SPECIAL FEATURE Interview with agent Lina Langlee

Edinburgh-based YA writer Rachel Davison recently caught up with Lina Langlee, junior literary agent with the Kate Nash Literary Agency.

Can you tell us why you decided to become an agent?

There are so many reasons why I wanted to become an agent – the main one being that I think it is the best job in the world. I get to find talent, work closely with authors on their long-term career, shout about great writing, build relationships with editors and negotiate deals. That’s before even mentioning the sheer thrill of closing a deal which means you’ll see a story you love be turned into a published book.

What's on your wish-list for submissions?

Anything with a brilliant voice! If you have a character that really leaps off the page, the rest will follow or can be worked on. I should mention that I don’t represent picture books.

I would love to see some more diversity in our submissions inbox, especially when potential cultural differences play a part in the story, but isn’t the story. I also take on board the criticism that some books for children and teens are too 'worthy'. Young people deserve to read for enjoyment as much as adults do!

There have been a lot of discussions on Twitter lately about sales of UK YA falling. Have you got any particular theories on why this is, and any ideas on how the industry can change this?

The YA market is often bolstered by film adaptations, so sales figures can fluctuate quite a lot depending on what is happening in the film industry. That’s not very interesting in the discussion on how to boost YA sales though; rather, the focus should be on how to reach the target audience with the books that aren’t necessarily big blockbusters.

Having worked in publicity, I know first-hand how difficult it is to get traditional coverage for YA titles. I think publishers have to rethink how to reach readers, perhaps by having focus groups, fun events and possibly working more with school libraries. YouTube and influencers can play a huge role too, and I would really like to see some more targeted marketing.

Where do you find authors to sign? Is it mainly through submissions to the agency, or are there other ways you might come across authors?

There is so much talent in our (very full) submissions inbox! I’ve found most of my clients there, but I’ve also signed a few from being at writers’ conferences, festivals and from hosting 'open days' where authors can come and tell us about their work.

What are some of the reasons that might lead you to reject a submission, and what advice might you have for an author receiving rejections?

There are so many reasons why I wouldn’t take on an author – and quite a few of them have very little to do with their writing, which might sound a bit mad. Just the sheer volume of submissions we receive means that the odds are greatly stacked against you.

I think people forget that an agent isn’t there to objectively say 'this book is publishable' and 'this book isn’t publishable', and take on a client, or reject, accordingly. A lot of if it comes down to what an agent is currently looking for, and how full their list is. If I have just signed a great MG where the characters from a popular video game come alive, I am unlikely to sign another MG with a similar storyline. Personal taste is also important. I’ve read lots of submissions that I recognise as great, but I don’t feel like I am the right agent for.

So my advice would definitely be to keep going. 'It’s not me, it’s the agent' is genuinely true very often.

What have you read recently that you have loved?

Not a hidden gem in any way, but I just finished On The Come Up by Angie Thomas. Her books have been huge successes for many reasons, not least because she is an absolute master in writing relationships, dialogue and including popular culture in a way that feels meaningful to her characters.

I would encourage any writer to pick her books up to study how she does this.

How much does knowledge of the market influence your decision to sign someone? For example, if you really loved a submission, but couldn’t see where to place it in the market, would this put you off signing an author?

I’ve certainly turned down submissions that I like but that I don’t think I could find a publishing deal for – but if I absolutely loved something, I would sign it. Trends can work against you, but they are cyclical and there will always be books that buck the trend.

How can a writer make a submission to the Kate Nash Literary Agency stand out from the crowd?

This might sound like such a small thing but work on your email subject heading.

We can’t read quite at the same rate as submissions come in, so I will often search for a genre I’m particularly keen to look at. If you’ve included key words such as 'YA', 'MG', 'contemporary' etc in your subject heading, your submission will come up in my search results. If you haven’t, your submission will still be read but perhaps not at the time when I’m actively looking for the kind of book you’ve written. A lot of emails we receive have a subject along the lines of 'author seeking representation'. That’s a lost opportunity in an inbox where every single email is from an author seeking representation.

Other than that, make sure your opening pages are really gripping. I want a sense of who your protagonist is as quickly as possible and what the conflict at the heart of the story is likely to be. You can interweave backstory and world building later on – for now, work on really grabbing the reader’s attention.

Lina Langlee began her career in publishing by working in Rights at Canongate and Publicity at Black & White Publishing. She is now a literary agent with the Kate Nash Literary Agency, and is actively building her list across genres. She is looking for voices that grab you immediately, settings that transport you, and characters you can’t let go. Originally from Sweden, Lina resides in Edinburgh. Follow her on Twitter: @LinaLanglee

Rachel Davison grew up in rural Northumberland, dreaming of city life. She now lives in Edinburgh, and dreams about living in the country. She writes YA fiction and is currently editing a contemporary YA mystery with a hint of spooky. She is represented by Lauren Gardner at Bell Lomax Moreton. You can find her on Twitter at @msracheldav

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear from an agent about an important aspect of the publishing industry.


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