Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

What an agent wants

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One of the key components in getting published is getting an agent. It can be the most difficult part of your career as a writer. Today I'm talking to SAMANTHA HAYWOOD, who's been an agent for over ten years. She works with the Transatlantic Agency in Toronto.

What was your career path to getting to where you are now?

I started out as an intern in various departments, publicity and editorial primarily. I remember interning at Knopf Canada and being taught by Noelle Zitzer and Diane Martin and Louise Dennys. Pretty great education frankly. Then I was hired as an assistant to Jennifer Barclay at WCA. She had a great list and I learned a ton about agenting with her and it eventually turned into a position handling their agency’s foreign rights. After that I was hired by Jennifer Shepherd at Random House of Canada Ltd in their Rights Department. I went to my first Frankfurt with David Kent who showed Diane Martin, Gloria Goodman and me around (we called ourselves the Frankfurt virgins) and it was exhausting--those days of back to back meetings with a big list of books to pitch, but we had a ton of fun. The next year I went with Louise Dennys. She had acquired world English rights to A SUNDAY BY THE POOL IN KIGALI by Gil Courtemanche and I sold it at the fair to Canongate at auction. It was a fabulously terrifying experience to have a hot book at the fair (it went on to sell in over 20 countries). Suffice it to say, I was hooked. A few years later I was yearning to be more independent and decided to leave Random House and rethink things, which lead to my becoming an agent with the Transatlantic Agency, where it’s more entrepreneurial. And I adore what I do and who I represent. I’m having more fun than ever.

If you submit a novel to an agent and it gets rejected can you rework it and resubmit it? If so, is there a certain protocol to follow (i.e. do you acknowledge your previous submission and say you've reworked it?) Or do you just move on?

I can’t speak for others but if I like your work and I mention that I’d be happy to see other things in the future then I mean it and you can resubmit in the future. If not, then it’s less likely to be a successful resubmission of the same work. That said, use one’s best judgment.

If an agent rejects a novel, what is the likelihood that you remember that author's name a year or two later when they submit something new to you? Do you remember that you rejected them? What is the likelihood you would read or sign an author for a new work if you rejected him/her before? (i.e. How much is whether the book is good and how much is the author and the fact you remember you didn't like their previous work?)

I have a reader and I have an agent who assists me, Stephanie Sinclair. If you can get by them, then I’ll be reading your work. Unless you have a referral from one of my clients in which case I will likely read first myself. The three of us have pretty good memories. If we liked the work before we will be more open to the new submission, if we didn’t like the work before then we’re less open. But we look at everything that comes in.

Now that self-publishing is so popular, would you rather see:

a) a manuscript from an author that has never been published

b) a manuscript they'd already posted on Wattpad and had thousands of votes or

c) a book they've self-published on and had sales rankings to show?

Good question. All three avenues work. What’s tricky is a self-published author that has low sales. I’m open to self-published authors but it works better with commercial fiction than literary fiction. So choose your path wisely and make sure it suits your work. Then do everything you can to establish a platform/publishing history for yourself as publishers look for that.

What can an author do aside from writing a good book to get your attention or incline you to sign him/her if you were on the fence?

Do everything you can. Do great endorsements help? Yes. Do referrals from my clients help? Yes. Does a great submission package with a strong pitch and good comps help? Yes. Does a polished manuscript help? Yes.

How much of you reading a book and deciding to sign an author comes down to the actual story (original, fresh, what you're looking for at the time) vs how clean the copy vs who the author is (if they have a media presence)?

Surprisingly, I want all three. Anything less and I might reject it. But if I love something enough I waive criticisms such as copy editing and lack of platform. Hedging a bit here aren’t I?

What is the most difficult aspect of being an agent?

Not being able to say yes to everything. I love helping authors. After that, dealing with unprofessional publishers. After that, the frustrations of sales dominating the marketplace when it comes to publishing decisions.

What is the biggest mistake you think authors make when trying to get published?

Rushing. Rushing leads to poor judgement. Being careful, researching to whom you are submitting is key. And make the book the very very very very very best you can make it.

When you're considering an author's manuscript, would you rather sign an unpublished author, a self-published author, or an author currently without representation who has already published books in the past? Or do any of these factors come into consideration?

I’m not sure these things really affect my criteria for representation. Wanting to take an author/manuscript has a whole soup of deciding factors involved in it. One really important consideration for me (after loving the writing) is whether this person is going to be great to work with through thick and thin. This matters a great deal to me.

One final piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Educate yourself about the industry as much as you can and immerse yourself into the writing community and support your fellow writers. This is a business about relationships and our passion for reading. And at the end of the day I hope it always will be.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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