An Agency Week

Andrew Lownie continues his occasional blog about his working week.

MONDAY

Phone message left at 6.30am for author in Yorkshire to appear on a breakfast radio show. Pick it up when I come into the office at 7.30am and ring him. Incredibly he makes the show.

E mail slush pile includes: “The Fable of Christ – Irrefutable demonstration that Jesus never existed”, “ a practical and not quite traditional guide for the last stage of the Hatha Yoga practice: “Samadhi”“, the story of a drug-addicted Polish teenager, an erotic political thriller, “a true story of a bagel that made my wife cry”, a picture/coffee table book on the history of the rocking horse c.1850-1890, the memoirs of a Cairn Terrier from Nevada and from Australia a “part memoir and part writer’s handbook as well as a collection of short stories. Its genre is impossible to classify for nothing quite like it has been written before”.

There is also “an autobiography with a twist. It is also about coping in life with a colostomy, and since there are not too many people that write about it I thought I would try,” and “How Big Is the Ideal Penis Size? – A Documentary Story Including 100 Women’s Astonishingly Honest Confessions. It is more literary fiction than one would believe taking a glance at its attention-calling title. Though it does not leave the numerical data out of account, it deals rather with the things hiding behind the matter than only with dry facts.”

Arrange to meet an author for tea who giving a lecture nearby next week. I’ve been waiting for the proposal for his next book for several years and want to encourage him to produce something before he is forgotten by the book trade.

Film interest in one of my narrative histories and forward to my film agent Meg Davis.

Say no to a self-help/economics book which I liked but my reader didn’t feel sufficiently distinctive. Am having to be more ruthless about what I take on and submit.

Feel that Iraq War enquiry may focus interest again after Iraq War fatigue and re-pitch a couple of proposals. A gratifyingly good response though let’s see if any offers. Publishing is often simply about timing and luck.

Put a history book out for a reading with a new reader. The author has produced six different proposals over the last two years and I know is becoming frustrated that I don’t circulate them more widely but I’m not convinced that the author has found the right commercial subject or approach yet. Best to submit only when one is sure of one’s ground rather than madly sending out and looking desperate.

German publisher, who publishes one of my authors, for coffee followed by three hour session with author, ghost and Sunday Times Insight team who I’ve brought in to help stand up a book and news story.

Post in afternoon brings:

Letter to be forwarded to author querying attribution of poem in his book.

Review to be forwarded to author. Little Brown and Atlantic are good at sending paper copies to agent. Others don’t.

Details of Jerwood Prize which supports authors “who have embarked on their first commissioned work of non-fiction”. Go through list of eligible authors and alert them.

Finished copies of an author’s new book arrives with note from editor saying a print run of 20,000 hardbacks which is a real sign of confidence.

Addendum to contract to cover an electronic edition for an institutional subscription list.

Copies of book on a Second World War raid. Author has heard a film is in the offing and I send copy with background to my film agent asking her to find out more. As his is the only book on the raid it should be optioned. The other copy goes in the hope of a reissue to tie in with a film.

Collection of children’s rhymes and short stories addressed Dear Sir or Madam – no e mail or return postage so straight into bin.

Statements from Marsh Agency for an Estonian signature and French royalties which I process and pay.

Collection of stories –e mail address so respond.

286,000 word Biographical Encyclopaedia of Movie and TV Stars.

Self-published book about author’s father in Malaya during WW2

A ghost writer wants to work on a misery memoir I’ve been sent . Interest from a major publisher who clearly forgotten they rejected it when submitted directly by the author.

Publisher turns down a book, deadline of which was six weeks ago and whose sale to another publisher has been widely publicised.

Chase publisher for advance and return of contract sent seven weeks ago. He is charming and promises to deal with it “immediately” but why am I not persuaded?

Update website blurb for forthcoming book at request of the author.

Proposal for memoir about simply being a student which cleverly pitched using YouTube but the writing not strong enough and that’s what counts. It’s why I hate authors pitching to me on the phone. The proposal has to be sold on the strength of the writing.

A publisher has disappeared and not paid royalties for several periods. Working with another agent in the same boat we track down the subagents and ask for monies to be paid direct to us.

