Another Week in the Life of a Literary Agent

My January article covering some of my activities during an average week attracted a great deal of interest . I’ve been asked to provide another ‘snapshot’ of a week which I am happy to do.

MONDAY

E mails received 90
E mails sent 100

Submissions this morning include an account of an American couple’s year in London (I think it insufficiently lyrical), a sci fi novel, a ‘bleak chick lit’ novel from a Portuguese woman living in Germany, a memoir from California ‘American Fugitive in Mexico’, a mystery novel set in New York in the late sixties, the memoirs of a dentist and a book which “recently exhibited at the ‘London Book Fare (sic)”.


An e mail from a film company with “a series propsel(sic) for a book – a film – and a stage show” claiming it has “letters from Buckingham Palace – giving Royal approval”. Also the news I’ve won £2,000,000 on The British National Lottery and an offer from “the personal treasurer to Mr. Mikhail Khodorkovsky for your partnership in re-profiling funds over USD$23.5Million”


Alert Scottish publisher, with whom I do a lot of business, to a programme of literary lunches in Edinburgh. I’ve already sent organisers details of a dozen of my authors who might make suitable speakers.


The freelance publicist I use has secured a slot on a radio programme for an unpublished author whose memoir has been rejected by over twenty publishers. This with an upcoming interview in the Daily Mail should help attract some publishing interest to her story, though we may have sacrificed serial.


Request for approval from excellent rights person at Little Brown, Andy Hine, for Australian serial rights offer in a forthcoming Little Brown book which I represent. She has pushed The Australian to £350 but its value is the publicity and extra sales.


Pitch idea for new book by one of their authors to Sutton. They already have a book under commission. Back to the drawing board.


Packager wants to meet author to discuss book idea. Advise author we need some idea of likely offer before he spends time on it. He tells me the minimum he needs (it’s still low for work involved) and explain that to packager who say far more than they can pay.


TV proposal from author based on his book which comes out shortly. Send to producer I met at a launch party last week who I know will love it.


Editor made redundant has asked for meeting to discuss ‘ways in which we could work together’. Offer him some reading and editing/ghosting.


Lunch with a journalist on a Sunday magazine supplement who is interested in several authors who might write reportage for her. She pays more than some publishers pay for a book.


Meeting with prospective author and ghost I have lined up. We agree on what needs to be done on her memoir.


Rest of day and evening spent catching up on reading. Several finished manuscripts have come in.


TUESDAY

E mails received 92
E mails sent 63

‘Novel’ from Estonia “450,000 words in length and is the first book ever written only in numbers. There is a story hidden behind the numbers for everyone to discover. The book can be interpreted differently by every person in millions of ways…It is a book that maybe few will ever read from cover to cover but it is a book that will be in every home as a symbol…The book can be sold in every country without any modifications (translation not needed)…” In our world of emperor’s clothes it might just work.


Memoir on PTSD which looks interesting but the author e mailing me every few hours with various reflections is making me reconsider.


E mail submission “I want to start writing straight away so if you could e mail me with some tips and advice. The thing is I can’t decide what I want to write about.” Another which asks “Why? I thought is there such arrogance, such elitism about people such as yourselves in the industry you are in…..Surely it seems worth shifting through a lot of rocks to find a lucrative diamond.” The book? “…a saga written from 12 points of view…it involves religious intrigue that is very Un-Dan Brown…a children’s book with adult appeal.”


Other submissions include a book on Elvis Presley’s first guitar, memoirs of a single dad, some poetry, a ‘narrative non-fiction novel’ set in a Tokyo hostess club, a novel set in Miami Beach(“All you need to do is slap a lurid day-glo cover featuring palm trees and an inadequate swimsuit on it and get out of the way. “), a collection of cartoons, an illustrated book on Kenya, a fictionalised family history, a doctorial dissertation on the history of Saudi Arabia, a pilot for a sitcom, a novel I’ve already rejected and the memoirs of a former Miss World.


