A Literary Agency Week

By popular demand, Andrew Lownie begins a regular blog giving a flavour of his week.

MONDAY

7.45 am start as usual, the advantages of working from home and look through the over night e mails. There’s the usual encouraging spam such as “Hello Dear, Don’t be Inadequate any more” and dozens of submissions from around the world including: a ‘fictional biography’; an “historical fantasy aimed at teenagers”; an expose of investment management in City; a first novel from Bulgaria; a “novel with romantic and supernatural elements”; a spy-based comedy aimed at 9-12 year olds; a memoir of five male Glasgow strippers; a memoir of the Spanish Legion which I don’t feel sufficiently exciting or distinctive from all the French Foreign Legion memoirs; a World War Two novel; a screenplay; a gay novel; a collection of poetry and photographs from someone calling herself cutegirl; a book deciphering the imagery of Icelandic myth; an espionage thriller; “a small (pocket guide) in understanding the methodology of American freedom and the coming revolution against socialism.”; a teen novel; a book on the Lockerbie bombing synthesising information in public domain which not enough to justify a new book; a 58 page teenage cancer memoir with poems; a horror manuscript from a thirteen year old and a biography of a woman on death row in the USA.

One correspondent asks “I would like to know if your company only works with fictional writes or do you cater for academical authors” whilst another writes “ I am harun and i want to join french foreign legion how do i apply.” The faith in the power of literary agents!

The pitches are intriguing though not always helpful:

I am not quite sure what it is – a satire, science fiction or a historical novel. The only thing I am sure about is that it ain’t a Harlequin Romance and that it’s 91,485 words long.”

There is more than just a manuscript here, there is more than just a story here, there is irony and redemption, there is triumph and rising above the cruelty of the world to accomplish what many thought was the “Unaccomplishable”

There’s an enquiry from a literary festival and I put forward some authors with local connections.

An author offers a proposal “written in Italian and I’d like to know if you provide a translation service Italian-English and how much does it cost for 240 pages.”

Enquiry from German children’s publisher asking if I’d represent one of their books in English language market. Put them on to a children’s agent.

Approach from a “writer and translator whose area of professional expertise is the translation of Mandarin Chinese and Classical Chinese into English. I am currently seeking a literary agent to facilitate the publication of both my translations and original works, with the ambition of establishing a career as a popular man of letters whose principal topics of concern are Chinese literature, philosophy and history.” Direct him to an agent who specialises in Chinese writers.

UK publishing company asks me to sell subsidiary rights such as translation, US, film and serial in their books. Go through their list and ask to see five which I think might be commercial.

The daily letter asking for work placement. I have to regretfully say there’s only room for one in the agency.

Enquiry into rights availability in a deceased author’s historical biography to turn into a radio play. Tell the widow and forward to my film agent.

Writer asks if a particular publisher who has offered him a contract is reputable. It’s not one I’ve heard of and suggest he check with Society of Authors.

Make submission on behalf of an author for a first novel prize.

Series of afternoon meetings including with scout for various foreign publishers, an author and his ghost to discuss their collaboration and an author over from the US whom I’d like to take on but whose proposal needs some shaping.

Author just delivered his new book and start reading.

TUESDAY

The spam exhortation today is “Hei buddy, Still Got it Huh.”

Submissions include: a book on the theory of Great Pyramid construction which has taken the last 10 years to write; “The Moral History of Monotheism”; a book translated from Czech; a fantasy trilogy; “a modern-day yogic how-to guide as well as a trail map along the path for those longing to find meaning, purpose, joy and love in the modern world”; the memoirs of an Israeli spy who will only talk about his memoir in person so we arrange to meet when he’s next in London; “a step by step guide to dream analysis”; a memoir of managing rock bands; a young adult novel from New Zealand; a book on the exploration of the Amazon ; an orphan’s memoir from Belarus; a fictional account of US and Iraqi military operations set in Iraq’s Diyala province during the last four years; a true crime story set around smuggling stone sculptures in Zimbabwe; a serial killer thriller set in New York; a travel book by a woman in a power wheelchair; a biography of an artist friend of Walter Sickert and “a death planner in which to record DNA, handprints, photos and can also give instructions about funeral, photos from funeral etc.”

A man e mails from India describing himself as “a successful orthopaedic surgeon, adventurer, hunter, magician, cook, artist, industrialist, and sharpshooter. I am presently in Puzhal Prison on the outskirts of Chennai Tamil Nadu, undergoing life imprisonment on charges of internet pornography!” He has had five books published last year which suggests he is making good use of his time.