Offer for author from his regular publisher. Advance the same as last time but they want more rights. Difficult to argue in current market and given the last book hasn’t earned out.

Register a book for US copyright . Normally done by US publishers but no US deal and film contract requires it.

Highlight review extracts from some cuttings to put on website.

Publicity update confirming reviews, festival plans, radio etc and confirming print run.

My Nigerian regular correspondent offers me some screenplays – an area I don’t cover.

Send out a proposal to reader for second opinion.

Write reference for author starting journalism course.

Pitch crime series to film broker in US.

Intern seeking unpaid position. I have to explain I work alone.

I turn down a dominatrix/housewife. She writes back to see no hard feelings and inviting me to drop into her dungeon next time I’m in New York.

Late afternoon meeting across town with editor and publisher’s serial person, lawyer and author to discuss strategy for a book where various legal concerns.

Go on to History Today party.

TUESDAY

Submissions today include “a family drama with some elements of romance with pigeons as characters”, “a hybrid of a biography and a functional cocktail manual”, a book on Doctor Who fans, a proposal described as “Treasure Island meets Robin Cook meets Bleak House”, an Encyclopaedia of Snake Species , a Paranormal Romance, a gide to “How to teach children sexuality” and a “piece about psychological dilemmas in Eastern Europe. It is a short essay manuscript written in an innovative style - 3 columns that can be read both vertically and horizontally. I hope to get you interested in this.”

There’s also a proposal on “meta-fictional reflexivity which goes beyond postmodernism to postmayhemism, a literary category I may have invented” and one on “How Madeleine McCann was freed by MI5 in 2008, why this was covered up by the Powers behind Government, and how Remote Viewing proves the existence of God.” Also a sexual memoir from a 74 year old appropriately enough called Randy.

Pitch SAS memoir, give author some advice on proposal for a biography of a 1970s racing driver and try and find out when the film of his life being released.

Coffee with editor just starting at new publisher to establish what she is buying.

Send out US proposal for book just sold here.

Send out another book about to come out here to US film producer

My Nigerian friend is back offering fiction.

E mail proofs of a military history to my Polish sub agent.

E mail details of my current submissions to sixty UK editors and US submissions to forty US editors. Each individually customized so takes time.

Submit another book sold in UK to US publisher

Asda have taken 8,000 copies of a book which means good chance of making best seller list.

Biographers Club lunch.

Pitch a specific proposal to a dozen UK editors. If I’m lucky, half will reply. If I’m very lucky, two might even offer.

Send a tv proposal to my tv agent.

Forward report to author for fine-tuning. Send out more proposals to my readers for reports.

Chase editor for query on distribution problems and another for contract which I’ve drawn up but needs to be approved.

Give feedback on celebrity memoir proposal.

Turn down revised proposal which been nurturing for several years. Author has taken too long to revise and market has moved on.

$54 of Polish royalties come in. Bank charges to pay it will be $25 so hold on to it with author’s permission. These small payments are an accounting nightmare.

Meeting with author and his regular publisher to discuss how to shape an idea from the editor so it is more commercial.

Have to find the IBAN number for a Euro payment under new legislation.

Go to Detection Club dinner as guest of an author which I enjoy. Always interesting to meet other agents, authors and publishers.

WEDNESDAY

A handwritten submission from someone claiming to have personally survived The Black Death and been the Prophet Noel. I return the sample chapters in the SAE intrigued to see where the Prophet Noel lives.

My Nigerian mate now offers a children’s play. Put him on to my website to see what I handle and don’t represent.

Off to meeting with my accountant to go through vat and accounts.

Other submissions today include “an offbeat/quirky mystery with some symbolic sci-fi. It tries to explore alienation in the broad terms of Punk-rockers, recovering nuns, and lost visitors from outer space”; a “ complete and comparative analysis of SIR.WINSTON CHURCHILL’S “HUMOUR AND WIT”; “the allegorical tale of a cross-dressing, caviar-loving, porn-collecting African village god and the dysfunctional village folk he rules over”; a memoir about an “American chiropractor who became an African Princess”; a “history of amplified sound in public places”; ”an erotic granny guide”; “The cars of Communism” by an Hungarian motoring journalist and a book claiming Diana didn’t die in the Alma tunnel – one of those comes in monthly.

