Reflections on the London Author Fair – part 2

In this second part of my write up of events at the London Author Fair in February (see part 1 here) I cover what happened when a panel of agents were quizzed by Porter Anderson.

Seminar – Agents of Change: the Evolution of the Literary Agent

Chair: Porter Anderson, Speakers: Oli Munson (AM Heath), Andrew Lownie, Hellie Ogden (Janklow & Nesbit), Gordon Wise (Curtis Brown)

The panel each spoke for a few moments about how they currently perceive the role of the literary agent before the discussion broadened out. I”ve summarised the position of each here:

Hellie Ogden said she sees an agent as the buffer between art and industry but their developing role means they need to complement what self-publishing authors do and work in a savvy way. She sees her role as to build a team around the author”s career.

Andrew Lownie has seen no change in the number of daily submissions he gets in recent years (non-fiction) and will look at an author”s authority and presence to gauge what interest there may be in a book. His company have set up Thistle Publishing, their own publishing company, to mop up rights that aren”t yet sold. This can get a book established before other rights are sold ? similar to self-publishing, but with the addition of their experience. He agrees that authors want flexibility and speed and to not give away too many rights when there”s uncertainty how these may be exploited in future. However, he thinks big publishers will stick to the dead-cert books and, in the future, 75% of books will be self-published. However, the easiest book for an author to sell is their first as after that they have a track record, so he advised authors who ultimately want a traditional deal that it will be hard to move across without huge success.

Oli Munson sees an agent as someone who manages careers and expectations. He says that self-publishing of backlist titles is a valid route to ensure authors are exploiting all opportunities. He advises authors to consider why they”re self-publishing, what is their motivation?

Gordon Wise sees self-publishing as similar to a post-graduate course for writers, but getting readers to engage is the hard bit. However, an author may be more appealing to a publisher (for a shot at reaching that audience) if their “rough edges” have already been knocked off by having published and had feedback themselves. He may advise a client to self-publish if the situation suits. As an agent he brings experience into the mix. Unfortunately, when reading submissions, he can”t give individual consultancy responses ? his job is to look after existing clients and sell their books. He advises authors to look at other feedback channels eg Wattpad before submitting. AL countered this by saying literary consultancies/manuscript appraisals may be better than the online “Trip Advisor” approach.

When asked, HO said agents do take MA qualifications seriously as an indication the author is committed to a career and developing their work. However, GW said that while courses do develop online casino an author”s work, not all of it will be saleable and, while an author should polish their work before submission, they should also expect there will be editorial revisions at every stage.

When asked what an author should include in their submission, GW asked for evidence of what you love doing, AL said the author should know their position in the market eg “the new Le Carre”, OM said “have a platform” such as social media, networking, and know your position ? what the book is comparable to. Porter Anderson asked if this was about authors having a sales handle. AL said yes, which could be regional eg Ian Rankin with a world built around the books, HO agreed that she would look to maximise revenue across platforms, OM said authors need to be flexible, nimble and crafty to recognise new opportunities and GW has helped a debut author to self-publish using his experience of which readers to reach and managing his exposure.

With regard to how the process of submission works, the panel seemed agreed that it was out-dated. GW said that the submission package of 3 chapters synopsis was set up in the days of post. Now it would make sense to receive the whole digital file electronically. AL agreed,saying no one works on print any more, everything is electronic. (KDS note ? however, submission guidelines are still based on the old model and authors are advised to follow them.)

Part 3 of my reflections will be posted soon and features what authors had to say.