Archive | October, 2011

International talent? Oui. Bon.

10 Oct

Being a Canadian literary agent, most of my queries are from local writers. This makes sense. As a Toronto based writer, you are likely under the impression that garnering a Toronto based agent is the way to go. And it is. The lovely thing about working with local talent, is that I can actually have face-to-face contact with them. Our dialogue is not limited to static ridden Skype sessions, or epic emails. I enjoy working with Canadian authors. Especially when it means a getaway weekend to Montreal or Ottawa. When it comes to my authors, I do in fact, go the distance. With that being said, it is impossible to have a lucrative career as an agent when you are solely working with Canadian talent. This has nothing to do with the writers themselves, but rather the lack of publishing houses and editors. Submissions must be scarce, as there are only so many editors, and it is imperative that you space out your submissions accordingly. Otherwise, you are going to be barking up the same tree time and time again. Clearly, this is going to lead to strained relationships with the editors, and it is in my best interest as an agent to keep a healthy and happy working relationship with the local editors. So, the only solution is to build a client list that is comprised of international talent. I still plan to work with a few Canadian authors, but for the most part I am seeking writers from the US, and overseas. Do not get me wrong, this is not a slight against the editors themselves, but rather a means of building myself a viable role in the publishing world. A means of survival in the harsh world of agenting. As an agent to international talent, I know that it is possible to maintain a successful working relationship with these writers, even if it is from across the pond. I am heading to the UK next month, where I will be meeting with a few of my London based authors. It is important to me to have that personal contact with my clients. I wasn’t kidding when I said that I would go the distance.

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No one writes to the colonel

6 Oct

My previous post was on the subject of author queries, and the best approach to querying an agent. But what should an author do when they submit their query, and then never receive any kind of response from the agent? If this happens, it means a) the agent has passed on your query, or b) your query has been lost in a sea of queries, and overlooked by the agent. Although the latter scenario is less likely to occur, it still does happen. My advice to writers, is if you reach out and do not hear anything within the 6-8 week period then chances are the agent is not interested in your query and you should look to another agency for representation. In an instance where you do have some initial contact with the agent (they request a partial etc.), but then never hear back, this means the agent has chosen to pass on your work and for whatever reason did not inform you of their decision. Most agents do their best in responding to writers in these instances, as most agents recognize that even a rejection is preferable over no contact at all. Unfortunately, there are going to be times when the agent simply forgets to respond, and my advice would be to let sleeping dogs lie. Yes, it’s unfortunate when this happens, but the fact remains that whether or not the agent gets back to you, they have decided to reject your work. So, unless you are adamant to receive some feedback, I would move on and focus your attention elsewhere.

And that you may be without a mate until you find me…

3 Oct

Replace ‘mate’ with ‘literary agent’ and you’ll have a better understanding of my meaning. I am seeking my perfect partner, a partnership that will be brimming over the top with: mutual respect, ample layers of thick skin, and an unceasing well of creative talents. The idealized partnership of an author and their agent. A lucrative undertaking for both parties. This is the dream of all agents. This is my dream. And it is a somewhat new dream. I am what you can refer to as a novice agent. My career as a literary agent began a mere three months ago. After an intensive internship at a literary agency in Toronto, I was hired on as an Associate. In a fateful turn of events, I went from being a voracious reader of literary fiction to a literary agent in hot pursuit of literary fiction writers. I knew my task at hand was going to be difficult, but my god, no one told me it was going to be this difficult. Naively, I started off my career with the intent to work solely with writers of that genre. It did not take me long (a matter of weeks really) to come to the painstaking revelation that a) writers of that genre, and I mean talented and successful writers of that genre, are truly a diamond in the rough  and b) there is no money (and I mean absolutely none) to be made in working with those authors, unless of course I discover the next Michael Ondaatje or William Trevor etc. Not to imply that it is strictly about the money. Even if it meant very little money for me, I would be thrilled to represent new talent, and see them published, just so that their work could reach its intended audience. This is obviously what motivates me, and inspires me to work in this field. Otherwise, what would be the point in taking on this line of work? Novice, or not, as an agent I can honestly state that this job has never been, and never will be, about the money. Nevertheless, us literary agents do need to feed and clothe ourselves. To some extent anyway. And so I will continue to strive to discover that diamond in the rough. In the meantime, I am also content to broaden my literary horizons, and am seeking writers of: fiction, memoirs, crime, mystery, creative non-fiction and nearly everything else under the sun. Except poetry. Poets need not apply.

Bringing this first entry to a close, I will say this: Although being an agent  is hard work (often times the end result of all of your hard work is devastatingly frustrating and demoralizing), it is still a very rewarding and exciting career. For, oh-so-many reasons, I love what I do. The fact is, most of my days are spent reading. To some people, this may sound dreadful, but to a voracious reader it is a dream come true. Not only do I get to read, I also am the procurer of new talent. I get to represent and promote new talent to the publishing world. In the event that one of my submissions translates into a deal, I will have played a pivotal role in introducing a new work of literature to the reading population. Completely brilliant, and not to mention the fact that it would validate all of the hard work that goes into a submission. Being a great agent isn’t just about one’s working relationships with the authors and publishers, nor is it just about one’s editorial skills, it is about possessing the knack to recognize a work of literature that is not only great, but marketable. This is a skill that takes time to hone. I can only hope that over time I will master this. My authors will thank me. The editors will thank me. And here’s hoping that I will then know that I have made the right career choice.