As we all know, the publishing business in state of flux; digital publishing is a huge new area that’s growing and there are multitudes of new writers clambering to break through into the publishing world.
Today’s discussion panel, led by Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of Irish writing website writing.ie, consisted of Simon Trewin (United Agents, London), Faith O’Grady (Lisa Richards Agency) Ciara Doorley (Hachette Editorial Director) and John Walsh (Doire press).
For those of you who couldn’t make it, or for those of you who didn’t make notes, here are some important points, tips and advice from the five-person strong Getting published panel.
What is the role of an agent?
Faith: Once you’ve decided to send out your book to publishers, we decide on which publishers. We’re setting up the deal as you go; one book deal, two book deals, which territories, etc. Then we get to offering an advance; a sum of money against royalties in three or four parts. Once decided it’s the best offer you can get; it moves to negotiating the contract, which can be complicated. Now, digital rights have become much more important.
Simon: We’re the gatekeeper, the author’s friend and we’re here to demystify a complex and exposing experience. The constant in the author’s career is the agent; we’re here to generate money so they can live and write but should also be the first person they’re going to call. It’s a role I enjoy but it’s changed. In 1993 you could take on something that showed a lot of promise and send it out…the publishers would help with the editorial side and I’d see it much later when it was polished. But what’s happening now is I’m doing all the editorial work and sending it out at a level where an editor can see how they might publish it. Publishers are taking on fewer books. Instead of an editor choosing to buy something, it’s getting more selective and is more about the editor getting the sales team and marketing on board. The barrier to entry is a lot higher than it used to be. So we have to do a lot more work on this side.
What is a publisher looking for?
Ciara: It’s getting increasingly difficult to get published, but as an editor you know immediately if you spot something that strikes a chord. We are looking for a strong concept, original ideas and for the cover letter to convey the idea in two/three sentences. You’re trying to sell your book to me like I’m selling to my boss and the sales team. Voice, characters, setting; within the first chapter these need to be distinctive. I’ll already be comparing authors and fitting into market place. The story can be simple; but these elements need to ne strong. Be as professional and concise as possible.
What is an author’s voice?
Faith: Voice…it’s almost impossible to explain but you know it immediately. I love getting the post and seeing the stack, thinking there could be something amazing there, an original voice. A distinctive voice is itself, not trying to imitate anyone else. It shows the author has a mastery of the genre and you want to be in their world. I like warmth, emotion, humour; but it’s very hard to achieve. I love feeling emotional; especially in original stories, interesting historical or geographical background. You can see when it’s contrived – it has to come naturally and organically. They don’t have to be nice characters but they do have to be intriguing.
What about the cover letter?
Faith: Don’t tell us how amazing you are in the first sentence; it’s off-putting. Explain the dramatic conflict, setting, characters; make it like the back of a book. Write a couple of lines which make me want to read your book first.
Vanessa: Your covering letter is your author pitch, your calling card so put lots of effort into it. Give lots of thought to your cover letter.
How do you get an agent?
Simon: You submit, following the guidelines. But there’s no magical way through. It’s about you having a story you’re so passionate about you have to get it on paper and if you send it to us with passion, we’ll spot that.
Vanessa: Do the research – each publisher/agent is different. Everyone now has entry in writers & artists handbook – go to writing.ie and follow info there. Submission guidelines are completely important – if you break some rules immediately, it doesn’t bode well for you.
Simon: If you feel like you write like a particular author; why not find out who their agent is and send it to them? Send to more than one agent at a time – you could be waiting for years! – but be transparent about it. Also, take on advice that you receive and take it on board.
Ciara: The work speaks for itself; if you’re an author that’s outgoing then that helps because its all about profile. Its such a solitary occupation but then you’ve got to come out and meet the book trade – yore aware of it but it’s not a deciding factor.
Vanessa: Before submitting write the whole book – if you’ve only written half, the opening chapters can change so much!
What does it mean when an agent says – I like what I read but…?
Faith: Sometimes I think the writing is fantastic but can’t see where it can fit. So what should an author do? Keep going.
How are publishers trying to engage with the modern audience?
Ciara: Social media and the internet is the way forward – it’s easier to reach intended audience in direct way. In marketing departments we’re developing that; it’s growing and changing daily. You can directly target groups.
Ciara: It’s hard to gage the results; but it does filter down. The author is coming closer to their audience.
John: As a small publisher; it’s important to us that the author has a profile and can go out and sell the book. Facebook, blogs – it doesn’t do any harm.
Vanessa: Every engagement you have in social media is a potential book sale. If you can show that to an agent and publisher, it certainly won’t go against you.
You can find more information about writing and writing resources on wwww.writing.ie