There is also a manuscript which concludes “Please could you answer with dynamic swift as I’m in need of the cash, support and delivery.” No contact details are given.

Chase US publisher’s accounts dept about delivery payment.

Pitch some ideas for celebrity memoirs from one of my ghosts to an editor . Normally more chance of hooking celebrity if approach comes from publisher.

Asked to find a speaker to run a reading group and lecture on a cruise liner.

Ask my contracts specialist to advise on contract from publisher I’ve not dealt with before where terms rather mean but no other bidders.

Sort out Chinese contract, chase author to return Turkish contract and chase film producer who been looking at a memoir.

More e mail submissions including “a 219 page typed fiction super-natural thriller novel”, an illustrated bible, “a psychological interpretation of the French Revolution”, “a genuine insight into the day to day workings of being an FMCG Sales Representative in the 1980’s and early 90’s, a docudrama on Michael Faraday and a memoir from someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

Request for an author to lead discussion group at literary festival – forward and she accepts.

Catch up with owner of speaker agency to whom I pass authors.

Offered “The boldest and the most dangerous and the last dialogue with “Osama bin Laden: The first episode, “a world first”: the first and most serious interview “ by an author who describes himself as “Candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Egypt 2011. Life is exciting enough without following this up.

Forward enquiry about German translation right to Marsh Agency.

Approach for representation from an established freelance sitcom writer and game-show formatter but have to say not my area and from someone describing themselves as “Political candidate, Real Estate Associate, University Professor, artist, author, Minister, Financial Planner, teacher, inventor, and volunteer. Successful in sales and public speaking”. Truly a Renaissance man.

Offered “Filthy Tranny Whore, the Transsexual Users Guide… it’s basically Sex in the City, but with transsexuals on drugs… I’m not interested in anything nice. I don’t give a shit about the environment, politics, art or religion. I simply don’t care. And I guess that’s why I’m writing to you.” Have to said not quite my thing but that writer has a strong voice. Charming response “If you ever find yourself in Australia and fancy a cocktail with a bunch of trannies, please let me know and I’d be happy to drag you out with the girls – it’s not much of a thank you, but it’s the best I can do.”

Off to launch party for author’s book in East End of London.

On return read author’s delivered manuscript and send him my comments.

THURSDAY

A good pitch line if not necessarily commercially very attractive “Would you consider looking after an Ancient Briton who writes Poetry?” I have to say no.

The slush pile today is as varied as ever: “the story of 350 Germans pilots and 1300 Cientifics (sic)of the Luftwaffe who came to Argentina between 1923 and 1950”, a poetry book written in Arabic, a novel “introducing Rain Godart, South Africa’s first and only gay literary detective”, some “educational French songs and a musical play”, a text book on organic chemistry, a guide to French television programmes, a new genre to me described as “Christian inspirational historical fiction”, “Everything You Want To Know About Malcolm X”, “a tale of love, magic and Mayan Astrology” and a manuscript which could be the most important book I’ve even been sent where the author claims to have “ been given the answers to who the creator is, what he looks like, his one and only name, the meaning of life and what the humans purpose is here on earth. We are given the exact location of heaven and what happens when a person dies.”

Bestselling misery author whose sequel turned down by her agent and publisher asks if I’ll take it on. Turned down for good reason and suggests she stay with agent and publisher and work up novel in which they seem interested.

Try and line up ghost for military memoir but both choices don’t feel material can be sustained over a book.

More submissions: thriller set in a secondary school, an award winning writer from Nigeria but doesn’t say what the awards for, supernatural mystery, memoirs of someone serving with The Federal Emergency Management Agency including reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, historical travel book on a particular journey made by Shakespeare (point author to tv,radio or History Press), book on John Wyndham ( point in direction of Wyndham’s publishers having researched on Amazon), “political fiction with its undertones of love, terrorism and spirituality”, memoir of a bus journey around Britain but show writer plenty of similar books and thriller set in Westphalia in 1967.

Give advice to author who has been sent contract for tv programme and alert author to book which similar to one she writing.

Student wants to see early copy of forthcoming biography so forward request.

