Many authors count on literary agents to sell their books to publishers so they can be sure they’re getting the best offer possible for their writing. But if you’re unfamiliar with the world of literary agencies, finding someone to represent you can be an overwhelming process that delays the publication of your work.
Recently I talked with Lilly Ghahremani, co-founder of San Diego-based Full Circle Literary, about what agents are looking for when choosing authors to represent, how a writer can select an agent who’s right for her, and what writers can expect an agency to do for them.
Since launching FCL with Stefanie Von Borstel in 2004, Lilly has represented authors of cookbooks, craft books, parenting, pop culture and lifestyle books as well as multi-cultural children’s picture books. Here’s what she has to say:
What do you look for in a book proposal?
I skim through the overview, but what I really need to know is what makes this person the perfect author to write the book. I am definitely guilty of flipping to the author’s section and starting there. I want to know who’s writing this proposal and what their inspiration is for it.
Are you talking about platform?
Yes, although I believe that word makes authors nervous. Platform is not just about academic credentials. It can largely be self-made, especially in the age of the Internet. You don’t necessarily need to be the biggest person in your field writing about a topic, but you need to have an authentic and unique take on a topic. Publishers aren’t looking to start a wave of publicity for you; they’re looking to ride a wave that you’ve already started.
If an author already has a publisher interested in her book, is there still an advantage for her to work with an agent?
I’m so glad you asked me this. Ideally an agent will do a lot more than just get a book deal. That’s a large part of what we do, but it is not the reason we earn our commission or earn the right to be part of an author’s writing career. An agent’s job is to negotiate the business side of the relationship, which gives the author freedom to deal with the publishing house on a purely creative basis. An agency can oversee what’s going on with publicity and marketing and smooth out any bumps in the road. It can help authors keep on top of deadlines and manuscript editing. We also give advice on how to build a platform. It’s almost like having a life coach.
How long do authors typically work with their agents on book projects?
Authors should count on working with their agents for at least a year, probably longer. Generally, I don’t send things right out the door, because I have the author edit some first, which takes a month or two. From the time a book gets pitched to a publisher, on average it takes about two months to find a good home. Then there’s the contract process, and books usually don’t publish until a year after signing. So the cycle may be a year and a half from the time an author comes to us until her book comes out in print.
How does an author decide which agent is best for her?
Look at other authors an agency has represented. Chances are if an agency had success placing a certain type of project it means they’re savvy on that angle of the market. And I always tell authors, “Pick someone you really like.” You’ve got to choose someone you feel confident can speak for you so you can get back to work, because the bottom line is, the agent’s words go into the editor’s ears, not yours. Finding the perfect fit is worth the wait.
Do you see an advantage to working with a smaller agency over a larger one?
I absolutely do. The amount of personal attention an author gets from a smaller agency is extraordinary. Generally, with a smaller or younger agency you’ve got agents who are thirsty for success, and they’re going to put in extra hours for you. My clients sometimes get e-mails from me at two in the morning. That’s because I’m still making my name in this industry, and they are reaping the benefits of that.
How do clients approach you?
We attend a lot of writer’s conferences, and many authors approach us at those. Happy clients refer other people to us, which means our list has grown very aggressively. We also welcome e-queries. Authors often need a quick answer as to whether something they have would be a fit for us and e-queries can do that quickly.
Note: Queries to Full Circle Literary should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for children’s, middle reader and young adult projects. Before submitting, check out the submission guidelines at http://www.fullcircleliterary.com/.
Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site, www.motherdaughterbookclub.com, and its companion blog, www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.