New Year Message

Andrew Lownie reflects over the past year and the changing times in the literary business.

There is no denying that it is becoming harder to be published by a mainstream publisher. First-time authors can find it difficult to secure a agent and a publishing deal whilst many publishers are not re-commissioning authors whose previous books have not met expectations. There is some ageism and a preference for authors who are promotable - young, famous, attractive or preferably all three. It is also increasingly difficult in non-fiction to find commercial subjects which have not already been recently covered and editors and booksellers seem prone to trends. "History is out and politics is in," claimed one of my literary agent colleagues last week.

If it is any consolation, I cannot detect such a trend. This year I have sold more books than ever before - seventeen of them history books - but what is certainly happening is that advances are coming down to more accurately reflect the much lower royalties which are being paid on heavily discounted books. In 2003 I sold twenty seven books in the UK with an average advance of £52,592. Last year the total was twenty seven titles again but the average advance had dropped to £31,070. This year I have sold thirty eight books but with an average of £23,914. The American market is also tougher. Last year ten titles were sold to the US with an average advance of just under $40,000. This year there have been four sales averaging $27,500. Total sales in translations were twenty eight in 2003, eighteen in 2004 and fifteen in 2005.

Eleven books this year were first books, a further sixteen sales were to authors who had just joined the agency and only eleven new contracts were for existing authors. This compares to six first books, five books by new authors and sixteen new contracts for existing authors in 2003 and four first books, ten books by authors new to the agency and thirteen contracts for current authors in 2004. I leave you to deduce what trends you can from these figures!

Visitors to the website have dropped slightly during the last few months, possibly because the monthly article did not run, but it remains in the top three UK literary agencies in terms of visitors. If you type 'UK literary agent' or 'UK literary agency' into Google, the site comes up fifth and third . As the sites above are directory rather than agency websites it actually means the website comes out ahead of any other specific UK literary agency. The credit for that goes to Mike Pead and his team who have been incredibly efficient in dealing with updates and my thanks go to them for all their hard work. We will be doing a further revamp of the website over the Christmas holidays to make it more user friendly to both authors and publishers. There will be a separate section for forthcoming titles, an expansion of the section on film options and I will be providing a blog on the daily work of the agency. We would welcome any further suggestions.

The agency receives some five hundred submissions a week, all of which I initially assess , with some dozen passed out each week for further detailed reports of several pages from the agency readers. My thanks go to John Jarrold, Michelle Looknanan, Genna Gifford, David Haviland and David Smith for their excellent and speedy work without which the agency could not operate. My thanks, too, to my foreign sub-agents and, in particular, Camilla Ferrier at the Marsh Agency who has been responsible for most of the translation sales.

Last, but not least, my thanks to all the editors with whom I have dealt this year and to all my authors, all of whom have contributed to the success of the agency and make my job so interesting and fullfilling. Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2006. Andrew Lownie.