fully formed characters who develop in appealing and authentic ways, convincing POV (either third or first person) narratives, and above all I need to be surprised and emotionally engaged.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Do your homework about the agent/agency you are submitting to – what do they specialise in, which of their authors do you admire?  Take care to write as ‘selling’ blurb of your work as you can (a memorable one-sentence pitch is a great bonus), and don’t be shy about any literary or relevant professional or personal successes, like short story prizes, published journalism, and number of followers on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

Have you seen any trends in genre fiction in the past few years, and – the million-dollar question! – what do you think will be the Next Big Thing?
I wish I knew, of course!  I have found more publishers buying up saga writers, and there seems to be more interest in ‘straight’ historical novels too.  You might think that the psychological thriller market is saturated (especially with titles including ‘girl’) but an original take would still attract a lot of interest, in the US too, especially if it included elements of horror, gothic, also something surreal or supernatural. 

What benefits do you feel an agent can offer an author?
Most publishers won’t actually consider authors unless they come via agents nowadays.   In the early days, we provide crucial editorial input to prepare material for submission, and we also know the right editors to send new work to.  It’s hard for authors to have conversations with editors about things they are unhappy about – like their title, edit or cover image – an agent can make a tactful but firm stand.  It’s also very hard for most authors to negotiate financial and other crucial contractual terms with their editors – whereas it’s an agent’s job to get the best deal they can for their clients. We also work closely with our film/tv agent colleagues, who are constantly pitching our books and authors to production companies, here and in the US, and have a dedicated foreign rights manager. 

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Pride and Prejudice or Middlemarch – not an obvious romance but with an incredible love affair at its heart, I think. 

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
A wonderful short novel, by a Chinese writer, set during the Cultural Revolution, about the power of language and love, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Play and sing music, spend time with my family, read! 

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

Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers, Laura. It's been a pleasure getting to know you, and I really enjoyed your answers. (And if anyone out there writes a gothic psychological thriller, please let me know. I'd love to read it!)
If you've enjoyed Laura's interview, or have any questions at all, please let us know in the comments.

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 romantic suspense called A Year of Light and Shadows, available on Amazon in ebook and print, and from other e-book retailers.

Thank you, Helena and Laura for a most interesting interview.

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Anonymous said...

Lovely interview Laura! Thanks for explaining the role of a literary agent. As someone new to this the publishing process, it was really great to get your perspective! Also adding Dai Sijie’s novel to my reading list – thanks for recommending!

Beth Elliott said...

Thank you for so much clear, practical advice for a writer. All simple, all true and it must be wonderful when a story arrives and you sense it has that vital something.

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