“I am writer from Bangladesh, I write at my local language, but have my some script for children…( it is english, polish & philipine). I want my child script publish…” Politely decline.

Try to identify payment from Poland which lost in banking system.

Author seeks advice saying he being libelled on a website – suggest he seeks advice from Society of Authors.

Enquiry for Turkish rights in author I don’t represent.

Details of German cover for author’s book.

More submissions: Indian journalist’s novel set in Punjab pre 1947, a novel based on the Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation 1950s-1970s, novel about someone suffering from Agoraphobia, non-fiction proposal “some new scientific based theories on issues regarding the origin of man and the purpose of his existence on the planet earth”, memoir of sports journalist’s sex change, the story of nine years as a cancer caregiver, a novel set in Assam, “a young Adult time travel adventure combining a Hogwarts-like school and the espionage intrigue of Ian Fleming, with the action and setting of the HBO series Rome” and a book “about the 42 rule changes since baseball began in 1876.”

An e mail comes in “Andrew…too much of your time and energy dealing with negative or disruptive behaviour? ..do you wish you could deal with personality problems quickly and easily? Managing Difficult Behaviour”. I click the links wondering if the company are targeting literary agents as an obvious market.

Established author who wants to change agents comes for drink and a chat.

FRIDAY

An intriguing offer to end the week . The e mail grants “exclusive global publishing rights to an as-yet-unpublished best-seller for $100,000. The book may not be published in the first 3 years following the conclusion of this transaction.” Decide it’s not for me especially when I read the opening quote “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it. – ROBIN WILLIAMS”.

The slushpile this morning brings a memoir recounting “the experiences of a large African American family during a dozen summers on a farm in rural St. Lawrence County, New York, in the 70’s and 80’s”, an ELT book on English for Science, a young adults phantasy (sic), a “Southern Gothic novel” described as To Kill A Mockingbird meets A Time to Kill with Forest Gump”, a book by “the only Japanese who has been photographing the lives of the Bedouin”, an indictment of the Chinese legal system and a “ musical novel, Teletoile” which “, seamlessly melds narrative, libretto and melody by incorporating an original pop-rock soundtrack. You read an episode then play a song.”

There is also a manuscript which the author explains is on how “to free people from sexual guilt that has been heaped upon them by the institutional church and society. The name of the book is “Our Sexy God” and the sub-title is “God is the Ultimate Sexual Being”. Difficult to know into which section of the bookshop to put that.

Turn down proposed biographer of 11th century Egyptian ruler, proposal on Developmental Economics & Public Policy, book about a husband’s suicide and memoirs of driving a taxicab in Washington D.C. for last 30 years, a science fiction novel “made up of more than 360 000 symbols”, a teen novel about knife crime, a “fiction novel backed up with Historical, Geographical, Religious, and Philosophical facts and insights”, “a novel based on Facebook conversations between two characheters (sic). one being myself and another based on a disabled man suffering from cerebral palsy who has had a hard time growing up”, “a 32 page children’s book for the 4-10 age audience about a baby blanket”, a guide to “ how to start your own business without start-up capital”, “a commercial novel which allegorizes the toppling of Aristotilian philosophy by Darwinian thought”, “a people’s history of cyberspace”, an update of The Canterbury Tales, a book on medical school admission secrets, a memoir about “my experience of the Liberian civil war and nine years in the US Navy”, a book about “ miracles, forgiveness and a man’s love for children, baseball and God”, a work of fiction based around the sinking of the Mary Rose and a short story submission which has on it that it is already represented by another well known agency.

See film The Agent a two-hander about an author holding an agent to ransom . The agent doesn’t rate the book but is forced to auction it and hey presto the offers come flooding in. If only it were that easy! I found it a depressing and bitter story which didn’t properly explore the potentially fascinating, mutually dependant relationship that exists between author and agent. Maybe this blog does serve a useful purpose to show how much trouble is taken to discover and nurture talent by everyone in publishing, that we are all driven by our love of books rather than pure commerce, that the business is a collegiate one in which we all have parts to play and that there is actually a huge amount of trust, respect and friendship .

Return to catch up on e mails. I’ve been sent a “Cosmic Love” solstice message which cheers me up after a hard week.

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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