New submission rules

As I mentioned on Twitter recently, I’m reverting to my summer submission rules for the foreseeable future. This means:

  • Instead of using the slush pile as my primary means of finding new clients, I have committed to reaching out to authors from marginalised and underrepresented groups who might be seeking an agent.
  • The definition of ‘marginalised group’ I will be using is the same as Beth Phelan’s from #DVpit: including but not limited to ‘Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalised ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.’ I am particularly interested in hearing from indigenous people and people of colour (who may or may not also fall into any of the other categories), because until now the vast majority of submissions I’ve received have been from white people and I would like that to change.
  • I am taking recommendations from everybody, so if you know somebody who fits these criteria and is looking for an agent please let them know about me, or let me know about them.
  • I am not looking for writing by members of dominant social groups whose main characters are marginalised. Please do not send me your MS if you do not count yourself as part of a marginalised or underrepresented group.
  • If you’re a member of a marginalised or underrepresented group but your characters are not, that’s fine by me. I am looking to support authors to create whichever kind of characters they feel like creating.

 

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On (mostly) closing my slush pile

I owe you all several blog posts. Things have been pretty busy around here lately.

I completed my summer experiment in changing the way I receive submissions, and overall I was very pleased with the results. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • As a relatively new agent at a smallish agency, it’s terrifying to make reaching out to authors your primary way of getting new clients. I reached out to people who already had representation but weren’t public about it, people who weren’t interested in getting an agent, people who were interested in getting an agent but would prefer it not to be me, and people who didn’t respond to my email at all. As an agent you get used to rejection from editors, but offering your heart on a plate to a brilliant author whose work you love feels like a very different thing. I’ve always had great admiration for authors putting themselves through the querying process, but now I have some insight into what it actually takes, their bravery really takes my breath away.
  • It’s also a matter of timing. Unless it’s somebody I’ve gotten to know personally and already have the beginnings of a long-term relationship with, I prefer to see a full-length MS from an author before signing them. So of course I found myself reaching out to authors who had a finished MS but had just signed with an agent a few months or weeks ago, and to authors who were still working on their novel but promised to put me at the top of their submission list when they had it ready. It’ll still be a good few months before I find out whether this summer’s work has actually resulted in any clients.
  • I did still get some queries via the normal method – I specified that authors from marginalised groups should feel free to query me and mention my blog post in their query. Unsurprisingly, the standard of queries was incredibly high – almost all of them were from people who had taken the time to get to know the way the industry works, to actually read the blog post, to find out some things about me and send me material they thought might actually be a good fit. I happened not to find a client through my new, smaller slush pile this summer, but that’s a reflection on personal taste and how few clients I sign in a year, not a reflection on the quality of the queries.
  • I did, as predicted, get a whole bunch of queries from authors belonging to dominant social groups writing about marginalised characters. I am sorry, guys, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.
  • I really need to do this for longer and see what happens.

It was a difficult summer in many ways. It made my job more stressful and it made me feel less comfortable and less complacent. But it also felt like absolutely the right thing to do. I was able to correspond with authors I’m really excited about, I got to read their work, I might end up signing one or two of them but even if I don’t, at least I know them now and I get to watch where they go next. Most importantly, I was able to offer support to the voices we need to see in publishing. If my reaching out inspired anybody to believe a little bit harder in themselves and their work, it was worth doing – even if they then choose to query a bunch of other agents and not me.

It’s been two months now since I re-opened my slush pile and started taking queries the normal way again, and I find that I really miss the way things were this summer. And there have been some events in publishing that have made me sad and convinced me that I have to try harder to raise up marginalised voices in this industry. I’ll be closing my slush pile again soon, this time for a longer period. I haven’t set a date for closure yet, but when I do I’ll post it here.

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Foreign rights deals roundup

I recently realised that foreign rights don’t get a lot of love on this blog, except at book fair time, which is a shame. After all, foreign rights are half of my job, and also the bit of my job that I’ve been doing the longest – I’ve been an agent since 2014, but I’ve been selling foreign rights in various capacities since 2008. I love spending time with foreign publishers, love selling books in translation, love seeing them come back to me transformed, with new titles and new covers to fit their new markets. So I just thought I’d do a quick round-up post of the foreign rights deals I’ve done since Bologna in April.

– Turkish rights to Laura Nowlin’s If He Had Been With Me, to Aspendos Yayinevi. Laura’s debut came out back in 2013 and is still going strong in English – a few months ago it became a NYT ebook bestseller. So far Brazilian and Turkish rights have been sold, and I’m hoping for more sales in future, both of this and of her second book, This Song is (Not) For You.

– French rights to Kate Blair’s Transferral, to Editions Michel Lafon, as described on Kate’s blog. My wonderful French co-agent, Lora Fountain, really got behind this one, and we secured a deal within just a few weeks. And now the TV option has been sold, so that will give me something fun to talk about at Frankfurt!

