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Part 1: What does a literary agent do?

A lot of people ask me what a literary agent does.  There is a huge amount involved in the day-to-day running of a literary agency, and indeed being an agent, but I believe the three main aspects of an agent’s job are talent spotting, author care and deal making.  I will explain each of these over the upcoming week.

Talent spotting – an agent has to find new talent to sell.  This is their bread and butter and will keep an Agency growing and expanding.  I do everything I can each day to grow my slush pile (which I call my ‘potential’ pot).  To ensure that the quality remains high, I attend writing events and give talks to writing groups around the UK and Ireland.  I’m also involved in panel discussions organised for writers wanting to get published.  I go to creative writing courses at universities and I keep this blog to promote my authors and ensure that writers know what my personal taste is and what I am looking for.  I want writers to ‘know’ me before they submit their work.  I think it is extremely important that writers know how to present their work to agents and that they look for an agent who is interested in reading their manuscript.  A writer wants to have a sort of affinity with their agent.  A lot of writers feel very despondent when they get rejected, but most of the time it is because they haven’t targeted the right agent for their book.

Day in day out, my passion is finding outstanding voices in both adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, and negotiating top deals.  I have a very strong women’s fiction list and I am now looking to expand into crime, thrillers and mystery.  I am always on the lookout for fantastic Young Adult novels too and the kind of books people like to discuss in bookclubs, the so called ‘Richard & Judy’ reads – these are novels that are accessible yet have really interesting themes.  My main criteria is this though: no matter what genre, if I simply cannot book your book down, I will want to be your agent.

In my next posts I will address author care and deal making, particularly appropriate given that the London Book Fair runs next week from 16th – 18th April.


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Happy Publication Day: Agent Buston interviews Carrie Duffy

Congratulations to Carrie Duffy on the official publication of her debut novel IDOLHarperCollins publish on the 18th August and have secured fantastic promotional slots, including W H Smith retail, W H Smith travel, Asda and Amazon.  

Carrie read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Trinity College, Oxford, before training as an actress.  IDOL is her sizzling first novel set around the pop sensation Jenna Jonnson and the talented dancer Sadie Laine yearning to get her big break.  Carrie has kindly let me interview her about her route to publication.

Are you excited about your debut novel coming out? Yes, very! I’m also quite nervous too – having lived with it for so long, it’s now going to be out there for people to read and not everyone is going to like it! But I’ve had some early blogger reviews which have been really positive, and each one boosts my confidence a little more. So much has happened over the last year, and publication is the culmination of that – I can’t wait to see what happens next!

How long did it take you to write? I started the initial draft of IDOL about ten years ago! It’s been through many changes since, and during that time I would put it to one side, ignore it for a while, then pick up and re-draft all over again – I couldn’t quite let it go! So it’s very difficult to say how long, but the final version probably came together in a few months.

 Why did you decide to write in this genre?  I love this genre! I read Career Girls by Louise Bagshawe when I was sixteen, and have been hooked ever since. I like to think I have fairly broad reading tastes, but I love the glamour and escapism of bonkbusters – they’re so much fun!

Have you always written? Yes, ever since I was tiny. I can remember being about six and writing little stories on my Dad’s BBC Acorn computer! I flirted with the idea of journalism for a while, but eventually decided not to pursue it. I think I was always more interested in writing books than articles.

How did you choose your agent?  How long did it take?  I’d been trying to find an agent for years, and would go through a cycle of sending material out, getting rejections, writing something new… What I liked about Darley Anderson was that they were so open to commercial work – there was no snobbery about only taking literary material. I also liked the fact that they made a distinction between chick-lit, bonkbusters, sagas etc., rather than lumping it all in under women’s fiction.

How much self-promotion are you having to do? I’m dipping my toes into the water, and getting quite into Twitter (@cazduffy if anyone wants to follow me!) My website is almost finished, and I’ll have a blog on there which I’m strangely excited about.

I think self-promotion can make a huge difference these days, as there are so many bloggers and review sites out there, and the potential to connect with people is incredible. That said, it doesn’t always come naturally to me – there are times when I’d rather stay in my own little world and just concentrate on the writing – but I’m learning.

