Myth-busting the Publications Industry; Laura Williams, Literary Agent

“It’s the best job in the world,” Laura Williams, Literary Agent for Greene & Heaton told the members and guests gathered at the Hampshire Writers’ Society November meeting, “I get to work with authors, from day one of their career, until the end of their career.”

“Agents are not out there to take the author’s money,” she says, “and neither are they there to crash your dreams.” Outside the agency, they are super competitive. But, inside they are very forgiving. They talk books all day, swap manuscripts and read unbelievably fast. As agents for authors, they need to get to know all the publishers and booksellers in the industry. They go to book fairs and carry out a huge amount of editing. Laura’s message is that; if her author isn’t happy, she isn’t happy. Myth numbers one and two — busted!

Myth number three: your submission needs to be perfect? No. A bad synopsis will not preclude your submission. Your synopsis should be like a “greatest hits of your book.” The end MUST BE INCLUDED. Your covering letter needs to be polite, to the point and endorse that you know your book thoroughly. Also include a little about yourself. It doesn’t matter that you might have your genre wrong, that is fixable.

It also doesn’t matter who, in the industry, that you know. Laura is keen for us to understand that “It is all about the book.” Myth number 4 — busted!

Until she reads it, Laura sometimes doesn’t know exactly what it is that she is looking for in a manuscript. Her list varies from horror to big love stories that make her cry. As for timing and luck of your submission? The year’s two biggest book fairs take place in March and December. Do not expect an expedient reply if you submit at those times. Also, manuscripts submitted on Christmas Day are not likely to be read until the New Year! “Try three pm on a Thursday in August.” Laura says in jest. But yes, Agents really do read every submission that they receive.

On to myth number six – no, you do not need to live in London. Perhaps this was partly true in times of posting hard-copy manuscripts. Agents travel well and they are eager to try out all other cities. Laura even has clients in Canada.

Myth number seven: it’s about the prizes that you’ve won. It isn’t! A list of the competitions in which you’ve been successful, and your membership of societies (Hampshire Writers’ Society for one) in your covering letter shows that you are serious about your craft. Again, Laura is keen to advise that; “It’s all about the book.”

The same answer shot down myth number eight: it’s essential to have an MA in Creative Writing. There is a plethora of websites offering free advice. The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook is another free resource readily at hand.

Find the “essence” of your book and use that to pitch it in answer to the question, What’s it about? The essence is not always what the book says. All books can be pitched in this way.

Do not write for the market or the current trend. Some trends pass by very quickly, going right out of fashion. It may well be that by the time your novel is to come to fruition, the trend will be long gone. Always write the story that you want to write. If the agent picks it up and the genre isn’t clear; they’ll just “make it up”. And that takes care of myth number nine.

Ten: it’s all in the great writing? It’s a great story that is necessary. If, however the agent suggests a change, it is a good idea to listen. Again, here the agent supports their author. Laura once spent a Sunday afternoon re-writing half of a future client’s manuscript in order to change the point of view; the author did the other half.

What about social media? The agent and the publisher are there to help you through social media. Even if you have no presence on social media at all, it doesn’t matter.

Finally, to number twelve: once you have an agent, you’re set for life! Laura wishes that were true, but unfortunately it is not. Not all books are sold. However, many authors debut is not their first book. In the rare event that the agent is unable to sell your book, they will talk this through with you and together you’ll work out a way forward.

“Carpet bombing may not be quite the right phrase.” Laura says, “But, you get the idea. Send your manuscript to everyone that you want to read it. That’s what she does.”

Literary Agent, Lorella Belli Talks E-books, Publishing and Self-Publishing: an agent’s view

