As with anything about this job, it's all about taking a view at the time and working towards the needs of the client and the situation.
The first chat I have with a prospective author is crucial in making sure that we’re on the same wavelength, that we are working towards the same end. My advice if you’re choosing an agent is to listen to what they say about your book. Sounds obvious. Can you connect with it, do they talk about your book in a way that you can enter in to?
When choosing an agent, listen to what they say about your book.
I’ve been interested in a book, but when talking to the author, it became clear we would pull in opposite directions. I knew I wasn’t the right match. I think a good edit is about being in synch and complementary, identifying the strengths of the writer, story and concept, and helping draw them out.
A debut often requires some measure of work. My client and I need the best possible book to maximise the chance of a publishing deal, and the value of that deal.
A debut often requires some measure of work.
Sometimes a debut comes in ready to sell, not often though. The only time it’s happened to me I was in a salon having my hair bleached on the phone to an author whose book I’d just finished and it was perfect: ready to send out; raw; magic; stunning. I signed this author up standing on King’s Cross Road with my hair in foils. The phone call took an hour, my stylist was freaking out, the bleach was in for way too long, and when I got off the phone and washed the bleach out, my hair was grey. But it was worth it. I sent it out the next day, and two weeks later tied up a seven publisher auction: this isn’t the norm.
More likely we'll spend some time working on the ms. Again, every situation is diffferent. We may sit down with a cup of tea and ask some big questions. What does the writer do best? Where do they fly? Where does the story lose focus? Is the tone consistent? Is the story moving towards its big themes? Why does this section not work? Is it needed? Are there too many characters? Is the story pulling in too many directions? What is this book about, in the small ways and the big ways? What is it trying to say? Is the ageing on point? Are there ways to strengthen the concept? Sometimes we might do it over the phone, or by email.
A good pitch has focus, clarity and intent.
Often we might work on the pitch before the writer heads into their revision. A good pitch has focus, clarity and intent, and keeping those top-line thoughts in mind can help the writer hit the high notes when it comes to revising.
In my job there are two markets. The market that I think about when I sell books to publishers, the editor as buyer, and then there’s the real market. This is what is happening in bookshops today, right now. I get a debut ready for the market of editors. The publisher gets the book ready for the market of book buyers, real readers. Once a debut is sold and author is connected with editor, obviously the agent's role adapts. It’s the editor and the author who create that vision of where the book needs to go, and I work towards supporting that relationship. Editorially my role may recede, it may never be as hands on as it was for the debut.
What I want for my author is a direct, open and trusting relationship with their editor. That’s when the magic happens.
If a client is delivering late and we're getting too close to publication, then the ms may go straight to their editor. If the author has worked long-term with their editor, is in a good position in-house and feels relaxed about the ms, then I may wait to read an edit. If a client is worried about the ms, if we're looking to do a new deal, if I think this new book could make a transformative leap for their career, if their contract isn't being renewed, if I’m worried about any number of things, then I may well work on it if we agree that's the right course of action.
I'm there to help guide my authors, to tell them the truth, and I'm there to listen to what they need and to keep both eyes on their long term interests.