Win A Bookish Night In Set!

For news, special content and giveaways, you’re warmly invited to join my exclusive Readers’ Book Club! Every UK subscriber is automatically entered into the monthly prize draw, and this month one reader will receive this ‘Bookish Night In’ set: a copy of Beautiful Liars, a Go Away I’m Reading badge & a bar of my favourite Space Hopper chocolate from Montezumas … simply sign up to enter by midnight 31st March.

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Writing Qs: How Do I Get An Agent?

Over the past decade, I’ve been a frequent speaker at book events and festivals, bringing me into contact with a great many readers, as well as writers in the early stages of their own careers.  Naturally, lots of ‘how to’ questions arise, and in this short series of interviews I hope to answer some of those questions, to encourage more writers to take their work seriously and follow their ambitions. 
To kickstart the series, I am delighted to welcome book champion Kate Shaw to share her words of wisdom on the subject of finding (and keeping!) a literary agent.

Interview with Kate Shaw, The Shaw Agency, London

Kate Shaw has been a literary agent since 2001, and she founded The Shaw Agency in 2019. I first met Kate ten years ago, when I was on the brink of releasing my debut novel, and through a series of fortunate events we were reacquainted several years later, and I have had the pleasure of Kate’s support and representation since 2011. Kate represents writers of literary and commercial fiction, children’s books from age 7+, and non-fiction across a variety of genres including politics and current affairs.  Her passion is nurturing new literary talent.

Kate, thank you for so generously agreeing to share your insights with us today.  Firstly, perhaps you could tell our readers exactly what a literary agent can do for a writing client?
I think of myself as a combination of the following: a talent spotter, a literary midwife, a connector of people and their stories; a tough negotiator, a champion and nurturer of writers, a simultaneous translator between writer and publisher/producer, a strategist and most of all, a tireless and passionate advocate of my authors and their books.

What type of writers do you represent?  Any we have heard of?
Fiction has always been central to my list and among the novelists I proudly represent are: Isabel Ashdown (Little Sister, published in 8 territories); Susan Elliot-Wright (Sunday Times bestselling The Things We Never Said, translated into several languages); and Melanie Finn (whose debut was longlisted for the Orange Prize and IMPAC Award).  Children’s and YA books have also always been an important part of my list and include: Holly Smale, (Geek Girl series, sold 3.4+ million copies worldwide, translated into 29 languages, won the Waterstone’s Best Book for Teens Prize); James Nicol (The Apprentice Witch series, translated into several languages, optioned for TV by Lime Pictures); Alan Macdonald (Dirty Bertie series, with illustrator David Roberts, translated into 21 languages); Vashti Hardy (Brightstorm, Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Season and shortlisted for the Books are My Bag Readers Award, translated into several languages); and Lucy Adlington (The Red Ribbon, translated into several languages, nominated for the Carnegie Medal). Since 2018 I’ve had a First Look Deal with the Golden Egg Academy an organisation which gives editorial advice to aspiring children’s and teen authors.

In non-fiction, my clients include: Ian Cobain (Cruel Britannia: A Secret History Of Torture, Paddy Power Debut Political Book of the Year), Alex Crawford (multi-award winning Sky News journalist, Gaddafi’s Hat, optioned for TV by World Pictures) and Andy Seed (Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff, Blue Peter Book Award Winner).

We’ve all heard that literary agents are inundated daily with new submissions, and unpublished writers live in fear of the dreaded slushpile!  What chance does a new writer have of getting signed with an agent – and what can they do to improve those chances?
It’s true that I take on only a handful of new writers a year, and yet receive dozens of new submissions a week.  I don’t get time to read these during my working week or even most evenings – my client’s business must take precedence.  
So, I advise: research, research, research.  Make sure you know a bit about the agents you are submitting to from their websites, twitter feeds and articles like this and make sure you submit the material they are asking for in the way they ask for it.  Bending the rules (e.g. sending emails when they ask for paper/post submissions, adding two extra chapters when they ask for three, chasing replies when they ask you not to) are more likely to irritate than to win you attention. 