In just over two weeks, Literary Agent Laura Williams will be speaking to Hampshire Writers’ Society. Her talk, Myth-busting the Publications Industry will be live at the Stripe. So, I thought it would be good to resurrect the report of a talk from the Literary Agent, Lorella Belli. Especially as Lorella appears in one of this website’s banner photos, plus it’s Halloween time; resurrecting things is topical!
Lorella talks about the role of an agent regardless of whether the author has chosen to self-publish or the more traditional route of ensnaring the interest of a publisher.
Lorella Belli and Barbara Large
What are the pros and cons of getting a traditional deal or choosing the self-publishing route? In this rapidly changing landscape, what is the role of the agent?
It was Lorella Belli’s ambition to set up her own agency. She set out to know the publishing industry inside out. Her brief to discover ‘new blood’ gave her not just invaluable insider experience but introduced her to many unpublished authors.
‘An agent works for their Author.’ Lorella says. As an agent, her primary concern and something which she feels forms a vital part of the agent/author partnership is; ‘What does the author want from their writing?’
She is the first to declare that the agent’s role in the modern author’s career remains unchanged regardless of chosen route of publication – self or traditional. An area of particular interest is the protection and exploitation of the author’s rights and here, Lorella is well versed and diva.
For the most part, a writer wants readers, they want to see their work in a bookshop. Equally, it is important to recognise the financial aspects of a writer’s career. Both the traditional route and the contemporary self-publishing route provides remuneration, but in different ways.
It is her belief that an agent has a responsibility to be aware of the many platforms of publication available to authors both new and experienced, how those platforms work and therefore be able to fit the author to the best publisher.
Lorella’s agency is vocational towards the needs of an author. There is no room for the agent’s preciousness over writing. ‘So, what if the book is ‘trashy’.’ Lorella says, ‘If the writer is happy, then their readers are happy and so is the publisher.’
An author can retain some control over publishing decisions e.g. the cover even through the traditional route. An informed agent will know to insert such clauses into their contract. Similarly, self-publishing has given the publishing houses some much needed competition – authors now have an alternative.
However, authors must be aware that by choosing the self-publishing route, they are choosing to take on their career in its entirety and inevitably this will cut into writing time. A publishing house provides editing, a marketing department, a sales department and publicity.
The traditional route may seem like it is taking its time, whereas self-publishing can be a whirlwind. Of course, this is after the author has learned all the skills needed to be a publisher.
One huge pro for the appointment of an agent – they get the hurtful rejections! However, an agent of Lorella’s talent will believe in the book and wants to see it published. It is that agent’s job to spot the writer’s talent and therefore their target audience.
It is hugely important that authors remain professional. When an agent is passionate about a book and has an author that they can build on, they will stand more chance of promoting it, even if it does not appear to fit, or is the wrong length.
Even to an agent as talented as Lorella, the next big thing is a mystery. There will always be the wild card – who could have predicted 50 Shades of Grey? However, a writer can keep their eye on publicity to hang on e.g. the Olympics.
As a writer grows more successful, their chosen path can become more complex. Lorella suggests building a team – delegate, remember the AAA (Association of Authors’ Agents) and ask an agent for advice. That is the bottom line of their job – to work for the author.
Lorella Belli
An agent’s website will state what they are looking for. There is no divide between male and female, it is all down to what that agent wants to feel when reading a book. For Lorella, it is what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.
The members present were left in no doubt of Lorella’s message – the agent works for the author, no one else, not themselves, not the publishers. Just the author. They thanked her for her candid, refreshing approach and dependably constant open door

September is a New Year

September! For Hampshire Writers’ Society, September is the start of a whole new year. The programme for our forthcoming season is now shining brighter than a diamond on the website.

E. M Davey

We’re starting the year off with Thriller writer E. M Davey. Ed spent eight years with the BBC, going undercover for Panorama, presenting the BBC World Service, and working on investigations for Newsnight, File on 4, and News at Six. He has visited more than sixty countries and next Tuesday Winchester where he will recount to HWS how adventure, travel, history, and investigative journalism have inspired his thrillers.
PG Wells Proprietor and HWS Treasurer, Crispin Drummond is our special guest. Crispin will spill the beans on how book shops choose the books that they stock and sell and where those books come from. His talk will be a must for writers planning on self-publishing.

Claire Dyer

In October, our speaker is Claire Dyer. Claire is a novelist and poet who likes love stories and cheese! However, she is “allergic to mussels, oysters and the like.” Still, Claire is proud to announce that she has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London which, when added to her BA in English & History from the University of Birmingham, and her MA in Victorian Literature & Culture from the University of Reading she has “three degrees so all she needs is to be able to sing in tune and wear sequins without looking foolish!” You must join us for Claire’s talk; it promises to be a giggle. Writer and poet Hilary Hares joins Claire as special guest.

Laura Williams

Literary Agent, Laura Williams in November is going to bring us all back down to earth with some myth-busting about the publications industry. November special guest is to be novelist of history and the supernatural, Emma Nichol-Lewis.

Caroline Wintersgill

Editor, Caroline Wintersgill in December is going to let us in on a secret – What Editors Want. Our own wonderful historical novelist, David Eadsforth is our Christmassy special guest.
Before you get excited about Christmas, HWS has four excellent speakers worth a listen even if their writing isn’t your thing. All genres, types, makes or brands of writing go into making a novelist and our speakers are eager to pass on that tip-bit that will click all your everythings together.

Check the programme on the website for monthly competitions and the remainder of the 2019-2020 programme.

Post by Lisa Nightingale