Want #QueryTip from a Literary Agent ? #MSWL

Publishing professionals have often appeared on this blog as part of an ongoing guest post series. After a bit of break, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome Kirsty McLachlan, an established literary agent at David Godwin Associates.

Their incisive comments helped me cut through the waffle, and as a result I not only received multiple offers of representation, I'm also now signed up with the wonderful Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. Writing a publishable book is hard, but it is often harder still to bring it to the attention of the right people in the publishing industry.
Meet Literary Agents: London Writers’ Club

I met her at the London Writer’s Club, a venue and organization I can’t praise highly enough. The atmosphere is relaxed, but it was the workshop with Kirsty McLachlan and Jacq Burns that helped me polish up my one-line and single paragraph pitch to high sheen. Their incisive comments helped me cut through the waffle, and as a result I not only received multiple offers of representation, I’m also now signed up with the wonderful Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. Writing a publishable book is hard, but it is often harder still to bring it to the attention of the right people in the publishing industry.

In the interview below, literary agent Kirsty McLachlan gives very to-the-point, practical insights for writers seeking representation for their work. I’ve highlighted some of it for you in blue. Please leave any questions you might have in the comments.


Literary Agent Interview David Godwin agency
Kirsty McLachlan from DGA Agency
1. How and why did you become a literary agent?

Telling stories has always interested me – in whatever medium (books/radio/film etc) so I was always going to head in that direction. Being a literary agent satisfies my passion for books – but also my natural – and quite obsessive – need to follow something through – from the start to the finish (and often well beyond). I also have a talent for making a good deal – and for picking apart the details.

2. What are you reading right now? Which books from 2015 would you recommend?

I’m going to the Baileys next week so am reading A Little Life. My own writers aside, I would recommend Diana Athill’s Alive, Alive, Oh!, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot and Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. All non-fiction.

3. You represent various genre. Is there a thread that runs through all your choices? What sort of stories are on your wish-list right now?

Yes, I do but I feel all my authors write in an accessible way – they tell stories (even if they are writing non-fiction). It may seem the most obvious thing to say but many books forget to focus on the story. I don’t have a wish list but I have a few people who are in my head at the moment who I’d really like to represent.

4. You represent narrative non-fiction submissions as well. Do authors of this genre have to have a platform? What would you call a good author platform?

Many will tell you that you need a platform but it would never stop me taking someone on (or persuade me to take someone on). What you need to find are ways to communicate your ideas – ways to talk about your concept and in time, your book. Tell me those ways and I’ll be convinced.

5. What do you look for in a Query Letter and Synopsis? What resources would you recommend to an author attempting to write these?

For me the shorter the letter the better. But you need to capture the essence of your book in both the letter and the synopsis. I recently told a workshop that a synopsis should contain emotions/feelings – don’t make me bored, make me sit up and smile.

6. What is the one thing you are tired of seeing in queries?

Shadow-books, books that are written purely to repeat another book’s success.

7. What qualities do you look for in a prospective client, other than a good story and writing? What would be a deal-breaker?

Like any agent, I like to think an author/agent relationship will be long term so I need to feel that we are both on the same page – meeting face to face is important. Nothing is really a deal-breaker, apart from a lack of trust.

8. Will you be at any upcoming writers’ events, festivals, or conferences where writers are able to meet/ pitch you?

I don’t go to a lot of events – I find my writers in other ways, so go largely under the radar. A secret agent! However, I do run the London Writers’ Club so am always there every month.

9. Would like to talk to us about your role at the London Writer’s Club, and how the club benefits writers?

I’m a co-director of the Club with my colleague, Jacq Burns. We wanted to start a club which wasn’t intimidating, wasn’t formal or frightening, where writers could come to monthly events and meet agents/publishers in a very easy setting. Writers are able to network with other writers, and get the help they need either in the form of a quick fire question – or in a more long term, tailored way.

10. Could you tell us about recently published books whose authors you’ve represented?

My author, Suzanne O’Sullivan, won the Wellcome Trust Prize in April and will be published in over ten countries, another author, MG Leonard’s book, Beetle Boy, is a children’s book writer and her book has sold to more than 30 countries. It was Waterstones book of the month two months running this year. Another author, Julia Shaw’s book, The Memory Illusion, will be published next month and has already sold to over 12 countries.

Kirsty McLachlan is a literary agent at DGA Ltd.  and co-director of London Writers’ Club with over twenty years publishing experience. She also brokers the film/TV/stage deals for DGA Ltd. Her list ranges from narrative non-fiction, children’s novels, graphic novels and crime writers. Full list here. She tweets: @thestormboy

Literary Agent Interview Memory IllusionI would urge everyone to drop your burning ‘agent questions’ in the comments. To the reader whose comment or question Kirsty finds remarkable, she will be giving away a copy of The Memory Illusion, a non-fiction book by Dr Julia Shaw.