Request from US editor for UK sales figures of a book he publishes next year
Chase US publisher for subscription figures and reviews for a book he has just published.


Film producer who has previously optioned a book for film, which then lapsed, is keen to option now for tv. She wants sales figures so I go back through royalty statements with my calculator. Maybe the several hundred pounds sub to Book Scan would be worth it.


Pass on some internal reports, including one from my teenage goddaughter, to one of my teenage fiction writers and a review of his latest book to one of my biographers.


Amnesty request picture of an author to use in a web campaign.


Put author writing a new synopsis on to a comparable book which has subbed 385,000 copies. Clearly a good model.


Lunch with film producer who has optioned two of my authors and who is riding high as the producer of Flight 93. I raise several books which may be of interest to him.


Joanna Lumley rings to endorse the credentials of an Indian travel writer whose book I’m considering. She is charming and this sort of support will be helpful but I still turn it down as the writing is too unfocussed.


Put in rights reversion requests for unsold foreign rights in several books. Unlikely I will be able to sell them now but always useful to consolidate rights back in the fold.


On behalf of one author, ask one of my French historians if he can recommend a researcher who knows French archives.


E mail from Nigeria “I will like to enquire if you do carry this item below
(1) Black's Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition
(2) Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry, Fourth Edition “
Explain I’m an agent not publisher.


Introduce myself by e mail to American publisher, with whom I’ve not done business before, as I see from trade press he has bought several of the sort of books I represent. No response.


Do the post and then reading for rest of afternoon and evening.


WEDNESDAY

E mails received 110
E mails sent 72

Letter from Coventry. “I hope you will…represent the book and I as a literary agent. As a Primary Teacher and holder of a Literary degree I believe I know, and have included, exactly what a truly great text should have.”


Email “I am an amature writer who is currently working on a book revolving around the BDSM lifestyle, sexual activities and experiences of a submissive woman in the Dominant/submissive bdsm lifestyle. Could you point me in the direction of someone who might be interested in this sort of book.” Suggest an editor who has been troublesome recently.


Other submissions include a western novel, a guide for first time voters, a book on Eamon de Varela, a reference book on Latin phrases, a book ‘Managing Bullies’ by a ten year old writer from the Philippines and a French murder mystery.


Mail also includes a publishing catalogue, invitations to some publishing parties and a Large Print edition of a memoir.


Request from a charity asking Alan Whicker to speak at a conference.


Write letter supporting author’s application to use an archive and circulate details of Jerwood Prize to authors who might be eligible.


Publicity meeting at publisher, which author and I have requested, to discuss allocation of responsibilities and what is being done by the publisher. It’s clear there is no marketing spend and little imagination is being shown. The author brings in a freelance marketing comany.


Lunch with author and lawyer on a national newspaper who has offered us help on a current affairs story. The lawyer has his own agenda but it seems to tie in with ours and it will make a serial more likely.


Author asks me to give advice to his son who is pitching an idea for a travel programme on television which I do.


Offer for a new author. Awaiting full history of her previous sales to help negotiate up the offer.


Author I met at drinks party last night invites me to lunch. I’ve already looked at his book and think it has limited commercial appeal but suggests he pop in for a chat.


Send out several proposals to my readers for second opinions.


More reading.


THURSDAY

E mails received 131
E mails sent 63

E mail from author to say he has secured a column on a paranormal magazine. Put him onto a UFO author who has a book just coming out.


Another which reads “Before submitting a synopsis and sample chapters I wish to enquire whether you would be interested in representing me”.


BBC ask if one of my authors will appear on Celebrity Mastermind and forward enquiry to author concerned.


Danish publisher requests permission to extract some material from an author’s book to which author agrees.


