'How to find, and work with, a Literary Agent': #2 report from the London Book Fair 2017

26/04/2017

How should you pitch to literary agents so you work gets noticed? And once you have secured an agent, what can you expect from your working relationship? Read our report from the London Book Fair's ‘How to find, and work with, a Literary Agent’ seminar.

The seminar was chaired by Jacq Burns, literary agent for London Writers' Club and on the panel were literary agents, Jemima Forrester of David Higham Associates and Euan Thorneycroft of A.M. Heath, along with author, Claribel Ortega.

“It’s always best to tailor your submission to agents who are looking for the same genres that you write instead of sending your work to many different agents en masse...."

The agents on the panel opened the discussion by advising the audience of the best ways to approach agents and pitch their work. Before submitting any work to an agent, authors should try to make it the best it can be. If the work will need to be edited or developed, or if significant changes are needed it may be a good idea to take a step back from the project for six months to a year and return to it later on.

Jemima Forrester said: “If work is submitted before it is ready, it is likely to be rejected and an agent won’t read it the second time - a writer would not want to risk that happening. Only when you feel your manuscript is in the best possible shape, then the next step would be to research agency websites to find which agent might want to take on the type of book you have written.”

She continued: “It’s always best to tailor your submission to agents who are looking for the same genres that you write instead of sending your work to many different agents en masse. If I receive a submission that is addressed to me instead of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, I am impressed that the writer has taken the time to look me up and see what work I am looking for.”

Euan Thorneycroft, a Senior Agent at A.M. Heath, added: “If you can imagine a large spectrum in the quality of work we receive, 80% of the manuscripts fall somewhere in between excellent and poor quality. This makes it that much more difficult for the agent to choose which manuscripts to take on. It therefore means it is even more important for an author to submit their work when it is the best it can be and make it a bit different so it stands out from all the rest. We don’t have a quota for how many new authors we take on per year. It may be just the one or it could be up to 20 new writers. It all depends on the work that comes in.”


"If your first work isn’t taken on by an agent or published then, with hard work, another one will."

He advised that it is important and helpful to send a manuscript to an agent with a letter summarising the idea of the book on one page. If the writer isn’t able to do that then the manuscript is probably not focused enough, and this may be born out of the writing. He told the audience that if a writer doesn’t hear anything back from him within four weeks of submitting a manuscript then it would be appropriate to chase up with an email. Thorneycroft added that if there is potential in the manuscript then agents may ask a writer to edit the work and resend, but once rejected by the agent it is not appropriate to resend the same manuscript.
 
Claribel Ortega, author of fantasy and fiction novels stated: “If you keep working and perfecting your craft then you will get there. If your first work isn’t taken on by an agent or published then, with hard work, another one will. Submitting your work to agents in batches can help success – pick a small number of agents and use their feedback to develop your work, then submit the new version to the next batch of agents. It is vital to work on yourself as a writer and not focus on just one piece. If you really love writing and work hard to improve then eventually you will become published.”

Euan Thorneycroft told the audience that writers need to have a thick skin when approaching agents and trying to get published - that and lots of energy! He said that even if you get one book published, that doesn’t guarantee a career as an author. Authors need to work on producing a regular stream of content to maintain their career. Social media is a good way for writers to promote their work, but above all the quality of the work is key, and agents are more interested in that, when taking on a new client, than the numbers of Twitter followers they may have.

“The relationship between author and agent has to be a professional one, but the agent has to show interest and care...”

The panel went on to discuss the relationship between writer and agent, with Thorneycroft stating that “agents are like therapists to authors – they champion authors to publishers and challenge publishers to publish their work”.

Thorneycroft highlighted that writers have a more collaborative relationship with their agent than they do with an editor – the author doesn’t have to hold back about anything with an agent. If a writer is unhappy with a book cover for example, they can express this to their agent and the agent can relay it to the publisher. The agent is like a buffer between the writer and publisher.

The seminar audience was keen to know if the agents would be willing to work with self-published authors. Both Forrester and Thorneycroft agreed that they would only be keen to take on self-published authors if they felt they could add something to the relationship. As they take a commission from the work, they would want to feel that they were adding to the success of the author. Ortega commented: “The relationship between author and agent has to be a professional one, but the agent has to show interest and care, otherwise it may be time for the author to re-assess what the agent is doing for them.”

Overall, the seminar provided sound advice for authors on how to approach agents with their work and what collaborating with an agent can be like. A good literary agent, it concluded, can make a writer’s life more successful and rewarding.

Report by Judith Spevock in the communications team at ALCS