Although we announced that the first edition of the West Uist Chronicle would not be coming out until
mid-October we could not miss the opportunity of getting Isabel Atherton the Director and Literary Agent at Creative Authors to give us an insight into her working day.
And so without further ado we hand you over to Isabel.
Isy on the seafront
Dr Keith Souter has kindly asked me to jot up a day in the life of Creative Authors Literary Agency. We are a young, boutique literary agency, established in early 2008. Our list is growing with book deals coming through and being signed off quickly. In 2011 we see 24 of our books published. We represent an eclectic list of authors and our titles range from books on knitted aliens, crime fiction, cookery books on jelly and cocktails and histories on 50s popular culture to voodoo.
Like every other agency, there is no typical day, and I personally find being a literary agent endlessly enjoyable and rewarding. The following is roughly an account of my day to day as director and literary agent at CA Ltd. I’ve listed this in an hourly fashion for ease of reading.
I can’t start my day without a nice cup of Earl Grey (one sugar). Once I’ve dusted off the sleepy dust and my brain is starting to whirl I’ll settle down to the morning’s emails. We’re very much an electronic office and much prefer email submissions (it’s better for the environment), so I’ll have anything from 20-30 or more emails from the night before. These will range from unsolicited email submissions to emails from clients brainstorming late at night (a lot of my clients find their best ideas come later in the evening) and also my overseas clients. I have overseas clients in Canada, USA and Australia.
I’ll open each and every one – scan and decide which ones take priority. My urgent pile varies from day to day, but some of my regular duties will be chasing payments due from publishers, administering payments to international clients and UK based clients, keeping track of royalties and making sure these are correct and querying if there is something that doesn’t seem quite right. Other interaction with my authors’ publishers range from negotiating contracts, the content of a title, to book covers to extended deadlines to querying withholding tax, suggesting publicity ideas and more.
If I’m not working through my lunch break or meeting with a publisher or author, I’ll try and go for a walk to a supermarket and grab a salad. It gives me time to let my eyes adjust from being sat at a screen for a number of hours. It also helps clear my mind. I’ll then settle down and read all the online broadsheets and tabloids – keeping up with current affairs, as well as sourcing new ideas. One book I am proud, that came about via this means, was ‘Jelly’ by Bompas & Parr. I happened to read an article about the jelly duo in The Sunday Times and a light bulb clicked on. I thought at the time, I hadn’t seen a cookery book on jelly, if ever, which led me to approach them and they signed with the agency and we are now working on a second title: ‘Cocktails with Bompas & Parr’ (Anova, pub, June 2011).
‘Jelly with Bompas & Parr’
I have always enjoyed sourcing new clients/ideas myself. I think this probably comes from originally having worked in marketing and journalism and being in a situation where new ideas for a campaign or article are needed yesterday. I tend to follow my gut instinct and will trawl the web/books/newspapers widely and if Lady Luck is smiling sometimes a new idea or person to contact will leap out and grab me, but those are very special days and I truly believe creativity is a blessing.
Isy on a work trip to New York
I also tend to use Twitter throughout the day. I follow various publishers, book bloggers and authors and it’s a great resource to see what is being published and the mood of the industry both in the UK, Europe and the US. I’ll Tweet things that interest me, are relevant to my authors or anything that is of a general interest happening in the book world.
With all online content of interest, whether articles or blogs, if I see something that I feel will be of relevance to one of my authors I will pass the link on. It’s funny where ideas can sometimes come from.
Hooked by Clare Gee
Apart from brainstorming new ideas with my authors, I will suggest new directions if something isn’t working or feeling a little tired. I’m also very keen on my authors promoting and marketing themselves and will suggest how best to do this, whether running a competition on their Twitter or Facebook page or starting a blog and keeping their website fresh and interesting.
When an author and I have really nailed their proposal or manuscript and it’s polished and ready to go out. I’ll settle down, research the market, see what the competition is and focus and narrow down where that book project will be best placed. Once these are submitted, I keep a track of when the response is due and follow up with publishers when appropriate.
With all books it’s always a joy to receive that email/call from a publisher saying “Yes, we’d like to make an offer.” That always makes my day and the author’s too of course!
Knitted Aliens by Fiona McDonald
This is the time of day, where I’ll sit down and read the unsolicited manuscripts and proposals that have come through. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide detailed feedback to writers, but I will sometimes suggest another agency, if the work is very good but not my area of expertise.
Punk Fiction by Janine Bullman
I’ll also settle down with my author’s manuscripts and assess what needs changing and where the strengths lie in a piece of work. If I’m on top of things, then I like to read for pleasure in the evenings. I tend to read a wide range of books – anything from non-fiction books to books on social history to literary fiction. However, my clients come first, so it’s not every evening I have that luxury.
Some evenings there will be a publishing party or a reading or book launch to attend. These can be enjoyable nights to chat to others in the industry and to have a general catch-up. The evenings also allow me to catch up with my business partner and company secretary and we will discuss how the day has gone. This can range from discussing which author is working on a particular book and how negotiations are progressing on a contract and whether there are any outstanding payments still being chased. This is a special time of day where we can think about where the business is going and how we would like to see it develop and progress.