A Week in the Life of Literary Agency
1 Jan 2006
I am often asked what the work of a literary agent involves. Every agency and every week is different but here is a snapshot of one recent week.
The e-mail record does not include the junk mail received nor does it include all the phone calls or the correspondence – much of which has to remain confidential.
Given I work alone and the time also involved in reading scripts and meetings, I hope it will explain why rejection of unsolicited material has to be brief and give some insight into the work of one particular agency.MONDAY
E mails received 124
E mails sent 69
9.0 Even though I worked late last night, there are already 46 e mail messages. Apart from the usual offers to help transfer monies from Nigeria, of Viagra and several headed ‘Beloved One' messages include the daily briefing of Publishing News with Book Trade News (it's important to keep abreast with what's happening so apart from trade journals such as Publishing News, Bookseller, Publishers Weekly I subscribe to daily e mail briefings such as Publishers Lunch), a publisher turning down a book because it “didn't grab” them, an update from an author on publicity he has been generating himself, the memoirs of an anorexic, a play and a pre-WW2 South African spy thriller.
10.00 Post arrives including a letter addressed to ‘Andrew Mooney, Litter Agent'. I should keep a file of incorrectly addressed letters. Even my bank cheque book was once printed as ‘The Andrew Lownie Literacy Agency Ltd'. Other items include a Russian signature advance, a Large Print edition of a thriller and the German edition of an anthropology book to forward to the author, the memoirs of a policeman, a form for next year's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, a collection of stories set in South Africa, some audio contracts, a subscription renewal for the Literary Review, a statement for money wired from a US sub agent and a ‘re-worked' proposal from an author which has hardly been touched.
10.30-12.30 Author to discuss his book proposal. Different reports have been commissioned and I have reread his last version to prepare me for the meeting.
1.0 Lunch with an editor whom I have not met before. I find it easier to sell over lunch though sometimes the enthusiasm one has generated has waned by the time the editor raises the project at the next editorial meeting which is why good proposals are important. She asks to see several projects which I hadn't realised would be of interest and I e mail them on my return from lunch. I also arrange a bank transfer for the Russian signature advance, request a bank draft and type up a statement.
3.00 Put royalty statements for last month or so in order ready to be double checked by my royalty expert. Hazel Hill . Though I have checked them quickly on arrival (generally at the beginning of April and October though different publishers have different accounting periods so they come in right through the year), copied them and sent one set with monies due they will now be carefully checked against the original contract. I'm also sending Hazel some signed contracts which she will enter onto a separate contracts sheet put into a file in alphabetical order of author for easy reference. When the signed contracts return they will be put into a box file by year. I will also enter up details of the contracts alphabetically by author for each year on my computer to give me an idea of the contracts made each year, with whom and for how much.
4.00 Arrange a US copyright registration for a book for which film rights have been sold and which doesn't seem to have been done by either the US or UK publisher. A complication is that the UK publisher, who no longer publishes the author, sold US rights and neither publisher wants to become involved in the registration process which involves sending books and money to the Library of Congress.
4.30 Send out some pictures for a submitted proposal as a gentle reminder to the publisher, invoice for a publication advance and pitch a number of authors to a hotel group for their speaker programme.
5.00 An author rings distressed that a picture he has spent a great deal of trouble obtaining has been dropped from a book because it is regarded as too gory. Ring the junior editor and persuade them to use it.
6.30 Post various letters and parcels.
9.00-11.00 Read a delivered manuscript on screen, make a few calls to US and deal with latest e mails.TUESDAY
E mails received 229
E mails sent 182
9.00 E mails include a student travel memoir and a ‘non fiction novel' based on the experience of sailing a boat off Florida. As it's clearly a standard e mail submission showing it going to a dozen agents and not even personalised to me, I ignore it.
10.00 Post arrives. Submission letter offering a novel addressed Dear Sir and with no SAE, e mail or phone number. It goes straight in bin together with another one addressed to a Mr Brown.
10.30 Meeting with author, with whom I worked when I was with a publisher over twenty years ago, to discuss her new book. She hasn't published for many years and has switched publisher and agent several times. Though her previous books were successful, they have been allowed to go out of print and I know editors will wonder why she has moved publishers and agents so many times. Sometimes there are good reasons for changing publishers and agents (editors moving, imprints changing their focus, agents retiring) but it can often mean the author is ‘difficult'. The author is charming but says she is too busy for the moment to expand the proposal in the way I think the market now requires.
11.30 Special Delivery. Proposal for book on ‘Democracy' arrives tightly wrapped and with copyright symbols over it as if I'd steal the idea.
I e mail about a hundred US editors with a single page highlighting some dozen books I currently have out on submission and encouraging them to look at the website.
Lunch at home.
More E mail submissions include a comic thriller set in Africa with a glamorous rich black heroine , a biography “with fictional names to protect privacy” , a psychological thriller, a literary thriller and a ‘pastoral thriller' whatever that is. Even though I'm a non-fiction specialist, I still receive a lot of fiction. An author e mails to say filming for a programme in which he appears seems to have gone well. A request from Derbyshire Libraries for a crime author to come and speak to them. No fee or expenses offered and I leave it to the author, who lives two hundred miles away, to decide if he wants to go.
Sort out a Korean contract which I've sold through a Korean subagent. Several clauses which I regard as standard are not included so cut and paste from another contract and send for approval. An enquiry from Spanish publisher in Joyce Cary which I forward to Camilla Ferrier, my rights person at the Marsh Agency.
Tape has arrived for musical based on a novel I represent. Location has been moved from London to New York and I find the music a bit discordant but pass to author for approval. Checking contract to ensure that we only licence limited rights for musical and no other dramatic rights.
