Friday 18 September 2015

Lisa Eveleigh on What Agents Look For

My guest today is literary agent, Lisa Eveleigh from Richford Becklow Literary Agency, who kindly accepted my invitation to write a post for this blog. I first met Lisa at The Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference in July 2014, and we saw each other again at The Historical Novel Society Conference, a couple of months later when I helped to organise the setup for the agent pitches. We've since bumped into each other at various events, and it's lovely to host Lisa on my blog. Thank you, Lisa for visiting, and over to you...

Lisa Eveleigh on What Agents Look For:

Hello everyone and thanks for inviting me to the blog, Anita.

The first thing to say is that agents really want to like every submission they are sent and dream of finding a bestseller.  You can increase your chances of being read quickly by a polished approach.

Do follow the submission guidelines on an agency website to the letter, and make sure that you aren’t submitting a genre that the agent doesn’t represent; for me that means no horror or erotica. Do email your submission if requested and don’t send by post if the agency website asks you not to. Don’t phone to pitch your book – ever. Somehow the phone seems to deaden a story and in any case we make decisions solely based on the quality of the writing and the way a story is told.

If you are submitting to more than one agent at a time that’s fine, but please say so. Write the very best submission letter that you can,  then print it and read it again after a good night’s sleep to see if it can be improved in any way.

Write the very best novel you can and then put it aside for a week – or even two - before reading it out loud to yourself – you will almost certainly hear any faults in your dialogue, and revise things,  and they will always be good changes.  It’s not a great idea to send a first or second draft, because a third is always better and I know many authors who do four.  
I personally have truly eclectic taste in fiction written for women. I love novels by Jilly Cooper, Katie Fforde, JoJo Moyes  Marian Keyes just as much as books by Helen Dunmore, Raffaella Barker, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Esther Freud and Julie Myerson. So I’m very open to both literary and commercial fiction, contemporary and historical. 
But if I think about what attracts me to all the writers named above it has to be that they all create strong, memorable characters, describe the scenery and the natural world convincingly, and write with a strong sense of time and place.  So I’m looking for all those qualities in a submission,  and if I’m made to laugh or get a bit teary then that’s a good sign too.
This is how to approach an agent in the best possible way.
Send a professional presentation consisting of; a brief but compelling covering letter,  a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters.   Manuscripts should be double-spaced throughout and use a clear font like Times New Roman or Garamond. I only accept submissions by email, as Word attachments
Explain in your covering letter what you’re aiming to achieve,  and what you think your market is
If appropriate, tell me writers you admire and think you may be similar to, or define your USP (Unique Selling Point)
I always read past the first page anyway, knowing that openings can be tricky, but there’s no doubt that a really arresting first paragraph does impress. Write and rewrite until you’re happy that it is going to grab an agent’s attention.
It’s not a good idea to send a novel before you’ve finished it.  Debut writers need to shape and structure an entire novel before it is ready to be seen, and let it grow into the best work it can be. Surprising things can happen even if an author is working to a detailed synopsis;  a character can suddenly do something wholly unexpected.   
That said, I do work on fiction as it is being written with my existing clients but this is after we have worked on a few titles together and know each other’s rhythm.
It’s also quite important that authors know how to conduct a relationship with an agent once they have formed a partnership. Constantly asking ‘is there any news?’ is frustrating to the agent who obviously has a vested interest in making deals and chasing up submissions. Any good agent will keep an author in touch with progress when time permits so resist the temptation to hassle!  It’s also important to respect the confidentiality of the relationship so be discreet in what you share with other writers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pass on useful contacts you’ve made in the industry but do beware that gossip can backfire.  
Lastly, it may seem like stating the obvious but it’s important that writers read as widely as possible in order to enrich and enhance their own skills and to avoid writing a story that someone else already has…
Good luck!    
Writers seeking agent representation will undoubtedly find this post very helpful, Lisa, and thank you so much for writing it! (Wish I'd had this post to read when I first started submitting Book 1!)

About Lisa:

Lisa Eveleigh read English literature at the University of Durham and began her media career at the BBC where she was a researcher.  Meeting authors and their publicists, she realised that most successful writers had agents. She then set about becoming one…

After 10 years at A P Watt, the oldest literary agency in the world, where she was a Director, she set up her own agency, and following a career sabbatical in Glasgow came back to London and founded Richford Becklow. 

The agency is named after the street she lived in before she moved to Glasgow, and the road she lived in when she moved back, signifying a new beginning to her agency career.   
Lisa is currently doing a part-time MA in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at the University of East Anglia.  This only takes her out of London for one afternoon a week and ‘I represent very little biography, yet I read it in my private time.  It is fascinating to explore a genre that is slightly out of my agent comfort-zone, and since I’m allowed to do a Creative writing module in Year 2, I have chosen ‘Adaptation and Interpretation’ which means I shall have to write the beginning of a screenplay based on a novel that I love.  This will also add to my agency skills.’

Lisa lives in London with cats Nate and Snoop, and Stewart McCartney, who is an author and TV question-writer.

Lisa published a book in June 2015, and the wonderful painting below is from the cover.

Beauty and Chivalry: The Duchess of Richmond's Ball

Summoned to Waterloo: Brussels, Dawn of June 16th, 1815
By Robert Alexander Hillingford, 1898

Brussels, June 1815: The Duke of Wellington was marshalling the Allied forces in readiness to fight Napoleon, who had escaped from Elba in February. The many British living in the city at the time were enjoying cricket matches, race-meetings and picnics despite the threat of war. 

On the fifteenth, the ambitious Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, held what was to become the most famous Ball in history. Published to coincide with the Waterloo bicentary, the book recounts the experiences of those at the ball, and the surprising coincidence that Wellington's despatch was presented to the Prince Regent at another ball, six momentous days later.

I have downloaded Lisa's book, and look forward to reading it, especially as it's set a few years after my current work in progress ends; a fascinating period in history. 

My previous post on this neetswriter blog: A Grand Tour, a Deadline, and a Course 
My latest post on neetsmarketing blog: Managing What Your Friends See on Facebook