Faber Session 26 – Agent & Editor Q&A

I had such a mare of a journey getting to class yesterday, you would not believe it even if I could be bothered to go into the ins and outs. But let’s just say, everything that could go wrong….did! So I ended up being trapped in St Pancras station for a while. Still, it wasn’t all bad…I managed to have my cake fix in Peynton & Byrne 😉

An orange and plum cake that was very nice! Just a shame it didn’t come with a dollop of Mascapone on the side, but anyway, back to class.

I finally made it, having to walk about 2 miles and with drenched feet *sighs* but it was worth the struggle. Today’s guests were Mary Morris, Fiction Editor at Faber & Faber and Claire Conville from Literary Agency Conville & Walsh.

Now, you know me, I took 10 pages of notes, so I’ll just try to give you the gist of it:

Agents have become more proactive in recent years especially with editing.

At Conville & Walsh they have 1 guy who manages the slush pile and goes through all the submissions.

If a MS has a strong voice, everything else about the novel can be fixed.

It’s not unknown for Claire to work with an author for up to 10 drafts of an MS to get it right before submitting to a publisher.

The Agent will come up with the “one sell line” for the publisher. A Tagline for the book that helps with Marketing.

Claire will read 3 chapters only. If she likes it she’ll continue, if she doesn’t, she won’t read on.

When searching for an agent, look in the acknowledgements section of books you think may be a similar genre to your own.

If a writer hasn’t got it by the 4th edit, they probably never will. Agent edit suggestions are meant to inspire and trigger ideas to make the book better.

What works? How do I bag that agent? …..A wonderful MS! A strong title helps.

Have your work professionally edited, and mention that in the cover letter….it shows you’re serious about your novel.

And finally, something that I’d never heard of…..
Mary mentioned “Literary Scouts” so I couldn’t wait to get home and Google it and i found THIS! Literary Scouts let publishers know the gossip on interesting MS’s that are doing the rounds.

Do they have Literary Scouts everywhere, or is it just a London thing?

A very interesting session 🙂

20 Things I Learnt From An Agent

I don’t know about you, but to me, agents are scary lol.

So i was thrilled when i learnt that our June speaker for the writing class (The Write Place) was Agent Jacqueline Burns who looked nothing like Medusa lol. I was relieved to find she was lovely lol. I know I know, they’re normal people too 😉

Soooo, it’ll be no surprise to you that I ended up with 8 pages of notes!!!! 8 pages! I’ve spent the week, going through them, trying to assemble them into something that makes sense, and here’s the result….20 things I learnt from listening to Jacqueline.

1. Get someone to interview you about your book. If they’re asking too many questions, could it be that actually, it’s not working in places? Ask them if there’s anything they want to know more about.

2. Give your book to friends (preferably NON writers) for feedback. Rather than just asking friends and family to read your book, give them each a specific job. Ask 1 to look at the dialogue, another to look at description, 1 to check that your characters are coming across a certain way etc etc.

3. Concept is EVERYTHING! Ok, Romeo & Juliet is a great concept, it’s a love story, but, it’s dramatic. Setting can be your concept, think Hogwarts or The Pyramids. From what I could gather, concept is like your unique selling point. Think Alice Sebolds The Lovely Bones, the whole story told by a dead girl. Experiment, develop a selling point, something that makes your novel stand out from the rest. Concept is the core meaning of your book.

4. Write with an outline. If you don’t, the first draft will be written with your heart, the 2nd with your head. You’ll quite possibly struggle later when it comes to editing.

5. Think about what the strength of your novel is. Is it dialogue? Description? Your characters? If you don’t have a strength, develop one.

6. Reduce your synopsis down to one sentence. Agents sell to publishers. They need your book to have a snappy punch line. Something that will grab them, and the publishers.

7. Question yourself, re-examine everything. Redraft, redraft, redraft and don’t send your MS out to a publisher until, in your mind, it’s as best as it can be. Agents can tell if they receive a first draft and first drafts go immediately to the slush pile.

8. Most first novels have at least 1 extract in them that shouldn’t be there. Most first time novelist’s just throw everything they want to include in their book down on the page. Often there are parts that really, bear no relevance, and are usually based on the writers personal experience. Most agents would rather receive something that is only 70,000 words than 100,000 that includes lots of scenes that don’t belong there.

9. READ! It’s surprising how many writers don’t actually read. Agents can tell.

10. Record yourself talking about your book. Most writers struggle doing a synopsis, and the novel comes across better when they talk about it. Transcribe your recording and use that as your synopsis. The concept should come across in that.

11. Make the agent care. What’s the character going through? What does he/she want? What happens to them along the way? Make sure it stands out who the reader is rooting for. Readers are selfish, they want the nitty gritty.

12. Carry copies of your synopsis to any literary events. Have copies on you at all times when you attend talks and workshops. You never know when an opportunity could arise.

13. Don’t make recommended changes just because blah blah said so. If an agent tells you to change something then resubmit, only do it if you agree. You could end up changing it, resubbing and the agent still doesn’t like it. Remember agents are fickle, with short memories. They’ll forget you and your novel within a week.

14. Take out meaningless drivel. If someone coughs at the beginning of your novel, you better make sure they’re gunna die by the end. Everything has to have a meaning, a reason to be there.

15. Agents are looking to say no. As harsh as it seems, an agent knows on the first page whether they’re interested in your book. Don’t give them reasons to say no.

16. Make sure your start is great! You need to grab them on the first page, if you don’t, your manuscript is doomed. Don’t forget, Agents receive hundreds of manuscripts per week.

17. Embrace social media. All writers should be building up their online presence before publishing a book, plus, it’s good practice to write Blogs.

18. There’s no minimum word count. But, if your MS is finished at 70,000 words ask yourself why? If its because your writing is tight then great. There is a definite move in publishing towards smaller books. People are busy and don’t want huge tomes.

19. Network! Get in front if agents and publishers as much as you can. Build online relationships by following agents blogs.

20. Ok manuscripts are worse than bad ones. Because at least bad ones stand out lol 😉

Well, I found a lot of that very useful. It gave me a lot to think about that’s for sure lol. I know not all of us want to go down the Agent first route, but it seems logical to me. Jacqueline said that if she really likes someone’s novel, their voice, the story, the concept, she is happy to work with them for up to 2 years to get the novel polished and to the point where she is confident she’ll be able to sell it to a publisher.

Personally, I like the idea of having an agent, what do you think?

And if you’re still not convinced that Agents aren’t fire breathing dragons, check out this article by Rachelle Gardner, 13 Things You May Not Know About Agents 🙂