An Agency Week
27 May 2014
Andrew Lownie outlines the range of activities he is involved with in a ‘typical’ agency week.
A raft of submissions have come in overnight. One author writes, ‘At this time I respectfully request you unsheathe your sharpened red pen and engage me. In good faith that you are up for the challenge, let us dance.’ Afraid I’m not really up to such frenetic activity first thing on a Monday.
Other submissions include ‘a 130 page essay on Roberto Bolaño´s poetry’, the ‘historical origins and cultural significance of Jamaica’s national dish’, ‘a Short Social History of the Clitoris’ and something describing itself as ‘erotica-tinged space and techno-fantasy fiction’. A clever submission where Bible stories have been written as Cockney rhyming slang, in broad Yorkshire, in SMS Text, in Egyptian Hieroglyphics., for Toddlers etc. Difficult to assess and I suspect not something which will sustain reader interest.
Film enquiry from US and I pass it on to my film agent.
The monthly newsletter has gone out and various requests have come in for titles, especially from scouts, foreign agents and publishers. I send it on to various editors, serial buyers, film producers who I know don’t subscribe to the newsletter, or probably don’t read it if they do. I get a bounceback saying it was ‘blocked by MailMarshal: Because it may contain unacceptable language, or inappropriate material’. I wonder which bit of the newsletter this refers to.
Meeting with Daily Mail journalist to throw around ideas for a possible book.
Eleven pages of monthly stats for website visits for the previous month are in from Jing Dong who runs the website, and I share these with David Haviland. It shows visits are pretty constant – in some months a particular article will go viral and cause a spike in views. As usual, new visitors constitute about 80% of the hits and Twitter is the most important feed. We’ll look at the referral sources, how long visitors stay on the site and what they look at.
Give feedback to author on manuscript which I’ve read over the weekend.
Lunch with editor. He’s keener to discuss changes in publishing than the authors I’m pitching but still enjoyable.
Chase some film monies on behalf of an author.
Invitation from a university for the launch of their creative writing course anthology.
Liaise with editor on cover design for an inspirational memoir.
Receive a ‘warm invitation to you to participate in the 2nd Summit on Child Abuse & Human Trafficking’. Is this as participant or delegate I wonder, and how did they get my details?
Rework proposal with author in light of publisher’s feedback.
Meeting with ghost writer brought in by publisher to work on TV tie-in. She’s seeing several agents in a beauty parade. I give her biscuits with her coffee.
Reworked version of a diet book proposal from author which is ready to go and I pitch to various editors.
Discuss titles with author and his ghost. Publishers don’t like the original title and we don’t like their suggestion. Eventually we come up with something which is not ideal, but the author and publisher like it.
Sort out details of an audio deal.
Leave office at 6.00 to give talk to a writing group.
I go through the overnight submissions which include ‘a recipe book with Dadaist overtones, elements of satire, and a number of puns, and is a reaction to celebrity chef cookbooks in general’, ‘a Placenta Recipes Cook Book aimed at pregnant mothers and birth support workers/doulas/midwives’, ‘a critical verse by verse analysis of the gospel of John’, and ‘a picture book reading series, entitled Dandan The Drilling Man And His Drilling Caravan! This is a unique storyline that acquaints children and their parents with the Natural Gas / Oil drilling industry’.
Other submissions amidst the usual suspects of memoir and fiction include an illustrated humour book about the ukulele, a ‘simple, concise pocket sized directory of public toilets, supermarkets, pharmacies, laundry services, post offices and police stations in every district of the Eternal City’, a police memoir of catching a serial killer and something which categorises itself as ‘Young Adult/Substance Abuse/Political Fiction/Humor’. Not sure where the bookshops will put that.
Publisher rings and asks my view of an editor who applied for a job with him.
Meeting with ghost writer who has not had representation before. We discuss what I can do for her and how I market my ghost writers. I’m aware I have to be careful about taking on too many ghost writers and then not being able to find work for them.
One writer emails claiming to have found the agency from doing a google search for UK agents publishing erotic fiction / biographies - not a joint category I was aware I hitherto specialised in nor even existed.
Mid-morning post brings a book which editor wants sent on to one of my authors asking to give a jacket quote.
Invoice for a publication advance and chase an editor for a delivery payment.
The Publishers Lunch round-up of sales for the week arrives and I forward links to the agency authors whose deals have been announced.
Chase some editors for a submission whose deadline was Friday.