One submission offers “a series of articals. The Essay consists of almost 12,000 words and covers 18 pages approx., all on A4 paper size. It is entitled: Alexander’s Guide to Harmonising Gender Discordance. Secondry title: The Forgotten But Complementary Division of the Male & Female Phenomenon in Divergent Realms of Life.” I decide it’s not quite right for my list.

Another submission for a series of thrillers is also quickly discarded: in no way am I trying to emulate james bond/ after all,I should have my own style and pattern. here I deem it rather imperative to make a significantr statement : I am not a native speaker of english,and my first novel was written when my english was not that good,as you would realise if you looked at it. but my 2nd,3rd,4th and 5th ones,according to highly-educated native speakers of english,are “VERY SOPHISTICATED

A third is looking for “a literart agent… willing to read a copy of a poem I wrote in order to give me an opinion of whether it meets publishing needs.”

Go to St Katherine’s Dock for launch of Michael Perham’s new adventure recreating the journey of the Bounty. Then on to lunch with an editor.

Pass on rejection from my Korean sub-agent to one author, an enquiry from a tv company to another and a Chinese offer on a Churchill biography to a third.

Mail some film producers a pitch for novel which would make a great film.

Forward smuggler’s memoir to an agency placing stories with magazines as more a feature than a book.

Someone asks “ if there is the possibility to receive copies of newly published books or books still unpublished to review” for a paper in Sussex. Suggests he approaches publishers.

Go through a contract on behalf of one of my established novelists.

Fix some speakers for a Cambridge student history society.

Meeting with owner of after-dinner speaker agency and pitch various authors in my office followed by a meeting with author writing a memoir about her husband to discuss the legal issues.

Suggest some military history books to an author who reviews for a national newspaper

Put forward some publicity suggestions to a freelance publicist who has managed no publicity nor even bothered to contact the author.

An author I dealt with over twenty years ago at another agency e mails asking if I can help reissue old book. Sadly have to say that tough enough selling new books let alone old ones.

Obtain covers of Polish editions from my Polish sub-agent for an author’s own website.

Discuss with a Random House editor for which prizes a first book by young historian has been entered.

Meeting at a publisher accompanied by author to discuss publicity with his publicist. She has lined up a full and imaginative programme which should really build his profile for this second book. When I return arrange for some flowers to be sent to her.

Submit proposal by a music psychologist to a UK editor, a customised US version of a book to some American editors and a biography proposal to several UK publishers giving them the usual month’s deadline though I know in my heart of hearts they will never meet it.

Send some examples of a proposal to an author who needs help putting one together.

Back to my reading pile after taking post to Post Office..

WEDNESDAY

Overnight submissions include: a collection of interviews with famous writers; a romantic thriller set in Ireland in 1920s; a World War Two memoir based on transcribed tapes which I suggest be sent to a specialist military list; an author offering “everything from Sci-Fi to kid’s stories” which is not really within my range of expertise; a novel on werewolves by a thirteen year old; a book on the experiences of disabled children during the Second World War; a book on evolution and Islam; the memoirs of a lawyer involved in Watergate ; a radio play for young adults; a science fiction novel about the Sombrero galaxy; an alcoholic “recovery memoir”; a novel mixing “ elements of black comedy, social commentary, tragedy and witty pop culture intertextuality”; a book on the Russian spy organisation SMERSH; a history of the treatment of cancer; a 14,000 word romantic novel; a diet book, a personal memoir of the Music industry during the early 1960’s and a “ten-part-prose-poem”.

9.00 am meeting at publisher in Hammersmith with an author who has just flown in from Hong Kong followed by a second publishing meeting across town at 10.00. Publishers wheeled out managing director and senior people from sales, publicity, marketing and rights which augurs well.

Back in office by late morning and catch up on calls and the post which includes a “musical novel” which “seamlessly melds narrative, libretto and melody by incorporating an original pop-rock soundtrack. You read an episode then play a song.”

Pitch new proposal, which I now feel is ready to go out, to number of editors.

Read account of living in Italian town which I feel for current market needs to be a memoir rather than portrait of the town but difficult to see what makes it stand out from all the other memoirs about moving to Italy.

Forward e mail from a former senior KGB-FSB operative officer keen to contact an author about his book. Hope it’s to give information rather than for any other reason.

Enquiry for Simplified Chinese rights in one title but already sold.

Submit history book to US publisher.

Chase accounts dept at publisher for overdue advance.

Permissions request for Portuguese translation of old book for non-profit publication.

Long correspondence with well-known author who wants me to sell US rights in his book. He already wants to move from his second agent having only written one book and I stress I really need a second book as calling card to sell the first.

