Gaia Banks is a literary agent at Sheil Land Associates, a literary, theatrical and film agency established in 1962. Sitting across both foreign rights and literary, Gaia has an excitingly varied role.
Thank you so much for answering some questions for us, Gaia! To get the ball rolling, can you tell us a bit about the agency you work for, and your role within it?
Sheil Land Associates is a long-established agency which works across books, film, tv and theatre. I’m the translation rights agent as well a primary agent, which means I have a very international perspective when it comes to writing. I like to find books that I think will travel and be translated widely.
I love that extra element to your role. What sorts of manuscripts are you looking for in particular?
My list could not be more eclectic – I represent the whole spectrum of fiction for adults and children, as well as some non-fiction such as biography, memoir and illustrated gift books. Obviously I like originality, but I also like the familiar when it has a twist or is executed well.
How freeing to work across every genre, you must get some fantastic submissions. So, what can an author or illustrator do to endear their submission to you?
This is going to sound so simple, but agents read a lot so please lay out your email and sample material so that they’re easily read! Use paragraphs. Double space your sample chapters and synopsis. Nothing under 10pt please! Also, I’m a sucker for a good title and memorable opening line, and you need to keep your pitch to a paragraph and your covering letter to three or four paragraphs max.
Is there anything that an author/illustrator definitely shouldn’t do when they submit their manuscript to you?
Please think carefully about the comparison books/authors you choose. It’s the thing that shows most clearly that you understand the nature of what you’ve written. Comparisons which simply draw from the bestseller lists without specific reason are rarely effective. (Also, make sure you spell the name of the addressee and company correctly in the email and any attachments. But that goes without saying, doesn’t it?!).
Market research and accurate comps come up time and time again when I speak to agents, and it's great to hear that reinforced each time because it really is important. What do you feel some of the benefits of having an agent are?
Agents are negotiators and intermediaries, but they are also champions and cheerleaders, first readers and sounding boards. Writing can be quite solitary and it’s important for an author to know they have an encouraging voice at the end of the phone, especially before they have an editor. With the best will in the world, it can take time to be published, and it’s important to have someone who keeps the faith.
Is there one piece of advice you would give to someone hoping to get an agent?
Don’t give up. There are tens of thousands of agents out there. It’s frustrating to get stock replies or silence, so if that happens then rethink your approach. Is there something else in your novel that you can highlight? Is your pitch too long? Is your hook or USP expressed clearly enough? If you’re not getting traction, change strategy. This is what publishers do with the meta data of their books all the time, and you need to start thinking like a publisher.
Gaia Banks on Twitter.
Sheil Land Associates website.