A not untypical turn down from an editor: ‘I’ve just come out the acquisitions meeting and sadly I’m not emailing with good news. The sales team said that our list is quite full at the moment for real-life stories and that …’s story wasn’t stand-out enough to push in another title on the schedule. I massively disagree and there is a wealth of topical subjects found within her life story that it really is remarkable, but as they sell in to the supermarkets (and we would need the supermarkets support) I lost the fight and I’m incredibly disappointed. I think her book could be fantastic and wish her all the best. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to read the material.’
If it’s hard selling books to publishers, it’s equally difficult for the editor selling projects to their colleagues. The collegiate approach make sense but it does mean books that don’t tick all the boxes are having trouble finding publishers.
Author alerts me to forthcoming appearances on Australian & New Zealand radio so check with UK publisher that copies of book have arrived and available locally.
Someone has kindly but curiously endorsed me on LinkedIn for Poetry – a genre I neither represent nor write. I wonder how valid all my other endorsements are.
Forward some foreign royalty statements to author and to my royalties person Hazel Hill for checking.
Seek some contract advice on film contract from my contracts expert Stephen Aucutt.
Publisher turns down a biography: ‘I am afraid I don’t think we could make the figures work for this one. It is such a shame as it has been such an extraordinary life spanning the twentieth century.’
Nice review in Publishers Weekly for an author’s book which I add to website and agency’s social media.
Reader’s report back which I forward to the author.
US publisher chases about an offer they’ve made. I’m hoping for a better one elsewhere, stall him and nudge other editor. One appears to now be on holiday for next two weeks and after the deadline.
Forward news of a Dutch sale to author and Chinese royalty statement to another.
Bestseller lists for the week announced and gratifying to see several agency authors in top twenty.
To book launch for an author at a bookshop and then back to catch up on reading and emails.
A screenwriter from South Africa says they ‘would like to submit script personally’. Tell them email is probably easier for all concerned.
Other submissions include a ‘Self help guide to street performing’, an author who hopes ‘to create a niche for myself with historical Jewish warrior fiction’ and author asking ‘if I’m interested in representing gay erotic comics?’ I explain the list is eclectic but that’s not an area of agency expertise.
Other submissions include a ‘Field Guide to American Barns’, ‘a novel with a naturist theme’, a ‘200,000 word short story’, a submission from someone using the pen name Stephen Spielberg, two physics books from a professor in Bangladesh, an urban fantasy novel with a Christian slant, the offer of a 320,000 word travelogue set in South America which has been translated from the original Estonian version, a book charting the history of the great ocean liners, a memoir of an army officer in the Middle East in the 1960s-1980s and something which does sound intriguing: an account of ‘the very dark side of the Home Furnishings Industry’.
Sort out VAT payment for ghost who is not part of the publishing contract.
Author updates me on research on a biography after an introduction I gave him.
Lunch with editor, where I pitch a couple of authors, but he explains they have so many existing authors delivering a new book each year that there are very few gaps in the list.
Serial offer on title from The Sun. Try to push them up.
Discuss trying to fix some more speaking engagements for a business writer.
Update author on their submissions, even though I’ve forwarded rejections as they’ve come in.
Forward contract to author with my comments and seeking theirs.
Marsh Agency chase me for Romanian Certificate of Residency, which I forward to author.
Pitch a book on Royal Family to a dozen editors.
Nudge other editors who have not responded to an initial email pitch last week.
Forward a radio enquiry to an author to let them deal directly.
Meeting with author and freelance publicists brought in to promote her book. Put forward some ideas and pass on some contacts at literary festivals.
Finally agree clause with US publisher allowing author to offer new book once they have delivered rather than wait until the book is published.
Liaise with a freelance editor who an author has paid to polish his manuscript. I send her copies of my reader’s reports to brief her.
Liaise with another US publisher on Publisher Quit Claim for a film contract.
Author writes to say they are ‘Happy to be connected with a liked-minded Tweep!’ Me too.
Go to a presentation at a publishing house with other agents where they take us through their commissioning process. Very useful. If only authors realised how much care and time was taken in assessing submissions.
The overnight submissions bring an author who has ‘written a good number of manuscripts – friction and non friction. I am yet to find a nice literary agent who could them published internationally’. I like the idea of ‘friction’ as a genre.
Other submissions include a memoir ‘Something Is Wrong With My Penis’, a ‘humorous coffee table cartoon book that cleverly and comically combines two popular themes; Penguins and Superheroes’ the offer of ‘the synopsis of a novel (300 pgs, in Portuguese) that maybe can interest you’ (I only wish I was like continental agents moving effortlessly from one language to another), ‘an Autobiography of the Universe’ and an email from my old friend crazypants1986.
There’s also an e mail saying ‘I have visited your company website, glad to know that you’re on the market for plastic/rubber mold and products’. I wonder which bit of the agency website suggests that?
