Tag Archives: Literary agent

Best Books Are Not Necessarily the Ones That Sell – Lindsey Fraser as guest speaker

October 30th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | Aija

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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.

Aija Oksman

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Bloody Scotland Masterclass – Agents’ and Publishers’ Panel

October 7th, 2013 | In Stirling University Publishing Studies Blog |

One of the perks of this year’s Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival in Stirling was the opportunity to hear the best of the field offer advice to hopeful writers on the process of writing, publishing and whatever comes in between.

The Agents’ and Publishers’ panel was lead by Claire Squires, director of Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication on September 13th. The panel discussed what happens after the next hopeful front list bestseller has been written and when the author seeks to have the manuscript accepted either by an agent or a publisher.Image

Taking part in the panel were Jenny Brown, of Jenny Brown Associates, and David Shelley, of Little Brown. Jenny is equally inspiring and intimidating for an aspiring literary agent such as myself, having opened her agency in 2002 after years of formidable experience, not forgetting being the founder of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. If that’s not enough, she and her associates have become the biggest literary agent in Scotland and one of the leading agencies in UK, with international reputation.

David on the other hand represents the other hurdle in the writer’s way towards bestselling stardom – the publisher. David, who has worn many a different hat under the general title publisher has not settled for one particular job title – he also guests as an editor for a few selected authors within Little Brown, including Val McDermid and Mitch Albom (and yes, JK Rowling too, but let’s focus on other exciting aspects of David’s career, shall we?).

Jenny launched right into the session by emphasising how crime writing is still the fastest growing genre in the UK (and one of the leading internationally), with approximately 30% of the book market. David agreed – crime writing is definitely the most commercially growing genre that is remarkably consistent despite other market or trend fluctuations – fluctuations we know all too well that publishing is harshly dependent on. As the trend moves on, so will the publisher. Be confident, know your trade, know your next steps and especially – know whom you are talking to when making a pitch. You might think you have the voice that gives the very angels orgasms, but your agent might disagree. Let your story do the talking. All fine tips from the literary agents’ mouth.

Both Jenny and David agreed that trends are nearly impossible to keep up with; what is “hot” right now could very well be over by the time you have the manuscript of a bestseller that nicely fits into that pigeonhole all finished and ready to be pitched. Trends move on faster than anyone can write, and rather than focusing on fitting into that niche, both Jenny and David emphasised, an aspiring writer would do well to focus on being passionate and finding your own voice, your niche, rather than doing lavish imitations of others’ work. Jenny also – to my great pleasure – emphasised how translated crime writing is breaking the barriers and entering the UK market. David remarked upon the cold realism of marketing; it is nearly impossible to bring out a title that is based on the same basic idea as one published before. There is no space in the market for two great Fife based detectives, but there might be space for one great detective from Fife, and the other from – why not – Stirling. How you present your setting is what makes you, as a writer, unique.

Classic crime is being brought back as well as being retranslated. Foreign authors are intriguing, whereas deceased writers are proving to be some of the toughest competition to the wave of new writers. One particularly interesting piece of advice that David provided for budding writers was to imagine further than one novel. He has found himself attracted to authors who can envision at least a couple volumes of a series, can explain character traits and subplots beyond that one particular event in the novel they are currently pitching. A good series of novels with an ever-evolving character can very well be the key to cracking your way into the crime-writing scene.

Claire led the discussion to the actual publishing process; what channels are there for new writers? How can one get their manuscript read, represented and subsequently published? As expected, both David and Jenny agreed on this point strongly; get an agent. It is nearly impossible to break into publishing without being professionally represented. Most publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts so agents act as a quality control filter for publishers. Jenny emphasised having manuscripts edited by a professional freelancer – never submit anything you are not absolutely sure is the best it can be. And this is doubly important for self-publishing authors.

Be confident, know your trade, know your next few steps and especially – know whom you are talking to when making a pitch. Let your story do the talking. It is even more advisable to target your agent and publisher. Do your homework – know whom you are pitching to and make sure they know why you have chosen them. Or perhaps if you’re desperate and unsure of your manuscript, a box of chocolates never hurts – doesn’t necessarily help either, but definitely never hurts.

Claire opened a topic that is much debated in publishing circles – self-publishing. Jenny explained how self-publishing allows more control and can lead to enticing a wide readership, which in turn encourages word-of-mouth and reviews before landing under the ears or eyes of an publisher. Self-publishing allows the writer to test the waters and to cater for the readership before attempting to break into the market. Although, writers would do well to note, that if you have already published something on the internet, the good bet is that a hopeful publisher would prefer to publish something completely new from you – or perhaps offer you a series deal. David did mention how even editors browse through self-publishing platforms – such as Authonomy – as you never know what you might find.

The panel concluded with questions from the master class participants; one particularly memorable was one lady from the master class, who has a number of novels (18 to be exact) published online but no one had yet approached her nor returned her numerous attempts to contact agents and publishers. Jenny’s initial reaction was to enquire what does she believe an agent could do for her that she cannot do herself? What indeed. To leave on a hopeful note, Claire asked both David and Jenny to give the master class some final words of inspiration. David encouraged the budding writers never to give up, as the first book published is rarely the first book written, and to especially venture into other avenues than traditional forms of publishing – digital, self-publishing and the like can prove to be a writer’s saviour, enabling an initial point of contact, enticing on its own merit. Jenny emphasised the necessity of wide reading, because all that we read will feed into what we write, how we write and how we present ourselves. There is hope for everyone.

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