What I learned from an afternoon with literary agents.
Updated: May 4, 2019
I had the amazing opportunity to spend an afternoon with two literary agents. In this post, I’ll share what I learned.
I have zero experience of the publishing industry. I figure that if my aim is to get my novel All of our Tomorrows published, then I need to learn as much about the publishing industry as I can.
I know that there is a wealth of information online, but I think there’s something special about seeing someone in person and hearing what they have to say. In 2019, I’m planning to go to as many talks and events as I can about publishing. I went to the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club last month and I’ve already signed up for the York Festival of Writing which looks absolutely amazing. In this regard, living in London is going to be so useful. The publishers are in this city and therefore the industry is much more accessible to me than they would be if I lived elsewhere in the land.
On Saturday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend an event organised by the Chalk Scribblers. It was a talk by two literary agents; Zoë Plant from the Bent Agency and Allison DeFrees from C&W Agency. Allison spoke about what happens from when the agent receives a submission from an author up to the point of the offer of representation. Zoë spoke about what happened next, from representation to acceptance with a publisher. I then got some invaluable feedback from Zoë on a small part of my novel.
There was a lot to take in and I'm going to share the five most enlightening things that I learned.
1. Agents are people too.
Sounds dumb right? But hearing Allison and Zoë speak about their typical working day, their colleagues and their professional relationships really humanised the process for me. When I’m ready, I won’t just be sending my hard-crafted words into the digital void. They will go to real people with real personalities and opinions. Both Allison and Zoë and they assured us that they do read everything they get sent.
2. Agents don’t read like I do.
I read a lot, and in the last 18 months or so, I’ve been reading even more. (Head over to my reading list to see exactly what I’ve been reading). But, when Allison and Zoë spoke about how much they read, I felt like an ant staring at a mountain. Zoë said that in her previous job, for five years she read every single booked published in Britain (I can’t remember if she said withing genre, but either way it’s a fuckload of books). This inevitably means that agents read FAST. Agents are busy people. Zoë is actively trying to build her list and she told us that she’s just read her 2000th submission since January this year. The upshot of this is that in order to capture the attention of an agent, I have to ensure my writing is the sort to capture the attention of a very fast reader. This is something I’m going to have to think more about.
3. It’s not all about online.
This was a big one for me. Allison said that she gets submissions from other routes aside from the internet. People get recommended to her, she meets people at events, there was even someone who got told to write a book by an agent. She advised us to get to know people if we can. I got the impression that a “soft” submission is more likely to get attention than a cold submission. I guess this reflects back to Point 1 about agents being people too.
4. Agent love books.
Again, this sounds obvious. But what I mean is that I love books, but these agents REALLY love books. Hearing the passion that they spoke about the books they have on their lists and the authors they represent was really heartwarming. Once you’re in the club you go from a person trying hard to figure everything out yourself to being part of a team, and that must feel incredible.
5. I’m on the right path.
I’ve not yet (quite) finished All of our Tomorrows. I have my eyes wide open to the fact that once my first draft is done (this week hopefully!), I will have a hell of a lot of work to do in the editing process. What was interesting was the specific advice I got, I knew already. I know my book is too long, and I was pretty sure that having untranslated French on the first page wasn’t a good idea. So to hear Zoë pick up on these things confirmed what I was already thinking. The most important feedback was that the writing itself is good and she would be interesting in seeing a submission from me when I’ve completed the long and arduous process of self-editing my novel.
Enjoy your week.
Bye for now,