– German rights to Beck Nicholas’s Last Days of Summer, to cbt at Random House Germany. This is Beck’s fifth book since she first signed with us a few years ago, and her writing just goes from strength to strength. I see a few editors at each book fair whose first question is always ‘what’s Beck Nicholas working on next?’, and I’m always so excited to tell them – so I was delighted to finally secure a German home for her writing.

Congratulations to Laura, Kate and Beck! I can’t wait to see your first foreign editions.

In some ways I feel like I’m still in post-Bologna mode, but preparations for Frankfurt are already underway – my diary is filling up with appointments and I really ought to start thinking about the catalogue. Post-Bologna just means pre-Frankfurt, after all. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Here’s what’s happening this summer

Okay, here we go! I am now officially closed to queries for the summer, to give me more time to focus on reaching out to marginalised authors. Queries sent to me between now and September 1st will be deleted, with one exception: if you count yourself as a member of a marginalised group and write the kind of thing I tend to represent, please feel free to query me through the query form on my blog (not through the Rights Factory website), and mention this blog post in your query.

The definition of ‘marginalised group’ I will be using is the same as Beth Phelan’s from #DVpit: including but not limited to ‘Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalised ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.’ I am particularly interested in hearing from indigenous people and people of colour (who may or may not also fall into any of the other categories), because until now the vast majority of submissions I’ve received have been from white people and I would like that to change.

I am taking recommendations from everybody, so if you know somebody who fits these criteria and is looking for an agent please let them know about me, or let me know about them.

I am 100% sure that I am also going to get a whole bunch of queries from authors belonging to dominant social groups writing about marginalised characters, because that’s how people belonging to dominant social groups tend to roll. Just to make it clear, when I say I am looking for ‘marginalised voices’, this refers to the identity of the authors, not to the identity of the characters they write.

This doesn’t mean I’m only looking for #ownvoices manuscripts – if you’re a member of a marginalised group but your characters are not, that’s fine by me. I am looking to support authors to create whichever kind of characters they feel like creating.

Closing to new queries does not mean that I’ll be deleting all the queries I already have. If you do not fit the criteria above, but your query or partial manuscript is in my inbox right now, I promise I will respond to it.

Okay, let’s do this thing.

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A different way of doing things

The first time I saw this tweet thread from Sarah Hannah Gómez on Twitter, I scrolled past it thinking ‘well, I already solicit manuscripts from marginalised authors sometimes. I’m doing okay’.

Then I thought ‘when was the last time I actually approached an author to request a submission from them?’. I’ve been pretty busy since Frankfurt last year, and finding and approaching new authors takes time. Especially when you’ve got a brimming slush pile – how can I justify going out to find new authors when I have all these nice ones right here waiting far too long to hear from me? I thought about a closed, empty slush pile, and about how much more time I would have to find new authors if I didn’t have to deal with it, just for a few months. So I decided to accept the challenge – this summer, when publishing is quiet and I’d usually be concentrating on my slush pile, I will instead be closing to queries for three full months and spending my slush-pile time reading short stories by marginalised authors online, getting more involved in Twitter discussions and generally trying my very best to connect with marginalised authors and get them to send me their writing.

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I only like book fairs when I am at book fairs.

I have this problem with book fairs, which is that I hate them at all times unless I am actually at them. It doesn’t matter how many fairs I go to (and I’m well into double figures now), and it doesn’t matter that I’ve had a marvellous time at all of them. As soon as I’m on the plane home I forget everything that’s excellent about book fairs, and adamantly dislike them until the next time I step into an exhibition hall a few months later – at which point I promptly go ‘oh yes, I remember, these are one of the best parts of my job!’.

So I’ve decided this time is going to be different. This time I’m going to remember all of the excellent things about book fairs, and I’m going to be excited in the run-up to Bologna instead of hating the preparations and just getting excited the moment I step into the Fiere (that main entrance with all the flags, and the illustrator displays as you step in…oh good, it’s working already!). To that end, here is a list, in no particular order, of a few of the things I like about book fairs, and that I liked about this Frankfurt in particular.

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Deal announcement: HOLLY FARB AND THE PRINCESS OF THE GALAXY, by Gareth Wronski

Exciting announcement! North American rights to Gareth Wronski’s brilliant middle-grade science fiction novel, HOLLY FARB AND THE PRINCESS OF THE GALAXY, have been sold to Amy Cloud of Aladdin (Simon & Schuster). Publication is scheduled for Summer 2017.

HOLLY FARB is a hilarious, Douglas-Adams-esque work about a schoolgirl who gets kidnapped by alien space pirates when they mistake her for the missing princess of a far-away galaxy. Lost in space, she must band together with her eccentric science teacher and a mysterious new student to find her way back to Earth. It contains space cruise liners, bounty hunters, giant worms, terrifying blobs, perky holograms, cosmic board games, sinister insectoid librarians, government clones, vacuum cleaners, the President of the Universe and a robot who is learning how to lie. It’s about bravery, friendship, and finding out that your world can be bigger than you ever imagined. It’s about a nerdy, lonely girl finding her place in the universe. It’s funny and wonderful and I adore it.
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