Next, make sure your cover letter is well written, interesting and concise – and relevant to the submission. This is your ‘hello’ so make it work!  Have you any professional writing credits such as publication in magazines or plays read on radio?  Have you won any prizes for your writing?  Is there a pertinent and interesting reason you chose that subject e.g. were you a psychiatric nurse whose subject is mental illness?  Put those things in the short cover letter.  I have had lots of unexpected finds in my career. The slushpile is my friend (sometimes!)

When you receive new submissions, how important is the accompanying synopsis?  Any tips you can offer?
I never look at the synopsis first, I read the chapters.  Afterwards, though, it can be useful, and I prefer them to be no longer than a page, showing where the story goes but not giving too much away.  For plot driven genre fiction this is particularly important.  Interestingly, I find them more useful than I used to, perhaps through experience: so many times I’ve liked something in the opening chapters but the synopsis didn’t sound interesting and when I ask to read the rest I discover that the novel realises exactly the weaknesses of the synopsis.  That said, when I have completely fallen in love with an opening I may not even look at the synopsis before asking to see the rest.  The opening three chapters of Holly Smale’s debut, which became the international bestseller, Geek Girl, hooked me immediately and I asked to see the rest in a heartbeat.  I didn’t even notice there wasn’t much in the synopsis. The reason? Holly hadn’t written the whole novel yet.

Of course, getting an agent isn’t the end of the line.  Once they’ve secured a literary agent, what more can a writer do to strengthen their chances of getting published?
Make sure you choose your agent carefully.  Some employ a splatter technique, taking on lots of new projects a year and dropping those that aren’t bought straight away.  So do your research and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about what you can expect from them, what their success rate is etc before signing up. 

The next thing to consider is your social presence and your social media presence.  You’re officially a writer now, soon to be a published author.  You are entering a new network and expanding your contacts within this community is vital.  This might be through membership of organisations such as SCBWI (for children’s writers), attendance of writers’ festivals and book events, and also via good use of social media. 

Social media is now pretty much vital for an author to engage in. If you are a relative newbie at this, don’t be afraid to ask your agent, your publishers (when you have them), fellow writers … everyone … for advice, encouragement, tips.  Several agencies like ours will have sheets of handy tips about SEO and on-line platforms, and will make this topic part of their ongoing conversations with their authors.  And it really is a conversation: I can learn as much from clients as I am teaching them.  Perhaps most importantly of all, work incredibly hard at your writing and editing. Be patient and responsive to feedback; and flexible, while also of course being true to yourself and your creativity.

What makes for a good agent/author relationship?
First, a passion for and commitment to the author’s writing.  Next mutual respect, honesty and shared attitudes towards professionalism, promptness and hard work.   Finally, on both sides: thoughtfulness, a good sense of humour and graciousness.

Some of our readers will be interested in a career in publishing.  Can you tell us about your route into becoming a literary agent?
I left university during the recession of the 1990s and applied for hundreds of jobs before I was hired by a PR agency in the City. I knew it wasn’t me but I also learned important skills there about how publicity works and about being part of a team.  I continued to apply for publishing and media jobs and finally I got a break as an assistant to a literary agent, part time. It was risky – the pay was terrible – but I asked everyone I could in the industry how to get more work and soon was hired as marketing and publicity manager for a small publishers.  After two years this led to a job at Penguin, where I worked for a couple of years as publicity manager and then director.  Now I knew exactly what I wanted to do – to work with brilliant authors on their manuscripts.  I made the switch into agenting, initially as an assistant at Aitken Alexander Associates.  You could say I was right back to where I started five years before, but now I was focussed and more experienced.  Soon I was taking on my own clients. 

So far, what have been the most memorable moments of your career?
Being called on maternity leave to be told one of my clients was a Richard & Judy selection; celebrating with authors like Holly Smale and her publishers when she won The Waterstone’s Best Book for Teens Prize, and when she sold her millionth copy;  telling Joanna Courtney and Justine Windsor that finally, after years of effort and belief, they had their first book offers; every time there’s wonderful, exciting news to share with authors, to reward their hard, hard work.

