Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Business of Writing by Fiona Inglis

Writing can be a lonely business.

I frequently hear writers tell me how difficult it is to find time, inclination, focus, space and inspiration to write.  Many writers work from home, which I imagine can be tricky – there is always a load of washing to be done (the forecast said possible showers), the study floor could do with a vacuum (how much better to work in a clean room), a coffee with a friend (could provide some dialogue to help get over writer’s block)…

2013 KOALA Award, The 26-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

I also hear often that handing over a new piece of work can be agonising. Is it working? How do I know if I’m the only one who’s read it? What will my wife/sister/best friend/teenage son think of it? Will they think it’s about them? Will they say it’s good just because they love me?

This is where a literary agent can come in.

An agent can provide a non-biased critique of an author’s work. We can offer constructive criticism without being unkind or judgemental. We are in the business of selling writing, so it is in our interests to be honest without being brutal.

2013 KOALA Honour, The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell

Because we read so much – in fact we spend every spare moment reading (don’t think you ever get to watch television if you want to be an agent!) – we are usually very aware of what trends are happening out there in publishing land, what is doing well in other countries that might translate to an Australian audience.  We can tell an author whether we think their work is good and, most importantly, whether we think we can sell it.

In the happy event that everything lines up, we think the writing is good and we want to represent it, we send the manuscript out to a publisher, or a number of publishers, and those that like it usually ask to meet the author.

2013 Prime Minister's Award, Red by Libby Gleeson

The agent sets up the meetings, and goes along to ensure the conversation runs smoothly and that everyone understands everything being said.  If all goes well, the publisher will then make an offer to the agent, who will relay it to the author, again with the unbiased honesty that the publisher may not necessarily reveal to a potential author in a meeting. (‘Publisher A is offering more money, but we think you’ll need really good editing which will be more likely to come from Publisher B.’)

2013 Prime Minister's Award, Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe

But an agent is a lot more than a reader and an arranger of meetings.  Our aim is to exploit as many rights in an author’s work as possible – publication rights, translation rights, audio rights, film rights, stage rights and anything else you can think of.  Cardboard model of the 13-Storey Treehouse anyone?

And, of course, we’re there for the author in the unlikely event that something goes off the rails – I hate my cover, I had a shocker of a review, no-one can find my book!

Agents are brokers, readers, friends, bankers, negotiators, psychologists, and occasional babysitters. But we do have one thing in common with everyone else in the industry – we live for books.

2013 KOALA Honour, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

About the Author 

Fiona Inglis is a literary agent and the managing director of Curtis Brown.

Fiona graduated with a BA from Melbourne Uni and started her publishing career with Routledge & Kegan Paul, working in both Australia and in London.   Returning home in the mid-80s, Fiona worked at Allen & Unwin and HarperCollins before joining Curtis Brown in 1993.  She oversaw the purchase of Hickson Associates in 1999, when she became Managing Director, and the management buy-out of Curtis Brown in 2003. 

Curtis Brown is Australia's oldest and largest literary agent, starting in the UK in 1899 with Albert Curtis Brown.  Curtis Brown Australia was established in 1967 and became independent in 2003.  Curtis Brown Australia maintains close links to Curtis Brown’s London office and affiliated agencies in New York, enabling its clients opportunities for the sale of English-language and translation rights worldwide.

In addition to the award-winning books shown above (congratulations to these Curtis Brown clients!), there are other terrific books at the links below, all of which Fiona highly recommends to the readership of Reading for Australia:

Frankfurt Book Fair: Children's Books Catalogue, October 2013
MIFF: Children's Books (Film) Catalogue, July 2013

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Fiona. We sometimes forget about the business of writing - that the creative process that Erica Wagner referred to as "the chain of enthusiasm" in her earlier post here on RFA - boils down to what can be sold in a marketplace and that there needs to be an audience of readers for that work.

    Anyone who would like to read more about the critical need for an audience of readers should read Fiona's 2011 paper at an APA seminar. Please see the Curtis Brown website here:

    Here's a snippet of Fiona's talk:

    “Smashwords, one of several US e-publishing companies, is now releasing 6,500 new [selfpublished] ebooks every month, while publishes around 20,000 new titles a month.”

    That is 26,500 new books per month, which is nearly 1000 per day. And that does not include the ‘main players’ like Amazon, Kobo, soon Google, locally Dymocks. And of course there are publishers popping up every day that we do not even hear about. There is no way of knowing for sure but by my calculations I reckon that by the time I will have finished this talk there will be about 5,000 new books in the world that weren’t there when I started. I wonder how many of them will find an audience?"

    Food for thought for both writers and readers - how do we find each other?!

    Thank you too, Fiona, for the fantastic book recommendations - both in your post and in the links you provide.