Meeting at a film company who are interested in drawing on research by an author for biography. We dance around each other neither wanting to give much away.
Chase publishing royalties department who forgotten to pay VAT on recent royalty payment.
Invoice publisher with signature advance and return the signed contract.
Discuss various options with author after publisher tries to cancel contract on a memoir because a family member has decided to now withhold co-operation. We take legal advice and marshal our arguments to try and save the deal as book is about to be published.
Meeting with reference book author I’m taking on.
Send out proposal for reader’s report.
Seek advice from my accountants about new VAT rules on commission for British-based authors on monies from abroad.
Lunch with editor of the Bookseller where we discuss publishing changes and I give him some material for an article on the current publishers’ rights grab.
Accompany author writing on pregnancy to meeting with interested editor.
Answer series of email questions about pitching, the state of the market etc from a journalist putting together an article for a writing magazine
Chase yet again permissions department of a US publisher for overdue permission payment. The promised bank transfer has never materialised nor did the promised check. Saga has been going on since September.
Update from my Polish sub-agent on submissions. Reminds me to pitch some new possible books to my Asian sub-agents.
Meeting with film producer.
Go on to dinner of a literary dining club. Back to emails and reading manuscript which has just been delivered.
The overnight submissions include: a book about Israeli Cinema; another on ‘Holistic Microneedling’; ‘The Memoir of a Bi-Polar/Alcoholic/Superman/Ginger’; a ‘Southern Gothic novel with literary ambitions’; a 41 page romance/paranormal manuscript ‘of a woman who falls in love with a weresnake’; a proposal for a book on 19th Century Maltese Filigree Jewellery; an ‘African-American Romantic Vampire Thriller’ and ‘Confessions of a Las Vegas Hair Stylist’ which the author compares to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Go into local school to talk to pupils about a career in publishing. Love doing so as it reminds me why I went into publishing over thirty years ago. A cluster of pupils at the end keen to discuss their creative writing. What a shame few schools encourage creative writing after the age of thirteen.
Pass on enquiry to an author from an historian researching 16th Century Spanish shipyards.
Send out some sample proposals to a new author to help him produce his own.
The mid-morning post brings ,alongside the customary scripts, contracts, payments, finished books etc an invitation addressed to ‘Dear Friends and Colleagues, It is our great pleasure to invite you to participate at the 2011 World Congress on Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work.’ Am I a friend or colleague and what exactly does participation mean? Has a disgruntled author or rival agent passed on my contact details?
A small publisher asks if I can sell film & US rights in their list. I look at a couple of their books but decide they are too marginal.
Send out statements and payments for authors which have come in from my foreign rights agency.
Lunch with editor cancelled at last moment as he’s busy. A relief as finding it especially hard to keep up with succession of telephone calls and emails this morning.
Serial contract from newspaper which I check and forward to author for signature.
Meeting with new author I’ve just taken on and her editor. The book will be a highly illustrated gift book and we discuss format, price and direct sales outlets.
My film agent brings me up to speed on contract negotiations for a film based on one of the agency’s biographies.
Fix an author tour with publishers for an author for next week. There’s a lot of juggling to coordinate editors’ availability with a sensible route around town.
Put forward some writers to the new editor of Newsweek who is looking for current affairs specialists.
US author emails some jacket endorsements he’s gathered.
An author kindly writes ‘You have published many memoirs, some of which I have enjoyed reading’.
It’s 7.00 pm. Time for a break but I’ll return to my desk to catch up on emails and finish the recently-delivered manuscript.
The overnight submissions include: a book ‘aimed at the under-tens, this book hopes to introduce a whole new generation to the joys of alcohol abuse, chain-smoking, questionable morals and hanging out with a bunch of arseholes’; a novel ‘about killer babies’; a submission from someone describing themselves as ‘a literary phenomenon’; an autobiography of working life in the world of various IT departments; ‘a travel book with sausages as the common factor’ and a ‘one hundred and twenty word mystery following the adventures of four charming ex-battery hens as they discover a free-range life as pampered pets’; a ‘self-help book on alcohol misuse’ – presumably to prevent rather than encourage this; something which describes itself as an ‘Interactive Autobiography’; a submission which claims ‘I found your agency when I typed the genre of politically incorrect non-fiction, and since my book may be viewed as politically incorrect, I thought you might be the right agent for my work’ and a general email clearly sent to lot of agents. ‘The submission outline is generic and may not comply with your specific format. I appreciate your mandated requirements. For reasons I shall not include herein, I am unable to follow these at present, and so I fully understand and respect your rejection on this basis alone.’ I reject it. Time for filing and a bit more reading…