More than the Middle Man: Literary Agents

Once again the crowds flocked for the latest Society of Young Publishers (SYP) event, More than the Middle Man: Literary Agents, swept up to the heights of the Wig and Pen. Sharing their experiences and advice for the evening were Peter Buckman of the Ampersand Agency, and Caroline Wood from Felicity Bryan Associates.

Caroline started the evening by describing how she came to agenting from the world of film production. She said that becoming a Literary Agent is very much about your personal qualities: you must be tough to close sales, you must be thick skinned to face rejection, and you must be a self starter. When she first joined Felicity Bryan, Caroline had the advantage of a stack of contacts from the film world and, coupled with the respectable name of Felicity Bryan behind her, she soon built up a list of authors many of whom she now classes as friends.

The most important thing is to be passionate about the author’s work. ‘If this book is rejected 10 times, will I still love it? The answer has to be yes.’ she tells the audience. Whether it be pulled from the submissions that fly in, or nurtured from the early pages found at the creative writing course she attends, Caroline’s key criteria is a distinctive voice that she wants to fight for. As a literary agent, you are likely to be the most consistent presence in an author’s career and one of the greatest rewards is working closely with an author for decades, and growing along with them.

Peter’s route to agenting was slightly different, and some may argue traditional, having originally worked in publishing and even making it to the Penguin editorial board. Both speakers agreed that agenting is a good second or third job for people who already have knowledge of the publishing industry and rights.

Peter also talked about some of the major issues facing the industry at the moment and predictably, both Amazon and eBooks were mentioned. Surprisingly, he had some positive things to say about eBooks, which many publishes leverage with special offers to get an author to the top of bestsellers. Even reaching the top of the Kindle chart returns minute royalties for the authors (and therefore the agents who take commission), but eBooks can be a really positive route for those who write series because they are able to build a significant following through the online social elements. I would also guess that series are more easily addictive in digital format due to the ability to buy the next one instantly and carry on reading.

Top reasons to be a literary agent:

  1. The balance between creativity and business. You get to focus on the author’s work, help them edit it and be the negotiator once publishers begin talking about the title, the cover and how to market it. But you’re also responsible for securing the best publishing deal possible by trying to get an auction going between publishers and selling international/film rights etc.
  2. You have input into the various stages of publishing without having to attend the endless meetings that publishers are slave to. You also have more freedom than the large publishing houses that will not take risks. Agenting allows you to be nimble and ahead of the game’ – Peter Buckman
  3. You can discover great talents first! Peter told the audience how he got the publishing deal for the book that became Slumdog Millionaire, after being gripped by the single chapter he was sent.
    Caroline also talked about securing a deal for the bestselling The Hair with Amber Eyes after many publishers were unsure how to get the sales team on bored with such a unique and difficult to categorise title.

‘Agenting is the most fun you can have with your clothes on’- Peter Buckman


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