Tea with my Canadian sub-agent who passing through London.

Fix meeting with author who has potential but writing for small publisher to discuss new and more commercial ideas and decide whether to take her on. I do.

Alert author to new book in his area he should read and another to a website which might be useful outlet for viral marketing of her book.

Forward some Polish contracts for signature.

Film agent e mails film contract for me to check.

Misery memoir with potential and pass to a ghost. She is interested and put together collaboration agreement.

Company approaches seeking “a private guide, for a party of 8 individuals who are interested to learn about the Treaty of Versailles. They would like a tour of Versailles but specific to the Treaty.” Offer to several possible authors.

Sort out problem transferring monies from Poland.

Re-read Croatian travel memoir which has potential but crowded market and not sufficiently lyrical.

THURSDAY

An honest approach from an author – “I am currently agentless, as I’m a bad-tempered opinionated old cow at my worst.” Tempted, albeit it briefly, to take him on.

Overnight e mail includes: a football novel; a financial thriller set in Russia; the biography of an obscure 17th century courtier; a book about Argentina as viewed from the terraces of one of the country’s first division football teams, Argentinos Juniors; “literary fiction with a touch of Sci-fi, when a twenty-first century academic travels back to Edwardian London to steal the identity of his favourite author”; a history of financial power going back to the collapse of the Roman Empire in 325 AD; an historical novel in Italian; an account of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale between Summer 1987 and Spring 1988 which marked a turning point in the history of Angola and Southern Africa; a young adult paranormal romance; the memoirs of a former backing singer for Prince and a novel set in the tea industry of India and Papua New Guinea.

Other submissions include one addressed “Dear Literary Coordinator”, one of 7,000 pages - I ask them to just send the synopsis – and someone offering “ a mish mash of fantasy v other stuff written by a simpleton …there has to be a market for that!”

To mid-morning book launch on HMS Belfast.

Alert Marsh Agency to interest in an historical biography just published in which a scout has been interested. Agree to drop round copy of a history book as they have French and Israeli interest.

Sort out US copyright registration for book not published in US for film contract.

Put forward some marketing ideas to a publisher for author who could be reissued to capitalise on Dan Brown’s new book.

Seek report from my reader on proposal from existing author. We think it may need tv series to make it commercially attractive for publisher.

Having printed off and sent three copies of a contract, the publisher decides wants a few more changes.

FRIDAY

Good news in my e mail box. Gerhard Wilhelm, whom I don’t even know, has left me $5,100.000.00.

Overnight e mails this morning also comprise: a true crime story of how two working-class brothers from the criminal fringes of West London, built a phenomenally successful career in the exclusive world of antiques; “How To Make Your Living At Hold’em Poker” ; the little-known story of the murder of an English policeman by Canadian soldiers in Surrey in 1919 clearly aimed at The Suspicions of Mr Whicher market; “The Hollywood Humor, Trivia & Coloring Puzzle book”; a history of the American consular presence in Britain since 1790; a photographic book for children; “a spiritual novel on God”, a “Concept Autobiography – a variety of words that begin with F that define Florence”; “a fictional story based on the “Epic of Gilgamesh”; a book that deals with the uniforms of 1768 and the American Revolution and a cookery book for people with a gastric band.

Someone contacts me looking for a biographer for his father of whom I’ve never heard. Put him on to Lifelines Press.

US publisher turns down book which they had specifically asked for claiming not their area of publishing.

Russian publisher asks to see Harold Nicholson biography. He’s hardly known there so not sure what Russians will make of him but I send my file copy.

Report in from one reader on a travel book and decide to take it on.

Write article on agency for a writing website.

Have been reading an author’s novel. Write with some publicity suggestions and say I don’t find lead female character very sympathetic. Author replies character not so keen on me but likes my wife.

Ghost writer sends in proposal for a memoir which I intend to auction – first auction in over a year. Quick work as he, I and the author had only met last week.

UK editor calls in a guide book I had pitched weeks before.

Correspondence with author about when copy edited script will be in as I need for foreign submission.

Request to see a history book on my submission list from US editor. Had individually e mailed thirty US editors last week with list of current suitable submissions.

Drink with Cambridge graduate trying to get into publishing. Charming, enterprising, intelligent with wide range of relevant experience in journalism and a law office but he’s having problems finding a job. Realise just how luck I am to have a job however busy which I love and pays the bills.

Novel set in US publishing industry, which I ordered direct from US, has arrived and guiltily I take that to read over the weekend rather than a script.

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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