Sunday, 3 March 2013

Interview with an agent

Like Interview With a Vampire, but more literary.

My interview with designer David Mann seemed to go down well with you guys, so I thought I'd make it a tradition and do a series of short interviews with members of the publishing industry, to be put up on my blog every few weeks. This week I'm pleased to welcome my agent, David Godwin, to the proverbial floor. You submitted your questions via Twitter and in the comments section, and like a literary angel, David is here to answer them. David's so cool, he even listens to the weird music I recommend.   




Q&A: Literary Agent – Adult


David Godwin is a London-based literary agent. He and his wife Heather set up David Godwin Associates (DGA) in 1995. DGA represents a varied list of international writers, including novelists, poets, biographers, historians and journalists. He has been credited with discovering some of India's best writers, including Arundhati Roy. David represents adult novels, but DGA also has a YA and children's agent, Kirsty

How did you become a literary agent? 


I was a publisher at Cape, but it was time for a change. There was new management and they wanted to have their own person in charge, so I decided to become an agent. At the time there was no other publisher as good as Cape, so it was time for something new.


Describe your typical day at the office.


I usually see two or three people a day. First I check my emails and phone, then possibly see an author at 11 to discuss what they might be doing next or looking at proposed covers of their new book. Lunch is usually spent with a publisher to monitor what is going on and to discuss new projects. Back to meetings at 3 with a visiting foreign publisher, then home at 6 to start reading.


What do you look for in a writer?

A distinctive voice, above all.

How does the agent-author relationship work if the author is from another country? Does it ever create problems? 


I have authors in India, but we talk on the phone a lot, so there are no real problems on my end. 

Any advice for submitting an MS? 


Submissions need to be specific, not general  "Dear David", not "Dear Agent". Writers should show knowledge of the current client list and make sure the submission is appropriate to me. Always be truthful – deception and trying to be too clever will not work. 

How close to completion does a manuscript have to be before you take it on? 


I have taken on books with only a hundred pages to go on, but they have to be very special to do that.


Any slushpile stories you're willing to share? Any strange submissions that made you raise an eyebrow?


We have taken on slushpile books and we always take them seriously. Heather – my wife – discovered both Bill Bryson and Roddy Doyle on the slush whilst reading for Heinemann in the 80s. Funny stories: men sending in pictures of themselves naked with blank paper over their private bits (easily removed).

How do you narrow down the slushpile? 


We have to be quick, as we have so many submissions. We only read a few pages of what's submitted, so make sure your first 10 pages are of the highest standard.

Is there any "good time" to send a query? 

Never a perfect time.

Beyond the effectiveness of the query letter and a good story, is there anything else that might persuade you to represent a writer?


Not really. The writing is what matters. 

Any query trends recently that you're getting tired of? 

None in particular, but trends are never good, as we tend to do distinctive voices and projects  the more different, the better.

What do you want to know in a synopsis?  


Synopses should be clear, well-written and interesting. If that can’t be good then the book is unlikely to be. Don’t pretend to know more than you do!

What should an author look for in their agent, apart from reputation and track record? 


Commitment and passion are always more important than reputation. Make sure you meet a potential agent in person before you sign with them, preferably in their office. You should expect transparency from your agent, and speed when there is money around. Don’t let them sit on it!




Thanks to David for taking the time to answer these! I'm pleased to say that Kirsty has also agreed to do an interview with me, so if you have any YA-specific questions, pop them in the comments section. Kirsty's interview will be up in two weeks. I've also requested an interview with Anna Watkins at DGA, who handles foreign rights and translations. If there are any other people in the publishing industry you'd be interested in hearing from, let me know and I'll try and wrangle an interview.  

25 comments:

  1. Great interview. Thanks Samantha!

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  2. Thank you so much, David and Samantha. :)

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  3. Thank you very much for posting it..a great insight into getting an agent business...
    I was just wondering and it's just a small question if you would answer... would the readers and the publishing market accept a book with a magic school? I mean after harry potter..I'm sure most of them won't attempt in that area, for fear of getting the tag of just another potter thing..
    I would really appreciate if you would answer that..(hoping a satisfying answer)

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    1. You're welcome!

      There have been other books with magic schools, like Jill Murphy's 'The Worst Witch' series and 'Groosham Grange' by Anthony Horowitz (which both came out well before HP in 1980 and 1988 respectively), and Cassandra Clare and Holly Black are writing a book called 'The Iron Trial' with a premise that looks quite Harry Potter-like (boy magician). The concept is by no means unique to JK Rowling, although she constructed her own rich and intricate wizarding world with unprecedented detail and depth.

