Reservoir of undiscovered talent

Often I wonder: who would be a literary agent? Andrew Lownie’s agency has a website and regular mailout containing a great deal of useful information for writers and publishers – as far as I know Andrew’s agency is the only UK agency that does this and his mailout is worth signing up to.

Today Andrew’s picked some highlights from his slushpile.

Dear Ms. Leonie,

Dear Literary Coordinator:

I greet you in the wonderful name of Christ Jesus,

Hello and greetings of the bountifully majestic day to all at the Andrew Lownie.; Literary Agent. At the outset an astronomical honor writing to you.

People call me ‘The Renaissance Man’. I write poems, pieces, business books, financial thrillers, draw and have invented 2 math laws!

First, congratulations on your most auspicious surname which must make you a magnet for authors far and wide–for better or worse.

I have never attempted to write a book before and I I have no great illusions about the merits of this one..

I know the extreme importance of good editing and I’m careful to send you well-edited work. I feel that my memoir is definately ‘something different’

There has been a lot in the press recently on just how bad the majority of book submissions are – we have had the classic ‘queryfail’ day (‘My fav queryfail ever? Sending multiple letters from prison about the book you want to write about how you were framed. For murder’) but my personal favourite is this from Jane Smith:

I received a query letter hand-written on scented, fairy-printed paper, with a sprinkling of loose glitter which fell into my coffee as I opened it; and an entire manuscript which must have been a third or fourth carbon copy (remember those?) judging by its feintness and blurring (that one was made even more memorable by the absence of any spaces, punctuation or paragraph breaks, so the entire text was one great big run-on word). Then there was the hand-written manuscript which arrived with a cover letter urging me not to destroy it, as it was the writer’s only copy—but no postage or return address was provided for its return; and one writer sent me a banana, surrounded in layers of bubble-wrap and encased in a cardboard tube.

A criticism preempted: is this an elitist attitude? No, and it’s no laughing matter either. There are talented unpublished writers out there – I should know, I’ve published a few in Succour. Their submissions lie rotting in the sediment of unreadable, unpublishable work. Because there are so many people who don’t take writing seriously, who have too much time on their hands and think: ‘Oh, perhaps I’ll write a book… that Rowling character did pretty well out of it… they do say I have a ‘way with words’… hmm…’ because of people like this, good writers are unrecognised and the trade suffers.

Unfortunately there seems no way of resolving this situation – Authonomy started out quite well but essentially it has just moved the slushpile online. Again, Jane has an idea:

If the books which stood no chance of commercial publication were removed from the heap, the submissions system would be transformed: volume would be reduced and response times could be improved; and the big publishing houses might just well reopen their doors to unsolicited manuscripts.

How could this be achieved? First, by writers taking more care with their submissions by editing their work more carefully, and by ensuring that they submit only to appropriate markets; and then by the provision of an ethical alternative route into publishing for the manuscripts which are commercially unpublishable.

None of this is going to happen, though, is it?

slushpile

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6 Responses to “Reservoir of undiscovered talent”

  1. Annie Says:

    Oh dash, I thought sending a literary agent a banana was the way it was done these days.

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    You’d think, wouldn’t you?

  3. Jane Smith Says:

    Coconuts don’t work either, according to Lynn Price at Behler Publishing who has received a couple of those. We’re trying to build a fruit salad between us.

    I do think that writers and publishers could benefit from an ethical AND SUPPORTED route into self-publishing for the writers who mainstream publishers aren’t ever going to consider: not only would it clear the slushpile and thrill those less-mainstream writers, it would also put the vanity publishers out of business which has to be good. But I agree: it’s just not going to happen. A shame.

    Thanks for the link, Max. Much appreciated.

  4. maxdunbar Says:

    Ah… that’s why Behler haven’t got back to me.

    How about pears? The Society of Authors needs to publish guidelines on fruit.

    Agree with your last comment re self-publishing. The current situation means that self publishing companies are able to present themselves as genuine alternatives to corporate publishing (which they are, in the sense that alternative medicine is a genuine alternative to actual medicine).

  5. Andrew Lownie Says:

    As an agent I receive over 500 submissions a week and, as new authors are the lifeblood of any agency, treat them very seriously often putting out proposals/scripts for further reading at considerable cost and trying to respond to all of them. Though I have an extensive website showing exactly what I agent and don’t, I’m inundated with submissions outside my area, often ungrammatical, clearly being sent to numerous agents rather than being personalised, not following requested agency submission guidelines, poorly presented and with little commercial appeal. There is plenty of information on how to pitch , what agencies represent, what is selling in bookshops, opportunities to self-publish and authors need to be more professional in their approach . Maybe then agents will be able to cope with the slushpile and more easily identify and develop talent. Agents work very hard in a difficult market and will take on books they think they can sell. If a book is good enough and sufficiently commercial it will find a buyer.

  6. maxdunbar Says:

    The irony is that your agency does more than any other to help writers make decent submissions.

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