Memories are our most cherished possessions. They make us who we are. And yet the truth is they are far from being the accurate record of the past we like to think they are. In The Memory Illusion, forensic psychologist and memory expert Dr Julia Shaw uses the latest research to show the astonishing variety of ways in which our brains can indeed be led astray. To be published on 16 June and already sold in 12 countries.

Do you have questions for Literary Agent Kirsty McLachlan? Are you querying a book, and would like an agent’s advice on how to make it work better? Have at it in the comments!

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Novel #writing: On finding the Right Literary Agent #QueryTip

On How to find the right Literary AgentNovel writing isn’t for the impatient (or wise, for that matter). I’ve been writing mine since end 2011, and this year, I’ve finally found a literary agent for it, and for my writing. An insightful editor, an entertaining conversationalist and email-writer who doesn’t mince his words, and a wry tweeter of cat pictures: Ed Wilson from Johnson & Alcock is definitely the right person to represent me, though I’m a dog person, myself.

You see, those are the sort of differences with your agent you can live with. (Plus, I do like kitty pictures, if not kitties.)

I started off my agent hunt in London with a slew of workshops of all stripes, and immediately discovered an important fact: the Publishing world is People. Now, that might sound like an idiotic conclusion to draw, one that I could have reached at home. But the difference between theory and practice is that between teaching and performance.

It was wonderful to meet extremely helpful authors, writing coaches, consultants, publishers, poets, and yes, agents. You read about them, and you go, oh, stars, celebrities. Then you chat with them, and you find that the best of them are some of the most real, down-to earth people you’ve met, who either love the word, or love the word and make money out of it. (Let’s not kid ourselves, it can be fairly insular–I was the only person of colour in almost all the classrooms and salons, and that wasn’t lost on me. But that’s a different conversation.)  By and large, I met very approachable, decent folk, complete with the very British (and largely reasonable, imo) moaning about the English summer (that saw two perfect sunny days followed by a pandemic of clouds, rain, hail, even.)

Things I quickly realised about finding representation for that novel you’re writing:

  1. Agents get pitched all the time. Most writers have no clue how to pitch: that one sentence elevator pitch is really it. Agents are looking for a new voice most of the time, but they hear a Lot of gobbledygook (I did my share of that with the first agent I met). Unless you’re writing literary, you should be able to boil your novel premise down to a sentence.
  2. Pitch them in person or through someone whose opinion they trust, and they get back to you fairly quickly. It seems unfair, but agents are regular people, and regular people pay more attention to people they’ve met or know. I met eight agents, pitched to five of them and received offers from two. The other two offers and two full requests came from agents who’d heard about me from other authors or coaches. (Just one interest came from a brilliant agent I had no connect with, who wanted to see the full after I informed her I had offers. She eventually passed.)
  3. The pitch in the query letter? That’s really the best way to get a-hold of an agent. In a week filled with taking care of their current clients who earn for them, of attending events and meeting editors, and the truck of paperwork they have to go through, they barely have enough time to look at query letters. They do their best, but really, that pitch paragraph must knock them for six.
  4. Novel writing is hard work, but finding representation can be equally hard. Don’t pitch anything you can’t stand behind.
  5. I had agents to choose from, and while that sounds like an enviable situation, it didn’t feel like it at the time. I had sterling advice from agented author-friends, but in the end, it was a case of finding an agent with matching viewpoints.
  6. I found it was important to figure out what the agent’s take would be on decisions like advances and editors, on how long the relationship should last, on what they saw my book becoming, how they saw me and my writing. I finally had a choice of four very good agents, each with their set of undeniable plus points, but in the end, I had to remember that there was no Perfect Agent. Only an agent Perfect for Me.

This is not a definitive ‘how to find a literary agent’ article by any means: just one writer’s take on the process. Another writer who wants to get published will have a completely different story to tell. In the writing world as in the real one, individual stories differ. Luck and timing, more than anything else, led me to the right agent. I’m very, very aware of my privilege (including awesome friends who let me stay in their homes during my agent-hunt), and grateful for it.

As I dive into further edits, I have no clue where my novel would end up. To me though, finding an agent has been more important than finding a publisher. The publishing landscape is changing fast, tastes are subjective and transient and all bets are off– but with a strong agent on my team, I’ll take my chances. At the very least, I’ll keep novel-writing!

What about you? If you’re a writer, are you agented, seeking representation, or self-published? What are the pros and cons of each? What advice do you have for a writer starting out, a writer-newly-agented, or a self-published writer? Any advice on how to find a Literary Agent? Want to share your agent-query-quest story? If you’re a reader, does it affect your choice, especially in e-books, whether a writer is self or traditionally published?

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