Josephine Hayes, Junior Agent at The Blair Partnership, discusses the job of the agent and how to stand out from the crowd with your submission.
I always knew I wanted to work in publishing, having been an avid reader and book-lover my entire life. My dream was to be an editor of riveting commercial adult fiction. After graduating from university with a fairly open-ended history degree and spending a year in the editorial department of a medical journal I got a job as an assistant in a literary agency and have never looked back.
Agents have very varied workloads. On any one day we may be reading and feeding back on a client’s new book idea, writing pitches for books to submit to publishers, negotiating terms of a client’s publishing agreement, checking royalty statements, attending book launches, and thinking about how to maximise client’s IP potential. A key task is to find brilliant new authors. This can be done proactively by researching current trends and interesting potential non-fiction project ideas. It’s very helpful for a non-fiction author to have some authority already, a profile and/or marketability to support a potential book.
A better-known, but more reactive, method is to scour the unsolicited submissions that are sent to the agency daily. Submissions go into what’s endearingly known as the “slush” pile. Making unsolicited submissions to agencies is what authors have most control over and it is well-worth getting your submission spot on in order to make it stand out from the crowd.
Write something every day, even if you don’t really want to. You can always revise it later.
With fiction the writing is the most important aspect – you need to take time to polish and hone your style, and to show the development of the story and the growth of the characters through action and dialogue, rather than simply telling the story.
Be different – as much as it is good to write about what you know, be unique with your subject matter and/or plot to stay ahead of what publishers think they are looking for.
It is useful to take note of the market by looking at bestseller lists to see what is popular. However, readers’ and publishers’ tastes change in the time it takes to publish a book (it can take up to two years between signing a publishing deal and the book being available to buy). Also, too much writing in one area leads to oversaturation of the market. As it is nearly impossible to guess what will be the genre-of-the-moment in 18-24 months, aim not to follow the trends, but break the moulds instead!
Do your research.
Read everything out there that is similar to the style you want to write in, the topic you are covering, and the age range you intend to write for. Read bestsellers generally to understand what makes people buy them.
Be open to feedback and suggestions.
Before sending to an agency, ask someone objective – not a close friend or family member – to read your work and provide honest feedback. Also, ask yourself:
- Is your book 100% ready? Does it have a clear beginning middle and end?
- Whose story is it?
- What is the issue or problem that needs to be overcome?
- How do the character(s) overcome the issue?
Fully research the agencies you want to approach and make sure they represent your genre of writing. Also:
- Research exactly who at the agency will be most interested in reading your submission and address it to them
- Sell yourself as much as the story idea
- Mention anything that you have had published before
- Reveal all twists and turns of plot in a one-page synopsis
- Make the sample of writing you send as strong and engaging as possible.
The most important thing is to love what you do. When you eventually get that book deal your passion will shine out through your writing, your agent and your publisher.
Josephine Hayes, Junior Agent at The Blair Partnership