Tag Archives: writers and artists yearbook

Help for writers

Psychologies As an agent, I’m often involved in a lot of events aimed at helping writers hone their craft.  I thought it would be useful to mention some of the organisations I’ve been involved with recently.  Last month, I spoke at a two-day event co-hosted by Psychologies Magazine and Writers & Artists in their Bloomsbury offices.  This consisted of workshops, Q&A sessions and one-to-one appointments.  Writers & Artists regularly host events like this, offering a great introduction to the book trade.  They also have a wealth of information online which is regularly updated.

More recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the Creative Writing Diploma Students at Oxford University, giving a presentation about how to pitch a book and find an agent.  I love talking to aspiring authors and finding new talent, and I think it’s so important for them to have a real insight into the industry before submitting their work – writers need to have a strong impression of the agent they want to work with as it’s such a crucial and long-term relationship.  Creative writing courses also have the advantage of group discussions which is important for the editorial process as books are so subjective.

Guardian Masterclass

The Guardian also runs specialist classes.  Along with bestselling author, Rowan Coleman, I last spoke at a Guardian Masterclass focussing on the synopsis and the pitch.  There’s a clear distinction between the two but so many submissions I receive mix them up.  The synopsis ‘tells’ the story whilst the pitch ‘sells’ the story.  I love talking about pitches and how important it is to get to the core of a story in order to get people interested.  Word of mouth is the biggest publicity tool for books so a good pitch goes a long way.

My next event is in Winchester on the 14th May where I’ll be giving a talk described as “Why do I need a Literary Agent in the Digital Age?”  I think it’s important to address the benefits of having an agent in this time of technological change as there are many more platforms to launch a book and more opportunities for rights to be sold to other media.  I’ll also be leading a number of workshops and panel events over the summer, with these topics in mind, at festivals such as the Winchester Writers’ Conference and the Festival of Writing at York University.  Winchester Writing Conference

There are some popular London-based writing organisations that I’ve talked at, for instance the London Writers Café, a lively community that supports new writers that I spoke at earlier this year.  They have more than 2,000 members now and, as well as critique evenings, they also host publishing talks, workshops and social events.   I like them because they don’t charge a membership fee – you only pay for the events you attend.

There is loads of help for aspiring authors on the web, too.  Philippa Donovan, founder of a successful literary consultancy, Smart Quill Editorial, even offers online tutorials on specific aspects of writing.  Here is her latest tutorial on narrative:

At Smart Quill, Philippa does all the reading and reporting herself and offers editorial, publishing and digital guidance to writers.

The more organisations I get involved with, the more I can see that there is plenty of help out there for writers.  It’s just a question of exploring them.


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Character or Plot?

I attended the first in a new series of literary events at the Bloomsbury Institute last night, focused on how to plot the perfect murder mystery.  Speakers included James Runcie, Anne Zouroudi and Claire McGowan.

Interestingly, the talk evolved into a popular debate about Plot vs. Character.  I am constantly telling new writers that a clever plot is not enough.  Character is so important.  We need to relate to and empathise with your characters in order to invest our time in your stories.

The impact of the crime on the characters is as strong as the plot.  If you look at the popularity of the Danish TV series, THE KILLING, it’s because we were so invested in the characters’ lives that we wanted to spend hours and hours in front of it.  THE KILLING, SERIES 2 didn’t do as well because it was more plot-led rather than character-led.

Morality and the impact of the crime are just as important as plot.  James Runcie made the clever point that ‘Whydunit?’ counts just as much as ‘whodunit?’  The plot is the framework but when people think about their favourite books they think about the characters, for instance Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Jack Reacher.  Lee Child has always emphasised the importance of character: “You say Agatha Christie, and people remember Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple.  Almost every book is remembered for character.”

When I sold Lee Child’s translation rights for his thrillers, everyone talked about his protagonist Jack Reacher.  They loved Jack Reacher and they wanted to read the next book because of him: ‘women want him, men want to be him.’

