Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Notes on finding and using a literary agent

Creative Writing Group 23 April 2010

VisitingSpeaker: June Baker

Notes:
June used to work for the Literary Agency now known as Pollingers Ltd, a well known and respected agency in the literary world. The company was started by Gerald Pollinger in the 1930s and has been a family business through three generations.
The founder’s granddaughter, Lesley is now the Children’s Editor. June told several short anecdotes to illustrate how the firm had been such a delightful place to work, where the staff were treated like members of the family.

As well as living authors the firm does have quite an impressive list of ‘estates’ including H E Bates, D H Lawrence and John Wyndham.

Pollingers do attend Book Fairs, to promote the work of their authors, including book fairs abroad. The Book Fairs are attended by all publishers and fellow agents, who have stands or tables depending on the size of the publisher or agency.

As well as the children’s agent there are also agents for Fiction and Non-fiction. Then there are the departments that look after Rights, including Film Rights, and Accounts etc. They also handle plays and film-scripts.

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An agent is essential to a new author as unsolicited works sent directly to publishers are unlikely to be read.
An agent will probably pass the work to a reader but if they give a positive report, and if the agent subsequently likes your work, s/he sends it to a publisher and coming from a reputable agent it will be read. It is the publisher who has the final say as to whether a book is accepted for publication but the agent acts, on behalf of the author, passing information back, negotiating, particularly if more than one publisher is interested, offering editorial advice and generally promoting the author. For this they take a percentage on the book sales, which means, obviously that they are only going to accept books which they believe have a genuine likelihood of making money. The agent will if necessary recommend an illustrator and assist with negotiations with them.
It is the publisher that arranges book signings.
June recommends that initially you should send a short synopsis of the story (one or two sides maximum of A4) three sample chapters (use common sense if chapters are unusually short or unusually long) and your CV.
For non –fiction send a 1,000 word synopsis and explain the intended market, approach and style.
All work should be printed in black, double spaced written on one side only of A4 white paper. Always send a stamped addressed envelope and always keep a copy of your work.
Remember that agents receive large numbers of unsolicited scripts and it can take up to two months to get feedback.

June recommends ‘The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook’ as a good starting point for finding an agent, unless you can get an actual recommendation. Look for agencies that publish the type of work you want to offer.

For writers of children’s books: ‘Writing for Children’ by Lesley Hadcroft and Alan F Jones.

Many thanks to June for her time and for a very interesting and informative talk.

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