|Kathryn and Lindsey|
The Literary Agency represents authors and illustrators for children and adults from all over the UK and overseas. The Consultancy continues their involvement in readership development, editing and book selection, and they manage The Pushkin Prizes – a creative writing initiative for children in their 1st and 2nd years at Scottish secondary schools and specialist English language schools in St Petersburg.
Lindsey very kindly agreed to answer some questions on submitting your MS, researching your craft and the do's and don'ts when approaching an agent!
Pressing 'send' is one of the most unnerving tasks an author has to do once they are satisfied their work is at the submission stage. Can you provide any helpful do's/don'ts for submitting authors?
DO remember that literary agents need writers and illustrators.
When you submit your work to a literary agent, that literary agent assumes that you believe your book is ready to be published. So the very fact that you’re submitting tells us a great deal about you as an author. Like many other agents, we do work on manuscripts with authors, and we do so now more often than we did when we started. But our primary role is to secure a commercial publisher’s support. So...
DO pay attention to things like grammar, punctuation and spelling. I’m not beyond making errors in all three – but not, I hope, when it matters. It turns out that our names – Kathryn Ross and Lindsey Fraser – present a number of spelling challenges. If you take the time to get them right, it definitely helps.
DON'T write a covering letter in which you berate the literary community for having taken such a ludicrously long time to acknowledge your astonishing writing skills. Bitterness is not appealing. Be positive.
The best writers are widely read – we are always interested to know what writers you like reading and where you feel your writing fits on the bookshelves.
DO follow the submission guidelines – for example there are good reasons that agents want the first three chapters, and not some random chapters of which the author is particularly proud from the middle of the book.
Most agencies prefer electronic submissions these days – but the result has been many more premature submissions. It is so easy to press that ‘send’ button. I would always recommend that writers print out their manuscripts and work on their final edits on a hard copy. Or change the font and size on screen – it gives a whole new perspective on a manuscript with which you are very familiar. On-screen editing is convenient, but it can be quite ham-fisted at times, and more suited to copy editing than creative editing.
DO submit to two or three agents at a time. If you get an offer, let the other agencies know. Tempting though it will be to sign on the dotted line, you don’t have to go with the first offer you get – take time to have a conversation with the agent, so that you feel confident that this is a working relationship that will last. And if you do submit by post, don’t enclose glittery stars with your manuscript. Having to vacuum can ruin my day.
If an author sends in work that they feel fits one genre but you see it at another level, would this sway your decision to offer representation?
Often writers tell us where they think their book fits in the market – and that can be quite revealing in terms of the research they’ve done and their expectations. But I am looking for writing and storytelling that knocks my socks off. If it does that, I’ll happily debate genre at a later date.
Do you read every submission that comes through the doors of Fraser Ross or do you have a team of experts who work their way through them? On average, how many do you receive every month?
The submissions process is one with which every Literary Agent I know struggles. We are still open to submissions, but we are so behind with our responses that I can hardly bear to think about it. We used to give feedback but partly because of the lack of time, and partly because it wasn’t always appreciated, we rarely do now. Yes, we do read everything between us. Every so often we engage readers to help – but in the end the decision has to be ours. After all, if we sign a writer to the agency we hope very much it will be a long term business relationship so it’s a big decision, and it has to be one we’re happy with.
Are you on the look out for any particular age range/topic at the moment?
We are constantly talking to publishers about what they’re looking for, and we take note of their shopping lists. But the core market for children will consistently be 8 to 12, so good writing for that age-group is always going to lift our spirits. Sometimes – as in the case of Chris Higgins – a writer catches our attention with one type of writing and then turns out to be every bit as good at another. Or you have a writer like Vivian French who can turn her hand to virtually anything. Or an illustrator like Barroux who revels in different styles and approaches. So I’m more interested in what our writers and illustrators bring to us than in dictating what I’d like them to bring to us.
There are times when writers work on something for which we simply cannot envisage finding a publisher, and the ensuing conversation can be difficult. But by and large writers who are working on books they’re keen to write are happier and more successful.
What are your thoughts on submitting to the same agent for a second time - should an author approach them with a different book idea or move on?
Check with the agent. If they’ve given you guidance which suggested that they thought it would be worth reworking something you’ve submitted, it may well be worth going back to them. But bear in mind that while you’ve been redrafting they’ve been receiving yet more submissions – so you may well have to be patient. All over again.
What do you look for in a prospective client?
- Fluent writing and inspired illustration - obviously.
- A professional approach to their work, and to working with us and their publishers.
- Good communication skills.
- A good sense of the industry outside their own area of expertise.
In this digital age as a specialist literary agency based in Scotland, do you think location matters?
The Edinburgh International Book Festival will be opening its doors once again next month. Who or what has been your highlight from the festival over the years and who would you recommend for this year?
The book festival is an opportunity for me to find out about authors I’ve never heard of, so I’d suggest taking a lucky dip approach – there are always great surprises in there. The first time I saw J K Rowling – long before I became a literary agent - was in a damp tepee with an audience of about 15. The next year she was sold out. How smug are those 15 people?!
Of past festivals, I will always feel lucky to have been at Maya Angelou’s events; I loved Garrison Keillor’s performances, John Irving reading from A Prayer for Owen Meany, Carol Shields and Alastair Macleod. There are too many highlights from the children’s programme over the years to mention – but last year’s event with Judith Kerr was unforgettable.
This year Joan Lingard, now in her eighties, will launch her new novel for children – Trouble on Cable Street - set against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in London in the 30s. She’s been on every single EIBF programme since it started. You’d think she might like to take a break – but she epitomises the addictive nature of the writer. The minute she’s written THE END she’s planning the next novel. I’ll be at her event, without a doubt.
The Writers & Artists Yearbook provides a wealth of information for all fledgeling authors - are there any other books/websites out there that you would advise them to read?
I think it’s one of the best, but the main thing is to do your research and not waste opportunities. Research the agencies you’re submitting to. A quick look at their authors will tell you a great deal for a start. Visit libraries, go and hear writers talking about their books, buy books from bookshops – be part of the world you have ambitions to join. Like any other industry you’d want to be part of, the more you know, the better.
Name your five favourite authors!
You can assume that writers and illustrators represented by Fraser Ross Associates are all my favourites!
Beyond them – and in no particular order - E B White, Alastair MacLeod, Jane Austen, Tove Jansson, Anne Tyler.
And I would probably choose a different five tomorrow.