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.
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.