Perhaps most of all I love that feeling, when the hairs on the back of my arm stand up as I am reading an unpublished, unsolicited novel I have fallen in love with.  Often I am the first professional to read it: that is so exciting!

While it is terrific when clients enjoy critical and commercial success, what’s even more special to me is the moment when I recognise that they are the real deal.  This often happens when I read a second draft of their book, perhaps after I’ve been in two minds about the first draft.  Authors make me most proud, and move me most deeply, when they make courageous, difficult changes to their work and in doing so, understand what is required to uncover the brilliance within. 

What are you reading at the moment?
Always, always reading with a sense of awe and wonder, new material from my existing clients.  
And although I don’t get to do this as often as I like, I do still read published books for pleasure!  Recently I enjoyed Emma Kennedy’s painfully funny memoir, The Tent, The Bucket and Me, published some years ago now, and comedy gold; Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout.

Any final words of encouragement to aspiring writers who are reading this blog today?
Keep reading other books, keep writing your own.  Be realistic about what you can achieve and how you can get there.  Work hard.  Research hard.  Work even harder.  Never stop doing these things and you will improve as a writer, whatever else happens. Good luck!


FOLLOW KATE AND THE SHAW AGENCY:
Website: www.theshawagency.co.uk
Twitter: @KateJShaw
Instagram: @agentkateshaw

If you’ve enjoyed this article, look out for others in the series by following me on social media, or signing up to my newsletter for quarterly updates, exclusive content and book giveaways.

CURRENT ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

HURRY UP AND WAIT 99p on Amazon Kindle

This month’s special offer is HURRY UP AND WAIT – 99p on Amazon Kindle for a limited period.

“Bursting with teen preoccupations of the 1980s – this lively journey through the embarrassments of growing up is tightly entwined with a darker tale. Sarah Ribbons is now 20 years older and wiser than her teenage self and has returned home for a school reunion. But what is it that is upsetting her so profoundly?” – SAINSBURY’S MAGAZINE

“Ashdown’s depiction of a vulnerable teenager and the magnetic pull of a toxic friendship will have you wincing with recognition” – GLAMOUR MAGAZINE

“Haunting fiction” – STYLIST MAGAZINE

“Funny, insightful and often tragic. A fascinating book whose apparent simplicity masks complexity as it reveals once again the strength of Ashdown’s talent as a perceptive and engaging writer. This is a fitting second novel from the author of the acclaimed Glasshopper and will appeal to personal readers and book clubs alike” – NEW BOOKS MAGAZINE

“Ashdown’s début novel Glasshopper was named as one of the best books of 2009, and this well-crafted follow-up doesn’t disappoint” – HEAT MAGAZINE

BUY IT HERE

February’s Feel-Good Giveaway

For news, special content and giveaways, you’re warmly invited to join my exclusive Readers’ Book Club! Every UK subscriber is automatically entered into the monthly prize draw, and this month one reader will receive this bumper stack of wellbeing titles from Orion Publishing … simply sign up to enter by midnight 28th February.

Privacy Policy:

My Newsletter & Your Data: thank you for subscribing!  Occasionally I will send you news about my books, events and any special promotions I feel may be of interest to you.  I promise I will never sell or pass on your details to any other third party, and of course you may unsubscribe at any time.

Privacy & Cookies: this site uses cookies from WordPress.com and selected partners.  To find out more, as well as how to remove or block these, see here: Our Cookie Policy

FLIGHT in the Kindle 99p January Promo

This month’s special offer is FLIGHT99p on Amazon Kindle throughout January – or if you prefer paperback, just £3.98 for a limited period.

