One of the most interesting parts of having guest speakers come to the Stirling Publishing class is the varied mix of individuals from all fields of publishing. This time the guest speaker was the key step between an author and publisher; a literary agent, who gave an astute talk from someone who has seen a varied side of the publishing trade.
Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates spoke to the MLitt Publishing class of 2013/14 on the long path that led to the start of her own business together with colleague Kathryn Ross. For a time Lindsey was aiming to become a teacher, until the teacher training proved to Lindsey that it was a wonderful career to be admired – but it was not for her. What came out of her studies was the realisation of deep love for books. Therefore, Lindsey went to work at James Thin bookshop, and worked at the children’s books section until becoming part of the family run company of Heffers in Cambridge. Heffers was another children’s bookshop, an experience Lindsey emphasizes invaluable for those wanting to work within the publishing world – learning the tricks of the trade from the other side, from the booksellers’ perspective and creating those ever-vital connections for your future networking. During her time at Heffers, Lindsey learned the value that was placed on who reads, what and how it is accessed. Lindsey warmly reminisced about how Heffers were diversified in this respect compared to all other booksellers before and at the time, and Lindsey got to hone her skills at readership development.
A career move eventually was inevitable, and so Lindsey came to work with the Book Trust Scotland, where she waved her magic wand until founding Fraser and Ross Associates in 2002. Slowly expanding, at the moment Fraser and Ross represent some fifty authors and illustrators, with the benefit of having two – slightly – different personalities with different tastes working together. Whereas Lindsey would be more squeamish and un-impressed on some titles, Kathryn sees the potential and pushes for it – or vice versa, and there comes the beauty of Fraser and Ross Associates diversification.
Knowing the editors within the publishing companies, and knowing the publishing companies’ aims in and out, is the key. A literary agent should not submit the same title to more than a couple of imprints at the same time, as that would be fishing for someone to catch on a title you are not backing one hundred per cent, but not offering it to more than one would also limit the chances of the title being picked. Whereas one publisher might have something similar already in process or is not particularly keen on the content of the novel, another publisher might see it as the gem it is.
Lindsey also remarks on how the publishing industry initially got terrified by the emergence of digital publishing, and how she sees it a near god send for convenience and actually a sensible way forward. And some publishers have even improved the quality of their print books, for noticing that e-sales have increased their print sales as readers who liked the book in e-format more often than not want to buy a hard copy. And ultimately, the eventual experience is the same; you read a book and you either hate it or love it. Only thing Lindsey truly criticises e-publishing for is the low royalties that come toward the author, which should in all senses be higher as e-publishing has not nearly as high costs as printing.
As parting wisdom Lindsey remarks on publishers who hold on to the rights of a title even if the title is not in print; the rights ought to be relinquished so the author can go on to find another channel for their book to keep out there. Generating income for a literary agent or the author is not always a straightforward line; a lot is to do with selling and maximizing rights – having one publisher in the UK and another one in US, but always trying to make sure it is the authors’ rights that are respected, as much meeting profit margin demands. The literary agent is responsible of much of the negotiations between author and potential publisher, as well as being the gatekeeper for first drafts, offering initial feedback. What this boils down to is not the individual likes and dislikes and quirks of personalities, but also being aware of the target audience and the market demand, for what has been a phenomenal success in UK does not mean it will also fare well in other countries. And here it is, the sad truth; best books are not necessarily the ones that sell.
The tweets from Lindsey Fraser’s Visiting Speaker session are Storified here.