Two proposals from an author. His regular publishers in US and UK haven't liked his previous two ideas and we're trying to find something which works on both sides of the Atlantic and at the same six-figure level. It may be we have to concentrate on one market or move publisher.
An editor e mails to say he been made redundant. I mention I've heard there might be a vacancy at other publishing house where the editor has left to become an agent.
5.00 Deadline for a proposal submission. I normally give a month to allow the proposal to work its way through the various required publishing meetings. We have one offer, several rejections, one editor who hasn't had time to look at it but promises a ‘quick' decision and two with whom I leave messages on their ansaphones. Morally feel I need to respond to the editor who has offered but it would be nice to have a bit of competition to push them up.
6.30 Parties like buses seem to come in threes. First stop post box then a book launch for an intelligence book by one of my authors. After 40 minutes take a taxi to a friend's launch party. He has promised to introduce me to well-known author who wants to change agent. We meet and agree to talk further. Then to a Channel 4 Awards ceremony where one of my books has been short-listed for award. A few tables at the front for the benefit of the cameras , the rest of us stand at the back making do with mini pizzas and potato skins. I see an editor who has previously published the well-known author I have just met and get the low down on her.WEDNESDAY
E mails received 163
E mails sent 77
9.00 E mails include a picture of a new author for the website, a thriller suggesting Bush and Cheney were behind 9/11 and another recounting the adventures of a US Treasury official combating economic sabotage, some responses from US editors asking to see various books on submission, a ‘misery memoir' by a young mother abused as a child who has tried to commit suicide several times, a turn down from editor who likes a particular biography but cannot secure support from her sales colleagues , an editor explaining a signature advance has missed this week's cheque run but will go out next week, a draft option agreement for a tv docu-drama which I've forwarded to my film expert Stephen Aucutt to check, a proposal for a medieval history book by a young academic but which needs to be made more accessible to the general reader and I make some suggestions and interest in a book from a Turkish publisher which I've forwarded to Camilla . Check the Marsh Agency website and realise I have not alerted them to some recent reviews and deals so now do so.
Lunch. with the editor of one of the two principal trade magazines is cancelled because the head of a major publishing house has just resigned. Sandwich at home.
1.30 Go through e mails. Polish offer for a history book from my subagent which we accept. Reader's report on an anthology I think might work for the gift/Valentine market. Forward to author suggesting she work with a professional editor to reshape it. Enquiry about publication date for book from reader. Even though information is on the website under ‘forthcoming titles', such information, which is of particular interest to people booking speakers, is often missed and will be repositioned in website revamp.
Have been putting several authors onto cruise ships as guest lecturers and pitch a few more.
No response from three outstanding editors on proposal deadline so, after talking to author, accept our single offer. She's happy and it's a reasonable publisher.
Read various proposals online then do post at 6.30.
8.00 Dinner party for visiting American publisher with whom I've become friends. Have invited some authors, who may be of interest to him, together with an editor and his wife.THURSDAY
E mails received 138
E mails sent 77
Collaboration contract from a US agency to check. It's fine but they say in eight pages what mine says in one and in my view much more clearly. Report from one of my readers which I forward to author. Rejection from author's regular publisher saying popular science is increasingly difficult for them. A bit of a blow so strategy changed to find a US publisher first as market for popular market stronger there.
Other submissions include a memoir covering the author's “depression; neurotic thumbsucking; uncontrollable, teeth-grinding Range (sic); sexual-dysfunction and obsessive masturbation” which is also about his “ great grandfather, the first Indonesian on his island to own a Harley Davidson” and a book on tracing ancestors. Latter is well-written and could be commercial, given current tv interest, but difficult to see its Unique Selling Point. I look at Amazon to check out competition and see how the book can be differentiated and then e mail author who agrees to revise it.
12.00 Meeting at film company in Fulham to go through list followed by lunch with the film scout. They've asked to see lots of proposals and books but I'm not convinced they will actually want to develop anything.
3.00 Have rushed back for meeting with author passing through London. He doesn't turn up.
A $10,000 offer comes in from a major US publisher. The book has been rejected by over twenty publishers and my feeling is that this modest offer might kickstart the author's career in the US. I push them to $18,000 but he turns it down as too low. Sometimes I wish I was paid by the hour.
Rest of afternoon spent catching up on post and reading proposals and delivered manuscripts. Return to office after dinner to continue.FRIDAY
E mails received 159
E mails sent 59
9.00 Offer of a kakuro book linked into a prize. I'm worried that any publisher who wants a kakuro book will already have one commissioned if not published. E mail likely publishers who don't seem to have one yet and discover my instincts are right. Booking enquiry for David Hasselhoff which I forward.
10.00 - 4.30 Most of day spent touring publishers with an author. I've managed to arrange two meetings in morning, a lunch and two meetings in afternoon partly because not everyone wanted to see her and partly because one has to allow an hour per meeting and up to an hour's travelling time. It's time-consuming but always interesting as one has a time to properly talk to the author and the responses from the publishers are often enlightening. Some have arranged a full line up of sales, publicity and rights and are full of questions and ideas about how they intend to sell the book, others are more low key and the meeting is just with the editor.
4.30-6.30. Catch up on e mails and post.SATURDAY
E mails received 31
E mails sent 18
Pop into office briefly just to check e mails and go through post. Read a manuscript at home.SUNDAY
E mails received 46
E mails sent 14
Check e mails. Author keen to ghost books in a series of wartime ‘Forgotten Voices' and pitch by e mail to publisher ready for tomorrow and a new week .