What are your favourite authors?  My favourite ever author is George Orwell – I’ve read pretty much everything by him and re-read regularly. I also enjoy writers such as Philippa Gregory, Kate Atkinson, Sebastian Faulks and Paullina Simons. In this genre, I love Louise Bagshawe, Tilly Bagshawe, Lesley Lokko and Tasmina Perry.

Do you ever get writer’s block?  Not really – I have days where it doesn’t flow as easily as other days, but I rarely sit staring at the screen with no clue of what to write. I always have lots of ideas.

What follows IDOL?  I’ve just finished my second novel, DIVA, which should be out next summer. It’s set in Paris, in the world of fashion, and follows the story of three women – Dionne, an aspiring model; CeCe, who’s determined to make it as a designer; and Alyson, who has little interest in the industry but ends up being sucked in! I think it has a slightly more mature and expansive feel than IDOL, but hopefully it’s just as fast-paced, glamorous and sexy!

Do you have any advice for new writers out there? It’s been said so many times, but perseverance. It’s taken me around ten years to get to this stage, so that certainly applies to me! I think if all I’d received was outright rejections then I might have given up, but because I did get some interest (positive feedback, invitations to send more of the manuscript) I knew I wasn’t writing complete rubbish. It just took a while for that perfect combination of right manuscript and right agent – but it was definitely worth the wait!

To read a copy of this sensational, escapist read click here.

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For Children’s fiction, I am looking for…

A lot of you have been asking what I am looking for in terms of Children’s and Young Adult fiction.  I am looking for something extremely striking in terms of voice and story.  I love crossover titles, books that appeal equally to adults and children, such as Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF and John Boyne’s THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS.  These are both incredibly moving, have big universal themes and huge international appeal, the latter selling two million copies in Spain alone.

I love emotional and accessible literary reads such as Jenny Downham’s BEFORE I DIE and Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL.  Philip Pullman is also one of my favourite children’s authors – I used to work for his literary agency, A P Watt Ltd, and it was amazing seeing the international appeal of HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy.  His books appeal to fantasy and non-fantasy readers which I think is a great skill of the author.  I love children’s books that are extremely imaginative and, if you are going to write a fantasy story, I think it is always best to ground your reader in the normal ‘everyday’ world before you take them into the unknown ‘fantasy’ world.  Think the ‘rabbit hole’ in ALICE IN WONDERLAND and ‘platform 9 3/4’s’ in HARRY POTTER.  This will not alienate non-fantasy readers, it will draw them into your world.

Do have an idea of your target audience and the age group you are writing for: 5-8 yr olds, 7-9, 8-12, 12+, YA or crossover, and read books aimed at your age group in bookstores and libraries so you get to know the market.  It will help you focus.

I am very passionate about Young Adult fiction, for instance Stephenie Meyer’s hugely commercial TWILIGHT series.  Publishers are now overloaded with vampire books though, so I am looking for something equally readable in terms of voice but without a supernatural edge.  I think straight YA thrillers are going to do very well and I have recently taken on the author of NIGHT SCHOOL, C.J Daugherty, whose work I sold to Atom / Little, Brown for a 2012 publication.  Psychological suspense is always a winner and I’d like to see more YA fiction in this genre, leading on from recent trends in adult fiction, for instance the success of the psychological thriller  BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S J Watson,  based around the protagonist Christine who loses her memory when she goes to sleep and has to start afresh every time she wakes up.

A book I would love to represent from its pitch alone is THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith.  To me, it sounds like a YA version of David Nicholls’ ONE DAY with elements of the film SLIDING DOORS, about chance, fate and connections.  A love story told in a different way.  I particularly like the fact that it takes place over a 24-hour period too.  I’m looking forward to reading my proof.

It is important to remember that there are no real rules and it is not worth writing to trends.  It is all about your voice, your central character and your story. You want to think about leading the next trend.


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Agent Buston interviews Victoria Fox

Known as the sexiest writer in the business, Victoria Fox is the author of the fabulous HOLLYWOOD SINNERS, following the lives of four celebrity couples around Hollywood, Vegas and London.  Since MIRA published in  April 2011, Victoria has become a bit of a celebrity herself, from appearing on  The Vanessa Show in May,  building a huge online presence,  to her photo shoot on the red carpet

What does it feel like being a published author?  Vertigo. A nice sort of vertigo. Knowing the book is ‘out there’ for anyone to pick up is exciting but it’s also strange; it’s gone now, you’ve let it go, but still it’s a massive part of your life and a family of characters and storylines you’ve worked long and hard over. So, a bit dizzying. But every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be.