Moving between the majestic coastline of North Cornwall and the leafy suburbs of London, Flight is a story of secrets and lies – and of the indelible traces that are left behind when someone tries to disappear. When Wren Irving’s numbers come up in the first ever national lottery draw, she doesn’t tell her husband, Rob. Instead she quietly packs her bags, kisses her six-month-old daughter Phoebe goodbye, and leaves. Two decades later, Rob has moved on and found happiness with their oldest friend, Laura. Phoebe, now a young woman, has never known any other life. But when Rob receives a mysterious letter, the past comes back to haunt them all. With their cosy world thrown into turmoil, Laura sets out to track Wren down and discover the truth about why she walked out all those years ago.

I loved researching and writing this book, falling completely in love with Cornwall in the process – I hope you’ll enjoy reading it just as much 🙂

BUY IT HERE

January’s Audiobook Giveaway

For news, exclusive content and giveaways, you’re warmly invited to join my exclusive Readers’ Book Club! Every UK subscriber is automatically entered into the monthly prize draw, and this month one reader will receive audio CDs of Little Sister and Beautiful Liars  … simply sign up to enter by midnight 31st January.

Privacy Policy:

My Newsletter & Your Data: thank you for subscribing!  Occasionally I will send you news about my books, events and any special promotions I feel may be of interest to you.  I promise I will never sell or pass on your details to any other third party, and of course you may unsubscribe at any time.

Privacy & Cookies: this site uses cookies from WordPress.com and selected partners.  To find out more, as well as how to remove or block these, see here: Our Cookie Policy

LAKE CHILD – Cover Reveal!

OUT: AUTUMN 2019

Deceit, abduction, murder …
How far would you go for your family?

Out Autumn 2019 in Paperback, eBook and Audiobook

Isabel’s recent novels Little Sister and Beautiful Liars both entered the Amazon bestseller charts within weeks of release, as readers new and old were gripped by her pacy, character-driven psychological thrillers.  The books have since gained a strong following from individuals and reading groups alike, and thanks to those readers’ support, Little Sister went on to be nominated in the Dead Good Reader awards 2018.  

This Autumn, Isabel returns with the hauntingly beautiful Lake Child

Set in a remote valley town in the heart of Norway’s ancient fjords, Lake Child centres on the mystery of a young Norwegian woman, Eva Olsen, as she wakes after an accident and finds herself confined to the attic room of her family’s forest home.  When 17-year-old Eva gains consciousness, injured and robbed of her most recent memories, she trusts her parents’ advice that she must remain in her attic bedroom while she recuperates. But when Eva decides the time has come to break free of their caring incarceration, she discovers a world of secrets and lies, and a journey to discover her true identity begins.

If you loved THE TOP OF THE LAKE, SHARP OBJECTS and THE SINNER, you’ll love this multi-layered, atmospheric thriller about a small town with secrets to hide.

Pre-Order: eBook / Paperback / Audiobook

Writing Qs: What Are Words Worth?

Over the past decade, I’ve been a frequent speaker at book events and festivals, bringing me into contact with a great many readers, as well as writers in the early stages of their own careers.  Naturally, lots of ‘how to’ questions arise, and in this short series of interviews I hope to answer some of those questions, to encourage more writers to take their work seriously and follow their ambitions.  
Here, I cover the tricky subject of writer’s pay, and consider what it takes to make this precarious career choice work.

‘How much do you earn as a professional writer?’

Recent findings by the Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society (ALCS) on the subject of writers’ declining earnings make hard reading for anyone who relies on writing for their livelihood. The report states that professional writers (people dedicating over half their time to writing) now make an average income of under £10,500 — 42% down in real terms in the twelve years since 2005. While the survey gives no conclusion as to the reason for this fall, anecdotally, it is suggested that it can be attributed to declining advances and commission fees.

Every year, as writers prepare their annual tax returns, a growing number find themselves questioning the career choice they’ve made, as they once again fall below the taxable threshold, the advice ‘don’t give up the day job’ still ringing in their ears. By necessity, a large proportion of writers have a portfolio career, made up of several different jobs that enable them to continue writing and earn a decent living. Tom Connolly is one such writer: ‘To start, writing novels was something financed by my work as a film-maker. Now, the books have won me writing work, as a screenwriter and writing copy and content, some radio too. Whilst this makes for a rewarding creative mix, it is also laughably insecure and very demanding and the idea of making a living, of supporting my family, solely from writing novels remains in the realm of fiction.’