Submissions include an historical novel set in Australia, a reference book on wrestling, a memoir of busking around Europe and another of the emerging punk scene in 1970s London , a novel which cuts between 17th century Exeter and 20th century Somerset, a thriller set in a London clinic about Islamic terrorism, a guide to depression and a counter-factual novel about D Day being a strategic mistake.


12.00 Meeting at Marylebone Station with a potential author and ghost. He has an extraordinary story about being abused but he has a criminal record. Find him very plausible but not convinced I can sell the book.


12.45 One Word radio studios in Lisson Grove to appear on book programme with a bookseller which I greatly enjoy.


1.45 Late lunch at Marylebone High Street with Headline editor I’ve never met before. We discuss number of books I’m handling and she asks to see several.


Call from a woman who is typing out a manuscript asking how it should be set out. “Is it fiction or non-fiction?” I ask. “Difficult to say,” she replies.


Author has had meeting with packager and the two have met half way. It’s a fee for world rights with some payouts once foreign deals are done.


An Eastern European sub-agent has vanished without paying through monies for some Polish contracts.


Wrestle with the intricacies of a film contract.


Appear on Channel 4 News talking about Osima Bin Laden .Driver waiting as I leave with card saying ‘Mr Al’Ownie’ Take it and hope it isn’t for one of Osima’s cohorts.


FRIDAY

E mails received 105
E mails sent 35

The post brings from West Virginia a tightly packed bound manuscript of a World War Two memoir which I have rejected on proposal.”It is not a sin to make a mistake in a judgment “call”, but it may come home to haunt the culprit. Please don’t be sorry.”


Other submissions include a romantic novel set against Irangate, memoirs of a gay policeman suspended from duty, a fantasy novel, a guide to coping with the death of a child, and a “philosophical, spiritually-based treatise which is destined become a literary classic.”


Read Bookseller and Publishing News. Notice competing book to one of my Christmas trivia books is coming out before mine. Alert publisher who brings publication date forward.

TV producer has not heard from an author in whom he was interested. Chase the author.


Revised proposal from an author. He says he can’t make it any tighter but it’s still three times the length it should be. No editorial committee will give it the time of day. I write at length showing how it might be cut and send two successful and comparable sample proposals.


11.30 Meeting with another author. We’ve had a number of rejections for his book and I’ve commissioned another reader’s report. We agree on making some changes and resubmitting at the end of the summer.


Monthly website analysis arrives. This shows the most popular book page was Peter Thompson’s on Athina Onassis and he and I decide it is worth revamping the book and offering it again. The second most popular search term is Khadija al-Salami and I alert my foreign rights person Camilla Ferrier to giving her book a fresh push for foreign rights . There is also renewed interest in a a back list biography of Castro.


Lunch with author and his publisher to celebrate the launch of his book – his first. It has taken several years to place the book and it’s a great satisfaction to see it out, doing well and the author (and publisher) so happy.


Authors are certainly persistent. I e mail a Canadian author “Sorry but not taking on new fiction at the moment” and he replies “I am so excited that you showed interest in this novel”.


Author doesn’t like US cover for his book which US editor loves and final decision is with latter. I don’t have strong opinion either way and suggest they talk it through on the phone.


A revised proposal comes in which is ready to go and pitch to a dozen editors by e mail. Also take the opportunity to chase for decision on a proposal out on multiple submission.


More reading of recently delivered manuscripts.


SATURDAY

E mails received 28
E mails sent 24

Start planning Frankfurt schedule and spend much of the day going through proposals and manuscripts.


SUNDAY

E mails received 29
E mails sent 17

Piece appears by journalist on how to get published .
I note that everyone else quoted is from “top literary agents….”. I am simply ‘literary agent Anthony Lownie’.

About article author

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Andrew Lownie

Andrew Lownie was born in 1961 and was educated in Britain and America. He read history at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he was President of the Union. He went on to gain an MSc at Edinburgh University and spend a year at the College of Law in London. After a period as a bookseller and jour...More about Andrew Lownie