      I don't want to dissuade you from writing what you like, but I wouldn't recommend writing a book with such a similar premise to a blockbuster series like HP. If you did write about a magic school and get published, you could definitely expect media comparisons with the HP books. Perhaps you could think of a way to distinguish the magic school from Hogwarts – a magical university, perhaps, or some other institution? Mull it over for a bit. There's probably a stronger, more unique idea you could use – you just have to discover it.

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  4. Great post, Samantha! And thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions, David!

    I'm still quite a way from completing my manuscript, but as an Australian expat living in Tokyo my question is, "Should I query in Australia or the U.K.?" My novel is set in late Victorian England, so would a British agent be more willing to take on my manuscript than someone from Australia (or somewhere else for that matter)? It seems that everything simply comes down to the quality of writing and a unique voice, but is that really the whole story?

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    1. You're welcome!

      That's a tricky one. Probably depends on the agent. I know David looks for unique voices, but some agents might prefer to take on subjects and authors closer to home.

      I suppose you could query in more than one country? You could even try the USA. I'm afraid I'm not very well-versed in the Australian publishing scene, so I'm not sure if they generally take on novels set in England – you probably know better than I do! I'd recommend trying the UK first, as that's where the novel is set. I know David represents at least one client in Australia (Nikki Gemmell, author of 'The Bride Stripped Bare'). If you don't get a response, try Australia or USA.

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  5. I've just recently read a couple of articles relating to this. A lot of advice calls for writers to send their work to publishers first, then when an offer is in hand, look for an agent. A specific quote I read was, "If you've got an offer, you can get an agent. If you don't have an offer, you don't want the kind of agent you're likely to get." Obviously, exceptions exist in the case of magnificent writing or hot credentials, but the advice does seem to make sense.

    Does David prefer first time novelists to have an offer? Or does he find himself completely polarized from the above advice?

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    1. Really? That's interesting. Probably depends on the publisher. I've never heard of a big publisher that accepts manuscripts without an agent's referral (although apparently in France and other countries you don't have an agent at all, you just send to the publishing house). I always used the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook when I was looking for an agent and that seemed to be the gist of what it was saying. If you send it direct to the publishing house it could take months to process, whereas an agent will get back to you in a few weeks (hopefully).

      I'll ask David about this when I next see him and get back to you.

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  6. A great post Samantha! I was considering on writing something and your this editors interview is kind of shining light on the path.

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  7. Hey, I just wanted to ask, are you on facebook cause i just saw one named samantha shannon jones and it had your pictures..like with your friends and all, is it really you?

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    1. Yeah, that's me. I'm coming off Facebook soon, though, I rarely use it now.

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  8. Hey, sorry I didn't get to this sooner. Good blog, I like the variety that you have when you blog. It isn't just your commentary on a particular writing topic every week, it can be something like this, an interview. Last week, a retelling of a certain story, Bone Season updates, etc. It's good when the format gets changed up every so often.

    It's nice to hear from somebody inside the publishing industry, looking forward to the YA interview, too. It's all really useful information that I can't wait to use someday.

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    1. Thanks! I try to keep things fresh. Glad to know I'm doing a good job - I only started blogging properly in 2012, so I'm still fairly new to it all!

      Kirsty's interview should be up either Sunday 16th or 23rd March.

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  9. Can you tell us if you know or have any idea..how many copies are going to print in the first print run of your novel?

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  10. Dear Samantha,
    Thanks for this, it was really useful. I just wanted to know if David accepts children's MS as well as Kirsty? I emailed her but she said she isn't taking any new clients right at this moment, so I wondered if David accepted children's MS?

    P.S I haven't read your book yet (I'm waiting for it to come out in paperback) but congrats on the book deal!

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    1. Hi – to my knowledge, David doesn't accept any children's or YA. You can always drop him an email to double-check, but I'm 99% sure. I think you'd be better off going through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and looking for agents that specifically represent children's literature.

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    2. Hello again – I mentioned this to David last time I saw him and he said it's always worth emailing him!

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  11. Hi Samantha,

    Would you happen to know if he agrees to meet writers personally?

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    1. Hi – I don't think agents usually do that unless you've sent them a query first and they've shown interest.

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  12. Hi Samantha!
    I had met with you in the Lit for Life festival in Chennai, India on day 2. Congrats on doing a great job in the sessions! I had a question for you then, which you had felt could be best answered by your agent. I did not get the chance to meet David then and I was wondering what would be the best way to get in touch with him? His company website does not list his email.
    Thanks so much and appreciate your help with this.

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    1. Hi there – to contact David you should write to his assistant, Caitlin Ingham. Her email address is on the DGA website.

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