Character is so important.  I want to see rich, believable and likeable characters.  I want to get to know them.  I want to read your books because of your characters as they connect me to the plot.


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Part 3: What does a literary agent do?

For my final entry on ‘What does a literary agent do?’ I will address deal making.

Every single day I am negotiating top deals in the UK, US and foreign markets, including film and TV rights.  This aspect of the being an agent gives my writers a platform to be successful.  A writer’s career will grow if they have an agent who is constantly trying to sell rights to their books, for instance selling translation rights to different countries.  I continue to sell rights to my authors’ backlist all the time. I attend all the major international book fairs each year, including the Bologna Book Fair, the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. I also make regular trips to the US to liaise with publishers.  At the book fairs I will pitch my authors work to hundreds of different editors from publishing companies all over the world.  I have 30 minutes with each one, starting from 9am through to 6pm with no breaks.  The adrenalin keeps me going.

A lot of work is done between the book fairs .  Sometimes, I like to have sold the UK & Commonwealth rights to a book and then get everyone else interested at the fair; other times I introduce books at the fair; or I will have done a US deal beforehand.  There are lots of tactics involved in creating excitement, and this is how the big advances come into play.  Every deal is important to me, every translation deal, because they can make my authors international bestsellers.

Deal making is very exhilarating but negotiating also takes tons of energy.  Sometimes negotiations go on for weeks.  Auctions are very exciting but it is always important, no matter what the advance, that the agent chooses the most passionate editor for the book and indeed the author’s career as a whole.  It is this passion and commitment from both the editor and the agent that gives the author the best chance of being successful.

The Madeleine Milburn Agency has a long-term vision and an international plan for each author, negotiating significant deals in the UK, the US and foreign markets, liaising with publishers around the world. The Agency works in partnership with film agents, and directly, to option Film & TV rights to leading production companies and film studios in the UK and US.

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Part 2: What does a literary agent do?

Author care has everything to do with being a literary agent.

Writing each day can be a lonely business, and authors need attention to ensure that they stay on track, write top quality manuscripts and deliver according to their contracts.  I like to handle all the business side of things so my authors can concentrate on writing.  They need an agent to bounce ideas off, to edit their work before it goes to their publisher and to offer valuable feedback at all stages in their career.

I like my authors to be as ambitious as I am.  I need them to see writing as a long-term career.  A lot of success only happens after three or four books are published, once the writer has really grown their readership.  There can be times that are more challenging than others, for instance when a writer is out of contract or has just delivered the first draft of a new book.  They have to trust their agent to get the best deals for them and to match them up with the best editors for them around the world.  It is also key that the agent can be frank with their clients’ editors and voice any concerns during the publication process, whilst the author can maintain a very smooth relationship with their editor.

There is a huge amount of work involved when submitting each manuscript my authors produce to all the major editors in every single country.  I have to create a huge amount of hype and convince people that they simply have to publish their books.  I create a lot of this hype at the international book fairs when I see all the editors in person.  This week alone, at the London Book Fair 2012, I had over ninety meetings with editors, pitching my authors’ new titles and backlist.  It is important to get as many foreign rights deals for my authors as possible.  I want them to be international bestsellers.  Also, keeping track of payments, making sure the contracts are fair and getting top advances and royalty rates for each deal negotiated are key factors to being a good agent.

Part 3 of What does a literary agent do? will address Deal Making.

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Writers’ & Artists’ new enterprise

Just as I was thinking it would be a good idea to offer one-on-one consultations to new authors, I was contacted by Writers’ & Artists’ to host their new enterprise, Beat the Rejection Clinics. 

Rather than offering an editorial focus, I sit down with each writer and discuss the commmercial side of publishing.  Discussing how saleable their book is, should they persevere with it, the perfect pitch, who they should approach etc. Essentially, it’s an opportunity for a writer to talk candidly with an agent.

I’ve had some great feedback so far from my very first session:


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