HWS November 2018 Meeting Report by Lisa Nightingale
Heather Holden Brown of HHB Literary Agency
“It is interesting how very, very hard writers work to get their book written,” Heather Holden Brown told the attendees of the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting this Tuesday night, “People on the ‘outside’ think it is easy.”
Heather founded HHB Agency in 2005 on the back of over twenty years’ experience in the publishing industry. She went on to say that if ever she meets someone who says, ‘Everyone has a book in them,’ she runs away — very fast. Because, despite that old adage; writing a book is very hard work.
Drawing on the work of some of the many and varied authors that HHB represents, Heather imparted invaluable advice on the ‘writing’ of books, what draws HHB to and keeps them with an author. And, most importantly, how that helps to pin down publishers.
Number one, of course, is the writing – fabulous, evocative, perhaps with well-timed touch of humour.
Series, Heather muses are growing in trend. So, as it seems, are sunny, by-the-sea settings. Cornwall perhaps.
Be warned however – genre is constantly changing. Remember that, what is en-vogue when your agent secures a publisher, may have gone out of fashion by the time publication comes to fruition! The same with a TV series. Or a film. Some agents may be able to ‘see’ such a promise of the manuscript that they are reading. But then a studio must be sourced and a drama producer. So, it is of little possibility that this vision will be a decider for them taking on your book.
Heather makes the point that biographies, especially if the subject that you have chosen is still alive, are tricky – liabilities that may cost the publishers in turn cost the agents. If you have a biography in mind seek advice and keep passionately tenacious about it! Of course, if your story is autobiographical – don’t try to hide it. Staying true to your story, will make it more saleable.
Meticulous planning, particularly with anything historical and with a down-turned mumble, Heather sheepishly admits that she is not at all enamoured with spreadsheets. But, the planning of dates, research and word-count cannot fail to make that book a winner.
Self-marketing – memberships in many notable organisations, twitter accounts and appearances in publishing journals. All this contributes towards the novel’s success. It also assists the agents.
The cover, this is a debate that as agent, HHB will take on for their author. If the cover is not right, the future sales of that author may fall.
Titles (and to a certain extent historical novels) although it seems that these often wind up being changed. What might make perfect sense to us, here in England, may well be all-to-pieces, mumbo jumbo, balderdash hooey in America; for example, the name Clementine Churchill does not have the same familiarity as Mrs Winston Churchill in a country with a totally different political system to ours. Not to worry though – this is a rough-spot that HHB as agent would iron out.
When it comes to submitting your own novel; “Just send it.” is Heather’s advice. Check out the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (the current one), find your most suitable agent and with a short pitch, comparisons of reading preferences for example; “if you like reading Lisa Jewell, you’ll like reading …” and the first three chapters or whatever the agent’s website asks for, just send it.
Don’t muddle up agents and small publishers – the agencies will not like that.
Incidentally, Heather did mention the dreaded ‘slush pile’ – she hates the term, it makes her grimace!