 Why did you decide to write in such a commercial genre?  First, because I love those early bonkbusters, so full of style and swagger, and wanted to try my hand at one of my own; second, because I used to work in commercial publishing and felt I knew the market; and third, because the dream is to become a bestseller and I’d like to appeal to as many readers as possible.

 Who is the author you would most compare your work to and who are your favourite authors?  My writing style for Hollywood Sinners definitely draws on my biggest inspiration in the genre: Jackie Collins. Books like Lovers and Gamblers and Chances are packed with outrageous characters and wicked storylines – and they also have this great comedy element which is crucial to a truly entertaining bonkbuster. As well as Jackie, my favourite authors in the genre are Tilly Bagshawe and J J Salem. Favourites elsewhere are Rose Tremain, John Fowles and David Nicholls.

 How long did it take you to write your debut?  Hollywood Sinners took four months to write and two to edit.

 Can you pitch your book in one line?  A sexy, scandalous, full-throttle ride through the hidden lives of the rich and famous.

 How long did it take you to find an agent?  While working in publishing I put together a partial manuscript and sent it anonymously to the Darley Anderson Agency – they were always the big dream. I made sure my pitch was tailored to their list and tried to couch my project in commercial terms, explaining where I saw it in the market, which authors I hoped to sit alongside and so on. I was lucky: very kindly, they didn’t make me wait too long!

 Were you pleased with your book jacket?  Extremely pleased. Jubilant. I knew my publishers ‘got’ the book, the kind of retro vibe I was going for but also the up-to-date celebrity glamour, so I was confident they’d nail it. Even so, when the jpeg landed in my inbox it was even better than I’d hoped. It’s one of the most stylish covers I’ve seen in a long time.

 Do you do a lot of self-promotion?  It’s important to promote as much as possible. The market is very competitive and things like radio, TV and magazine interviews are crucial so I try to do as many of these as I can. Everything’s going online now and it’s good to be as ‘reachable’ as possible: your own website, Facebook and Twitter are great ways to make contact with readers. Hearing from readers is the best thing.

 Have you always wanted to write?  Yes. After university I wanted to work as an editor and immerse myself in other people’s books for a while, but the bug soon caught up with me. If you have it in you, it’ll always be there.

 What tips would you give to new writers out there?  Persevere. Everyone says it but that’s because it’s true. Persevere with your book, see it through to the end (no matter what state you imagine it’s in) then persevere getting it read. There are people who say they’re going to write a book and people who actually write one – decide which you are.

To buy a copy of HOLLYWOOD SINNERS, click on the cover below.  Thank you Victoria!

A juicy tale of glamour, corruption and ambition. -Jo Rees – author of Platinum

A glorious, sexy story of high-octane Hollywood intrigue – I loved it. -Lulu Taylor

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These tips are surprisingly obvious, but time and time again I read submissions that are weak in one, if not all, of these areas:

KEEP YOUR CHAPTERS SHORT: each chapter should be between 10 and 15 pages long to keep the reader’s attention.  Create a mini drama in every chapter and have a hook at the end of each one so that the reader finds it impossible to put down.  Long chapters can slow down the pace.  With the rise of the eReader, and shorter attention spans, short chapters are even more important.

CHARACTER: it is all about your main character – you have to create a real authentic character that readers can automatically empathise and identify with.  Readers want to warm to your central character.

PLOT : nowadays, a highly original concept works wonders – something you can pitch in one single line that will make people instantly intrigued and desperate to read your story.  Publishers like to instantly see how they can pitch the book to supermarkets and booksellers.

And finally, when I studied creative writing at St Andrew’s University my tutor, the poet and writer John Burnside, gave the class essential advice in three simple words: REWRITE, REWRITE, REWRITE.  Make sure that every word is absolutely needed.  Any excess words will slow down the pace.  Fantastic dialogue and fairly short descriptive passages work wonders.

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