Sit down in a room full of writers, and you’re likely to hear stories of struggle and compromise that would test the most resilient individuals. ‘No, really,’ I regularly find myself telling friends who think I’ve made it, ‘I’m not the next J. K. Rowling.’ I laugh with them, ‘Ha-ha, yes, maybe one day!’ but inside, I’m taking a deep breath, because in low-income years it can be hard to stay positive. Writing is a career choice of highs and lows, in all manner of ways.

As self-employed creatives, writers are often concerned not only with the writing of their work, but also with the business of ‘getting it out there’. We have poured ourselves into our books, we’ve worked closely with our agents, editors and publicists to launch them into the world, we’ve watched eagerly for the reviews and coveted awards … and then, what? For many, the deafening post-release silence is a troubling period. Diverting ourselves with writing-related assignments can therefore be a gratifying and productive use of time, not to mention providing an additional source of income. But what happens when we are offered these gigs only to find there is to be no financial recompense? Do we accept them, in the hope that we’ll sell dozens of books and garner spade-loads of ‘exposure’? Do we feel flattered that the festival organiser or media editor picked us, when they could have offered the opportunity to someone else? Does this mean our career is finally on the up? Would we be missing out if we said no?

You get the picture. We writers can be an anxious bunch; no surprise when you think of the precarious nature of the industry we find ourselves working in. It is easy to allow seemingly hopeless news, such as the ALCS findings, to affect our optimism and creativity, and for this reason it becomes increasingly important that we take back some control in terms of the work we do, and how we charge for it. As individuals – and as a community of writers – we need to make this self-employed business of ‘writing’ work.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done my fair share of unpaid gigs. For the first couple of years after my debut was released in 2009, I said ‘yes’ to just about every event, workshop and article offered to me, as much for ‘exposure’ as for investigating the industry and the way it operated. Today, whilst I identify with the many motivations for saying ‘yes’, including publicity, connections and pleasure, I also feel strongly that society has an obligation to place value on writing, and ultimately on reading. If writers stop writing – or worse still, new writers (fearing a life of poverty) don’t begin at all – what will our cultural landscape look like? Talking in The Bookseller on the subject of falling incomes, author Paul McVeigh says: ‘Working-class writers can’t afford to take up a career in writing, it is considered elitist and too risky. Families with uncertain incomes often expect their children to leave education earlier and to support them, and press them to get a “proper” job rather than rely on writing.’

Speaking of the reason for his 2016 resignation as patron of Oxford Literary Festival, Philip Pullman explained, ‘The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?’

The Society of Authors has consistently campaigned for fair pay: ‘We believe authors should be paid for the work they do. Paying authors shows proper recognition of their professional status, skills and experience and allows them to maintain a career. Authors should feel comfortable asking to be fairly paid and should not be put under pressure to work for free.’ This last point is unquestionable in terms of logic, but perhaps easier said than done; many writers I know find it difficult or embarrassing to discuss the topic of payment, perhaps having been burnt in the past. Indeed, I was recently invited to ‘run a session’ at a forthcoming literary festival, and on replying with a friendly request for further details of format and fees, I was met with silence. I never heard from them again. Thankfully, I’m seasoned enough to not be bruised by the experience, but early in my career that would have caused me to question my value. These days I’m more robust, in part because I’ve found it necessary to develop a loose rule of thumb on what I now will and won’t do for free, along with a go-to script to follow when I do charge, finding confidence in quoting directly from The Society of Authors’ Guidance on Rates and Fees (an indispensable source of information and support — see their website for details).

