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Are agents important?

When I put a call-out to publishing people on Twitter, asking for help with this blog, Abi Fellows was one of the first to offer up her time. So huge kudos and thanks to Abi for squeezing in this conversation.

Abi, you're an agent at The Good Literary Agency. Why do you feel it’s important for an author or illustrator to have an agent?

Many reasons, because it’s not only a case of making sure an author or illustrator gets the best possible financial terms when their contract is negotiated, it’s also about having an ally and advisor through the whole of the publishing process. This can include having conversations about which projects to focus on, how to get a piece of work into the hands of the best possible editors and make them want to read it, and knowing which publishers would be the ideal home for the work and why.

It’s also about having someone in your corner who will be willing and able to have difficult conversations on your behalf (about things like whether or not you like a cover design and what is happening with the publicity for your book), who will cheer you on, and who will also pick up the phone for those “I’m a terrible writer, I want to burn my manuscript” moments when you just need someone to reassure you.

Having an agent means having someone who's got your back and will fiercely protect your best interests.

This definitely seems to extend into the work you at your agency, which actively looks to “represent the under-represented”. Can you tell us about how you and your colleagues make this mission statement a reality?

In a number of ways. At the heart is holding a space where writers from backgrounds that have historically been under-represented in publishing know that their voices are welcome.

In practical terms, this means having an open doors submission policy, and taking the submissions that we receive very seriously.

It’s about actively looking for writers, and creating opportunities to talk to writers, answer their questions and demystify the industry. And also talking to publishers about the systemic change needed to create space for new voices in publishing catalogues and on the nation’s bookshelves.

Lastly, we’re in the fortunate position of being able to supply editorial support so that we can invest in the potential that we see in emerging writers early on, even if this means working with them for quite a while before their project is ready to sell to a publisher.

That nurturing side of an agent's job is essential in any good working relationship, but people who are un-agented don’t always realise how important the author-agent/illustrator-agent relationship is. Why is it essential for creatives to get on with their agent?

You need to trust that the person who is representing you and negotiating on your behalf has your best interests at heart. It’s also, I think, really important to work with someone who you feel comfortable asking questions to, because there is a lot of jargon in the industry so it’s important to have good communication with your agent to understand what your options are and what you are signing up to. You also need to feel comfortable enough to take advice from them and share concerns with them.

That is so true - feeling comfortable enough to ask questions and talk about worries is essential. And what advice would you give to authors already looking, or about to start looking, for representation?

Do your research and don’t rush. You’re looking to find the person who will work alongside you for what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career. If you are offered representation, don’t be afraid to ask those questions so that you can feel confident that the agent’s vision for your work aligns with your own and that you can have a productive working relationship with them. Get a feel for how they might work with you in terms of editorial input, as well as a sense of what their ambitions for your work will be if you sign with them.

And how can authors perfect their agent pitches?

Look out for free/online sessions which give advice about pitching to agents, as well as publisher initiatives for emerging writers to attend workshops.

Look at the blurbs on the back of book covers to get a feel for how books are pitched.

Think about the key points in your book that you want to convey to agents, and don’t be afraid to sell yourself and your ideas. Keep it concise, clear and polite, and express why you have approached that particular agent.

What is your number one piece of advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up. The path to representation and publication can be long and there are likely to be setbacks along the way. Believe in what you are writing. Take breaks when you need to. And seek support from other writers through online forums and communities.

Abi, thank you so much for your time - and thank you for sharing your knowledge with us! And for everyone reading, if you want to get in touch with Abi or The Good Literary Agency, you can find them here:


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