Today we hear from a literary agent in the form of Owen.
Welcome and thank you for joining us and sharing your knowledge.
Please tell us about yourself
I am a literary agent with a keen interest in helping first time authors and I don't mind being a bit of a mentor when needed.
I am also a keen naturalist, anthropologist (my training to PhD level) and wildlife photographer. I like to read good books.
How did you become a literary agent?
I worked for an established literary agency as editor then manager for several years and gained the knowledge and confidence to start my own agency based on my experiences there. Luckily I quickly picked up a range of authors who wanted representation and I managed to get some of these contracts quite quickly which is a confidence booster. I never forget that each author's book is their baby and it matters to them immensely. It is also important to work well with publishers you can trust and build a rapport with.
How has the industry changed in recent years?
It has become increasingly difficult to place first time authors. Very few publishers of merit will consider a first time author or even a second time author who has sold many thousands of copies of their first book. This is very frustrating and reflects the extreme caution among publishers. The risk of getting it wrong seems to hang over them like a shroud. Getting decent advances for authors is also very difficult. The job of an agent living off royalties is increasingly difficult and diversification is a must now.
Moving into sectors like writers' retreats and ghost writing are options. However, an agency remains busy whether there are lots of advances being made or not. So time is always limited. In the past it was relatively easy to meet publishers for lunch or coffee but almost everything is done by email and phone now. This makes it hard to sell some books that really need to be seen to be believed!
You are also an author, do you think that has helped?
Yes, it helps immensely because I understand the pain that an author feels when they are rejected or when they simply hear nothing. I care. Even if I cannot get a book publisher for an author.
I can always be reached by telephone or email and that seems to help. I describe myself as an agent and friend.
What advice would you give to an author seeking representation?
I would advise any author to think carefully before submitting work. Agencies and publishers are busy and a good idea may be turned away because it needs too much editing or because it has been badly structured. It is also best to listen to the advice of an editor/agent/publisher when they reply. I will always pass work on for assessment before it gets to a publisher. My reputation as an agent depends on me supplying work of a certain standard to publishers. When authors argue that their work does not need editing or that they have had it edited "by a friend" already, this is not what I want to hear.
A quick assessment of any manuscript will show me whether it fits into my framework for submission to a publisher. If it needs work then that decision should not be argued with as it may mean we reject an author as being too much effort for the possible return they will bring, or their work will not be good enough to submit to a publisher. Ultimately my reputation as an agent depends on well structured and clean manuscripts being sent out.
Are you taking on authors at the moment?
Very few now but authors are always welcome to contact me through my website.
If someone says, "I want to write a book." What would be your reply?
I hear this quite often and I am excited that people want to write. I ask them how far they have got with the book and often find they have nothing more than a vague idea. Sometimes the author is typing paragraphs of their book on an iphone while working in a busy fish and chip shop. Though this shows passion it does not neccessarily mean the book will be good. Ideally a book needs to be planned carefully and before submission to an agent it will need an author biography, a synopsis, contents list and at least three chapters.
I welcome enquiries from authors and will always reply as quickly as possible. For links to publishers, illustrators (especially for children's books) and a brilliant editor please go to my website www.lc-agency.org.uk
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