Today, I will comfortably turn down an unpaid engagement if I can’t see evidence that the event will be a) well attended, b) lead to book sales, and/or c) offer something of wider value, such as fundraising for a cause I support or encouraging more readers into my treasured local libraries. Essentially, the transaction, whether financial or not, has to be mutually advantageous for me to give up time I would otherwise spend writing. While I’ll happily give telephone interviews (which are quick, easy and provide great free PR), I will rarely write a magazine feature for nothing. Most magazines are profit-making entities which rely on good content; why should anyone provide that for free? At the same time, Kate Shaw of the Viney Shaw Agency points out how printed media can sometimes be a good potential source of new readers and income: ‘Indeed, a few years back, one of my clients agreed to do a ‘for free’ article set up by his publicist in a Sunday broadsheet to tie-in with the publication of his debut novel. Since then, he has had a permanent and well-paid writing job with that newspaper.’ Similarly, unpaid blog posts can generate powerful publicity, getting your book in front of the audience who matters the most – the readers – as can radio appearances, where the ‘exposure’ argument actually does stand up, resulting in sales spikes that are hard to argue with. And let us remind ourselves, this is what most of us are in it for: to sell our writing, to make a living doing the thing we do best, while bringing pleasure and experience to the maximum number of readers. How can we do this effectively, when we keep giving ourselves up for free?

Speaking on this subject, Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors says, ‘If authors can no longer afford to make a living from their work, the supply of new and innovative writing will simply dry up.’ None of us want that. We owe it to our profession, our craft, and our personal wellbeing to take control of the areas of our writing lives that we do have direct influence over — and demanding fair pay for fair work is a good start. Draw up your own set of rules; decide what you want to give away, and on what terms.  If we writers don’t think our words are worth anything, who else will?

Useful Links and Further Support for Writers:
The Society of Authors
ALCS
The Royal Literary Fund
Public Lending Rights


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Isabel Ashdown’s debut novel Glasshopper was published to critical acclaim in 2009, while she was studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She has since taught creative writing at West Dean College and at the University of Brighton, and she is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Chichester, where she previously studied. Her thriller Little Sister was shortlisted in the 2018 Dead Good Reader Awards, and she recently released her sixth novel, Beautiful Liars.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, look out for others in the series by following me on social media (links below), or signing up to my newsletter for quarterly updates, exclusive content and book giveaways.

CURRENT ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

 

Celebrating the Nation’s Libraries

This week I’ve been working with West Sussex Libraries, meeting members of Bognor Regis reading groups, and chatting with the team at Pageturners – all in celebration of Libraries Week.

If you’re looking for a reading group to join, contact your local library for details – and if you’re active on social media, you can join in the conversation and share the library love with the hashtags #WhyILoveMyLibrary and #LibrariesWeek

Follow the link to read my Pageturners interview here, where I talk about first jobs, favourite fairy tales and what I’m reading now …

Writing on location … in Norway

Location is an essential anchor within any story, and it’s an element I frequently return to when I’m invited to host creative writing workshops at universities and festivals.  Indeed, later this week I’ll be at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, running a ‘Creative Writing Kickstart’ on the theme of location.

An authentic sense of place will serve as a mirror to a characters’ inner emotions, helping to propel the story towards vital actions and dialogue.  Locations, it seems to me, are emotional landscapes – quite apart from positioning characters in a particular place and time, they can provide a channel through which those characters can say the things they don’t want to or manage to say in words.

This week I’ve been in Norway, researching the locations of my 2019 novel, Lake Child, a thriller set in the Norwegian fjords.  In order to cover a number of locations, the most economic (in terms of time and cost) way to travel was via cruise ship, enabling me to sail in to Stavanger, Olden, Alesund and Bergen – four very different locations in the fjord region, giving me four very different perspectives to draw on for my novel.  I’m now entering the tricky second draft stage of writing Lake Child, and have returned from my trip energised and inspired by the experience of walking my characters’ paths.  Thank you to P&O Cruises for helping me with information, and for being fabulous travel hosts.  I’ll look forward to sharing more news on Lake Child (including cover reveal!) nearer publication …