This query arrived in my inbox this morning. It is possibly a joke, but experience tells me it is not. I have pasted it verbatim. How many things about it can you count that would irritate a prospective literary agent? (Not including the fact that the author attached the manuscripts to the email.) I’ll wait for some comments before providing my own list.
Dear sir /madam, 9/11/15
As a literary agent i request your office to edit and assist on selling my three short stories.I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf.You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.My payments can be send through either PAYPAL or WESTERN UNION money transfer.
Okay, so here’s a very quick list of what ‘got my goat’ (as my mother would say) about the query above:
The author has taken no time to personalise his approach. I have no insight into why he decided to contact me – for example, if I had represented another writer whose work is in a similar genre to his – and therefore it feels anonymous and scattergun.
‘As a literary agent i request’ – aside from the lack of punctuation, the lack of graciousness and understanding as to how agents operate is profound. Assuming that I’ll jump at the request is probably the worst part. Unfortunately the fact is that an unpublished author has little bargaining power on querying an agent, unless they have millions of fans on social media or are a celebrity.
Asking me to sell short stories – my Submissions page (at the time of this query) clearly stated that I do not represent fiction.
Asking me to sell THREE short stories – this person has no idea about the business of publishing, which is difficult to respect given the quantity of information available online. Submitting short stories to literary journals and magazines is the lonely work of the isolated writer who does the work in the hope of acceptance, and at a later time, of publication of a longer work. Perhaps a BOOK of short stories.
‘I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf’. Well, thanks very much. Even if it was due.
‘You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.’ Again, you’re too much. Thanks! I’ll be sure to spend the time and money to set up an account with Western Union in order to pay you your proceeds, which will come to exactly … nil. You must not be aware, sitting under a rock as you evidently do, that literary journals mostly pay nothing in cash. In any event, no one in their right mind mentions money in their initial piece of correspondence with anyone, on any topic … do they? Or have I missed some recent transformation in business etiquette?
[F]irst novels that reshape familiar historical material with originality and dash; sustain their strange tales with assurance; move confidently between countries and eras, intimate and national histories; offer two more indications of the present and future health of Australian fiction.
From Peter Pierce’s insightful review of The Secret Son by my client Jenny Ackland, and of Leah Kaminsky’s The Waiting Room, in The Australian over the weekend.
Here’s my client Jenny Ackland’s wrap-up of the launch of her novelThe Secret Son a few days ago. It was a large crowd at the Bella Union in Melbourne. Jenny did a very smart thing by wearing a flaming red dress so everyone could see her. There are several photos including one of me reading out a message from Jenny’s publisher, who could not attend the event. She missed a great party, the only book launch I’ve ever attended that featured a belly dancer. Why? I urge you to read this wonderful novel and find out for yourself.
The Secret Son explores the provocative idea that Australian bushranger Ned Kelly had a son James, who not only fought in Gallipoli, but stayed in Turkey and lived out his life in a remote mountain village. Cem, a troubled young Turkish-Australian man, comes to the village a century later to uncover his family’s past.
Jenny Ackland’s stunning debut novel is fresh on the shelves but already getting the attention it deserves, with this wonderful review on Readings’ website and a pithy piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that concludes:
Ackland effectively interweaves the past and the present as well as the voices that tell the story, James, Cem and the old Turkish woman, Berna, who links them. The Secret Son is infused with Ackland’s love of Turkey and its people. It is a powerful story of good and evil, and belonging.
Jenny lives in Melbourne but she lived in Turkey for a long time, and it’s her abiding love for the country and its people that makes for such a visceral reading experience.
I know that two men are coming up the mountain, at this moment, including the boy from far away. I wonder what my grandson’s face will look like. This is a boy in the skin of a man. I know the boy is innocent, that it’s his family soul which is guilty.
After more than a year of communicating via telephone and email, it was great to meet my client Kellie Arrowsmith today in person in Sydney. She’s in town promoting her memoir SKIMPY, a fast-paced story of her adventures in the outback. (The title comes from her job as a barmaid in several Northern Territory bars, where the partially clothed bartenders are as much a part of NT culture as crocodiles.)
My dear old dad, who would be the first to admit he is not a great reader, describes the book as ‘hilarious’.
Here’s an interesting video for yet-to-be-published writers, in which Kellie describes her path to publication, which is littered with revised drafts. She also sings the praises of her agent, which was an unexpected bonus – for me, anyway.
‘The sharp, riveting narrative of Becoming Westerly deserves to transcend the tiny canon of surf writing and be recognized as a work of mainstream literary nonfiction,’ writes Andrew Lewis in his thoughtful review of my client Jamie Brisick’s wonderful book, about former Australian professional surfer Peter Drouyn who is now Westerly Windina.
Part memoir, part indictment of surfing’s failure-to-launch culture, Brisick’s new book is a raw, intellectual triumph of American surf writing.
Published in Australia by Allen & Unwin earlier this year, the book has just been published in the US. A striking difference in cover treatments, don’t you think?
Being based in Sydney again I am happy to be able to attend client events in person — such as the Sydney launch this week of Anna Bligh’s important memoir, Through the Wall, at HarperCollins HQ.
L-R: Virginia Lloyd, Anna Bligh and Anne Summers at the launch of Through the Wall
I was Anna’s development editor. What that means is that HarperCollins engaged me to help her take the book from a great idea to a finished manuscript. I worked alongside Anna as she honed an outline and drafted chapters, and provided editorial feedback on those chapters and the shape of the work as a whole as it evolved, in consultation with Anna’s publisher, Catherine Milne.
At the launch it was gratifying to hear Anna say that I helped her “find her voice”. Through the Wall is not a political memoir.The subtitle explains it best: “Reflections on leadership, love and survival”. It’s an honest personal insight into public life and the highs and lows of leadership, as well as a gripping account of Anna’s successful battle with cancer in 2013.
A book of memoir is very difficult to write — even if, as Anna said at the launch, she “already knew the plot”. But a good memoir is not solely plot-dependent. In asking oneself what is the best way to bring that known plot to life on the page, the writing demands so much of the author emotionally as well as imaginatively. It demands emotional vulnerability and critical distance at the same time.
I see my development work with authors as a tradesperson might see their toolkit: multiple tools are necessary, each with a specific purpose. My tools range from the copyeditor’s forensic attention to each word, to the diplomatic coaxing required to encourage an author to revisit or address aspects of their story that may be undeveloped in the early drafts. Tough editorial love – cutting out redundant material and moving sections around – is also essential to the task. Developing and maintaining trust between author and editor is critical to a successful collaboration.
Here I am crouching beside the author and another eminent Australian and author, Anne Summers. This photo is particularly significant for me because it was Anne who generously launched my own book several years ago.
I’m thrilled to announce the publication of Becoming Westerly by my client Jamie Brisick.
The book explores the extraordinary life of Peter Drouyn from his days as a champion Australian surfer to his transformation into the woman he always believed he was meant to be: Westerly Windina.
I met Jamie at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2013 when we attended a nonfiction workshop with Geoff Dyer, a writer we both admire greatly. At that stage Jamie was working on the first chapter of Becoming Westerly.
Jamie, a longtime sports journalist, is a wonderful writer. I compare this book with Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief in its ability to weave together biography, surfing history, the complexities of gender identity, and Jamie’s personal observations as a former pro surfer himself.
I’m a Brooklyn-based Australian copywriter, editor and literary agent. As the author of The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement and a mentor/coach to writers, I know how hard it is to write a book. And because I’ve been on both sides of the publishing fence, as an in-house editor and as an author, I can help you get to the level that it takes today to get published. For more about my experience, check out About Me.