CORK WORLD BOOK FESTIVAL: AGENTS PANEL – Saturday, April 23rd 2016
“People with passion can change the world”– Steve Jobs
Hungry ears. A more common phenomenon than you might imagine; when you really want to hear a person speak and your auditory orifices are focused on every word they utter. A glut of writers demonstrated this condition perfectly in Cork’s City library, on a sunny Saturday morning. But why wouldn’t you? At the head of a room was an agent who had made the biggest deal at the 2016 London Book fair (bigger than big), Ireland’s most successful literary talent scout, and a children’s agent with years of editorial experience in the world’s best children’s publishers. This Constant Reader Getting Published event was part of the Cork World Book festival, programmed by Writing.ie and featured Simon Trewin (WME), Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (Writing.ie) and Polly Nolan (The Greenhouse Literary Agency) respectively, henceforth to be known as the Trilogy.
It is always good to be in a library, it reminds you of your purpose as a writer – to make your work become a book. In this house of words, Vanessa chaired a panel that explained the role of an agent in the world of publishing – what exactly they do for the writer. Then the discussion moved on to how to get an agent; from well documented tips to anecdotal what-not-to-dos. All valuable information prescriptively dispensed was furiously scribbled into the notebooks of all the ears assembled. So it’s good to be hungry, to want to know how to take the next step in your career as an author. I think this is my fourth time attending one of these sessions, and on every occasion I pick up something new, or I get reassured that although the industry is a business; agents want the spark of a new voice in writing, at the back of it all they want to be truly excited by a writer.
Of course there is an industrial warehouse of submission tips that are wonderfully explained in the Getting Published section of www.writing.ie, but just in case today is the very first time you have trawled the internet to figure out what to do with your very first shiny new draft, then let me just give you the essentials based on the dearth of The Trilogy’s experience.
- SIT ON IT. Yep. Hide that shiny new creation of yours for at least six months (so says Polly Nolan) Don’t look at it, read it, touch it or edit it. Carry on writing other pieces of course, but do not underestimate the effect of having distance on your work. In that time you will have continued reading and writing, and by returning it will make your ability to edit your work so much more the better. (This was also repeated by ER Murray, Hazel Gaynor, Alana Kirk and Mary Malone in a later Author Panel)
- Don’t trust family or friends – not in general obviously, but when it comes to reading, editing, reviewing or critiquing your work. This is where writing groups and online critique groups (check out www.youwriteon.com) are wonderful, as you benefit from opinions of other people who are similarly committed to writing.
- One submission letter WILL NOT fit all agents. Do your research; find out who the agents work with, what genres they have on their wish list and adhere to the specifics of their submission requirements, RELIGIOUSLY! Simon Trewin likened it to applying for a job; one application letter will not suit all roles. (I could offer gems on submission letters, but this is far more comprehensive, and is by one third of the Trilogy) Also the world of agenting and publishing is quite small, so it is worth noting that agents do talk amongst themselves. DO NOT OFFEND.
And for heaven’s sake spell check and edit your submission letter!
(“Dear Mr. William M Endeavor, I want an agent to manage me…” Don’t we all, love.)
- An agent works WITH you, not for you. It’s essential they share your passion for your work and it is in their interest to sell your work. They only get paid commission on what work of yours they sell, so it is only right that the relationship between an agent and writer is a good fit. What I mean by this is that you must be happy with how your agent offers editorial feedback on submission pieces, and that you can both work together on making your work as good as it can possibly be, and hence develop your career. Therefore, your choice of agent is very important. Meet them before you sign. Respect their experience but make sure you can work with them
As a courtesy to other agents, if you do get an offer of representation, be sure to let all the other agents you submitted to aware. Polly Nolan said that such an email would make her more likely to revisit a submission (but don’t be so naughty as to pretend that another agent was interested just to get Polly’s attention – see point 3 on agents talking amongst themselves.)
- The role of the agent is changing – Polly Nolan, previously an editorial director at Scholastic and associate publishing director of fiction at Macmillan, remarked on the obvious pitching and editorial side of being an agent, but she found at the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair that there was a far greater amount of “Hollywood interest” in books. Producers from film companies were looking for established series and standalone books that had film/animation potential. Once a book has a publisher’s interest, the agent receives an offer and that can be accepted or rejected based on what terms are involved. This can include the rights for a piece; not only as a published work, but on multiple platforms, media and products.
- TRENDS ARE DANGEROUS! Not in a lethal way, but they are detrimental to your writing style. You have to write your own story, and cannot think that this year’s best sellers on post-apocalyptic survival is what you should also be writing. Publishing is lengthy and time consuming, and in reality it can take a minimum of two years to get a book written and published – once an offer has been made – so why write to a trend? It’ll be dead and gone before you have finished… far better to have your own original piece that you can stand over with one hundred percent personal accountability.
The overriding message from the Trilogy was one of positivity and encouragement. They are so utterly passionate about finding new talent, a story that sparks. Simon Trewin said that it was his favourite part of his job – the variety that comes from working with new original creatives in their chosen field; it means that no day is ever the same for him. The discussions continued amongst the audience after the agents had left. Ears full of advice, heads full of ideas and the hope that their story will be the one that makes an agent’s day.
At lunchtime, I saw some of the departing audience looking at books that decorated the walls as they left the library, and it made me wonder whose passion would end up on these shelves next.
© Olivia Hope