Tag Archives: Editors

Writing tip: agent or no agent?

Writing tip
Writing tip

Authors are divided about whether to work with an agent. Here are the bullet points of my own history with agents:

  • Offered representation by an editor who had decided to switch to being a sole agent. Before she got as far as us signing the Agreement, she thought better of being an agent and vanished from my life.
  • Got a fab London agent from a big agency. She sold me into a couple of modestly sized publishers and also large print and audio. We had a couple of near-misses with big publishers but a miss is as good as a mile. After a bereavement, I decided I would no longer be able to write novels and left her flock. We parted friends and are still.
  • Unagented, I sold seven novels to publisher Choc Lit. Some were those my former agent had had near misses with so she checked the contract for me and advised but didn’t negotiate. Later, a contract for an as-yet-unwritten novel was offered and I found I could write new novels after all. Choc Lit sold me into large print, audio and a few modest translation deals. I taught creative writing and wrote short stories, serials, columns and just about anything else to do with writing to augment my income from my novels.
  • Got different fab London agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann. We gelled immediately. She placed me with the fantastic Avon HarperCollins who subsequently got me into audio, supermarkets, #1 on UK Kindle, Top 100 in US Kindle, and made me a SundayTimes bestseller. Blake Friedmann got many translation deals for these novels. I now make a living from my novels alone.

I view Juliet as made of gold dust and adept with her magic wand. Authors who choose not to work with an agent sometimes say they don’t see why they should pay a commission (commonly 15%+VAT for home market sales, 20%+VAT for translation) and they get their contracts vetted by the Society of Authors. But, oh, a good agent does more than check the legalese!

  • Pitching. An agent knows exactly who to send your work to and makes it her or his business to maintain relationships with likely editors. S/he will present your work in the best light, too.
  • Negotiation. Some publishers have standard terms … except when they don’t. An agent can negotiate hard, not just in terms of advances but also royalties, escalators, sub-rights and all kinds of other items that I, for one, would be completely foxed by. And, yes, they do check the legalese.
  • In your corner. An agent is likely to be a constant in your career, even should you change publishers five times.
  • Aware of the market. An agent will be interacting with publishing professionals all the time. S/he will be aware if/when better opportunities come up.
  • Intermediary. Author/editor relationships are precious. If there’s a bump in the road your agent can pop up and smooth it out before you and your editor collide head-on over it.
  • Support. I often talk things over with Juliet: the future; an offer; an idea for a book (even though my editor takes the lead on this); a problem with the current book (ditto); one of those little bumps in the road I mentioned. These conversations are via email or phone, usually, but pre-pandemic she frequently took me out for publication day lunch too. (Told you she was gold dust.)
  • Honesty. I sometimes say to Juliet, ‘Am I being a diva?’ She would never be rude enough to agree but she is transparent if she thinks a view could be better expressed. I value the honesty.
  • Foreign sales. Authors can sell global rights to publishers so the publisher then takes on the task of selling translation rights. In my case it’s a mixture: Avon acquires World English Rights so they bring me out in the UK, US and Canada. Blake Friedmann’s highly successful rights team handles the rest for me.

In my view and in my experience, a good agent is a huge asset. NB If you decide on an agent rather than selling directly to a publisher I do think it’s important to get the right agent for you. It’s the kind of relationship that prospers if you like each other and share aims and philosophies.

I sometimes joke that Juliet helps me avoid snakes and climb ladders. In truth, I never encounter snakes … but she’s certainly helped me climb the ladders. I’m now the main breadwinner in my household.

Summer on a Sunny Island is my sixteenth novel, my ninth with Avon. Two more are contracted to them. Juliet does a wonderful job and proved to be exactly the right agent for me.

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22 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft

Writing tip: learn about publishing

I’m often asked for tips so I thought I’d post a few. In my view, at least as important as improving your writing is improving your understanding of publishing. There’s a lot you can safely leave in the hands of your editor or agent if you have one but an overview of the industry can make your expectations and approach realistic.

You can learn about publishing in similar places to those where you learn about writing:

  • talks (conferences and literary festivals have gone on-line during the pandemic, which often means they’re free – a bonus). The speaker can be an agent, editor, publicity guru, librarian, cover artist, author, media manager, sales manager, self-publishing specialist, journalist, ghostwriter or dozens of other roles but what they’ll have in common is a knowledge of publishing. Example: The Avon Lockdown Show features not just snippets from authors but advice from Avon editors.
  • newsletters. I think these are an underrated resource. I take free daily email newsletters from The Bookseller and Publishers’ Weekly. There are paid options too but even these free newsletters will give you insight into what’s selling, who’s buying, and, importantly, who’s moving. Why ‘who’s moving’? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about this agent or editor going into a new role and looking to acquire. ‘Looking to acquire’ means ‘taking on new authors’ if they’re an agent and ‘buying books’ if they’re an editor. It might tell you what is being looked for such as ‘authors from diverse backgrounds’ or ‘feel-good fiction’ or ‘psychological thrillers’. From there, it’s not too hard to find the person online and discover how they accept submissions. NB If you’re taking the free newsletter, read the headlines first to decide which articles are of interest because you can usually only read a couple of articles in full per day. Look out also for writing newsletters from your regional authority. You can often find these as a result of searching your local authority website under ‘arts development officer’ or similar. Example: Writing East Midlands offers a digital newsletter. Sign up by emailing marketing@writingeastmidlands.co.uk.
  • websites. Writing East Midlands is just one of many resources. Your search engine is your friend though, personally, I’d avoid all the entries with ‘Ad’ attached to them. Publishers’ and agents’ websites and blogs are full of information and so are those of writing communities and arts councils. The personal blogs of authors and other industry professionals can be useful too. NB Look for recent content. Publishing changes quickly but websites hang around for ages. NB2 Be aware of market boundaries. Something you read on a US site may not apply to the UK.
  • writing magazines. I’ve worked for both Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine in the UK and they’re both great for market news such as magazines accepting submissions and whether they pay. I don’t think there’s any substitute for keeping up-to-date with a market you might wish to submit to. There are also books that are guides on getting published. I would suggest you buy the most recent you can.
  • social media. Follow agents and editors! They give hints of what they’re looking for and you can often see what area they work in from the authors they already work with. Join writing communities. I’m part of an authors’ Facebook group where people share their experiences and I often hear news there first. By browsing around social media you’ll find a group to suit you.

These are just my favourites but maybe there’s something here that will work for you.

You may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

Act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

5 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft