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Literary Agent

Visiting Speaker – Kathryn Ross

November 11th, 2016 by rachel_kay | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Last Thursday, our publishing class had the privilege of spending a few hours with literary agent Kathryn Ross. Alongside Lindsey Fraser, Kathryn runs Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency and Consultancy (www.fraserross.co.uk), which the pair established in 2002.

logoKathryn didn’t take the traditional route to becoming a literary agent. She began as a secondary school English teacher, overseeing the school library, and eventually collaborating with the department head to set up a mobile bookstore in a van. When this venture did well, she left teaching and got a position running the children’s tent at the Edinburgh Book Festival, afterwards moving on to work at the Scottish Book Trust. Kathryn spent ten years here, where she met Lindsey and built up a long list of author and publishing contacts. Finally, with the encouragement of author Vivian French, the pair took the leap of setting up their own literary agency with Vivian as their first client.

Fourteen years down the line, she says her job is hard work, hugely rewarding (emotionally, although not always financially), and that she gets a lot of joy from seeing authors set off, and in helping them grow their careers. Fraser Ross Associates now represents about sixty-five writers and illustrators, most of whom work in children’s fiction (although some write across all age ranges and genres).

booksWriting for children is challenging. There’s a lot to accomplish in a short format, including fleshing out the characterisation, problems, and emotions that form a complete story. Children’s books must be equally appealing to parents- these are the buyers, and the ones who will be reading the book over and over. Children’s authors need to be good at summing up and pitching their content, and are now expected to do more marketing and publicity than ever before. An author’s success has increasingly come to depend on things like doing events and getting positive online reviews.

Agents are integral within this process, acting as sounding boards, cheerleaders, and business advisers to an author. This includes ideas development, networking, brand-building, and actively pursuing sub-rights. When taking clients on board, Kathryn and Lindsay look for long-term partnerships, where the content and the personalities both fit. Good communication is essential, as are trust, openness, and honesty, as everyone needs to be able to talk through ideas and problems.

Authors / illustrators and literary agents are often recommended to each other, one of the reasons that networking is vital. Kathryn and Lindsey also seek out new talent, such as by attending end-of-year college art shows. On top of this, they receive unsolicited manuscripts, about 200 per month. Many of these come via email, and Kathryn says she misses the physicality of receiving packages in the post- although she doesn’t miss the occasional extras, like glitter stars, crushed biscuits, melted toffees, etc. Kathryn has gotten some extremely creative submissions over the years, and was able to give us extensive, and often hilarious advice on what not to do, including why penguins and polar bear must never meet.

Each ‘day in the life’ of a literary agent is different, but typical tasks include:

  • Reminding publishers to pay invoices
  • Checking/negotiating contracts
  • Polishing submissions before they’re sent to editors – lots of editing!
  • Meeting with publishers, especially in London
  • Pushing for better royalties for her clients
  • Reading Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and The Bookseller
  • Attending launch parties
  • Negotiating permissions fees
  • Talking authors through outlines, edits, and cover design
  • Giving advice to cold callers
  • Informing authors of success / rejection
  • Discussing deadlines, delays, relationship problems, moving house, etc. with clients
  • Paying authors
  • Submitting manuscripts
  • Sending congratulations cards of all types
  • Reading unsolicited submissions
  • Attending book fairs, especially Bologna
  • Reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, … and emails.

Many thanks to Kathryn for sharing her time with us, and for bringing back the nostalgia of story time for us Masters students!

Guest Speaker: Lindsey Fraser

November 19th, 2014 by Leia Forster | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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fraser

fraser ross

On the 13th of November, Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates visited us here at Stirling to give a talk on the role of the literary agent.

Lindsey began by reminiscing of a time when book publishing was simpler. Books had one price; that which was displayed on the book jacket, and books were limited to paperback and hardback formats.

As the publishing industry adapted to reflect changes in the digital landscape, it became apparent that authors needed representatives who had their best interests at heart and would help them to manoeuvre the unfamiliar realm of publishing.

Having spent ten years working for the Scottish Book Trust, Lindsey and colleague Kathryn Ross had established that there was a need amongst Scottish authors for agent representation, and so they left the Scottish Book Trust in order to create Fraser Ross Associates. They are now part of the small literary agent community which forms The Association of Scottish Literary Agents.

When speaking specifically about the role of the agent, Lindsey said that she considers literary agents to be responsible for finding the best possible homes for books. She also expressed that a major part of the role is giving your writers confidence, and that it is important to remember that agents are sometimes the only contact that writers have with the world of publishing. Trust is essential in this relationship.

Lindsey went on to highlight that the agent is on the side of the author, and ultimately it is their aim to help the author make money from their writing. The agent also encourages the writer to respect publisher deadlines and teaches them how to deal with promotional events as well as showing them how to make the most of opportunities that are presented to them.

Talking more about the encouragement that should be offered to authors, Lindsey noted that they are particularly vulnerable after having their first book published and are beginning to consider the next. It is important to help them through this period of insecurity. She commented that authors have a tendency to look at what was not right with their book and need to be reminded of what was good. She also said that sometimes after having a book published, authors would like to have a period of rest, but there is an important issue here regarding the children’s book industry. Children grow up quickly, and their interest in certain books changes. If you are publishing a children’s series, you need to ensure that the books are published before your readership outgrows them. Sometimes it is necessary for an author to produce a number of books in quick succession, especially if their books are doing well.                                                                                                                              scottish bt

Nearing the end of the talk, we were informed of The Scottish Book Trust’s live literature scheme which provides funding for author visiting sessions at schools in Scotland. They pay half of the author’s fee as well as traveling expenses which allows more schools to benefit from visiting sessions while authors also get to promote their books and interact with their readers on a more personal level.

Lindsey’s talk offered wonderful insight into the role of an agent in the publishing industry. She shared with us her refreshingly honest thoughts and opinions regarding some issues within the industry, and I particularly liked her comparison of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to speed dating which highlighted once more the importance of networking in this industry.

Best Books Are Not Necessarily the Ones That Sell – Lindsey Fraser as guest speaker

October 30th, 2013 by Aija | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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One of the most interesting parts of having guest speakers come to the Stirling Publishing class is the varied mix of individuals from all fields of publishing. This time the guest speaker was the key step between an author and publisher; a literary agent, who gave an astute talk from someone who has seen a varied side of the publishing trade.

Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates spoke to the MLitt Publishing class of 2013/14 on the long path that led to the start of her own business together with colleague Kathryn Ross. For a time Lindsey was aiming to become a teacher, until the teacher training proved to Lindsey that it was a wonderful career to be admired – but it was not for her. What came out of her studies was the realisation of deep love for books. Therefore, Lindsey went to work at James Thin bookshop, and worked at the children’s books section until becoming part of the family run company of Heffers in Cambridge. Heffers was another children’s bookshop, an experience Lindsey emphasizes invaluable for those wanting to work within the publishing world – learning the tricks of the trade from the other side, from the booksellers’ perspective and creating those ever-vital connections for your future networking. During her time at Heffers, Lindsey learned the value that was placed on who reads, what and how it is accessed. Lindsey warmly reminisced about how Heffers were diversified in this respect compared to all other booksellers before and at the time, and Lindsey got to hone her skills at readership development.

A career move eventually was inevitable, and so Lindsey came to work with the Book Trust Scotland, where she waved her magic wand until founding Fraser and Ross Associates in 2002. Slowly expanding, at the moment Fraser and Ross represent some fifty authors and illustrators, with the benefit of having two – slightly – different personalities with different tastes working together. Whereas Lindsey would be more squeamish and un-impressed on some titles, Kathryn sees the potential and pushes for it – or vice versa, and there comes the beauty of Fraser and Ross Associates diversification.

Knowing the editors within the publishing companies, and knowing the publishing companies’ aims in and out, is the key. A literary agent should not submit the same title to more than a couple of imprints at the same time, as that would be fishing for someone to catch on a title you are not backing one hundred per cent, but not offering it to more than one would also limit the chances of the title being picked. Whereas one publisher might have something similar already in process or is not particularly keen on the content of the novel, another publisher might see it as the gem it is.

Lindsey also remarks on how the publishing industry initially got terrified by the emergence of digital publishing, and how she sees it a near god send for convenience and actually a sensible way forward. And some publishers have even improved the quality of their print books, for noticing that e-sales have increased their print sales as readers who liked the book in e-format more often than not want to buy a hard copy. And ultimately, the eventual experience is the same; you read a book and you either hate it or love it. Only thing Lindsey truly criticises e-publishing for is the low royalties that come toward the author, which should in all senses be higher as e-publishing has not nearly as high costs as printing.

As parting wisdom Lindsey remarks on publishers who hold on to the rights of a title even if the title is not in print; the rights ought to be relinquished so the author can go on to find another channel for their book to keep out there. Generating income for a literary agent or the author is not always a straightforward line; a lot is to do with selling and maximizing rights – having one publisher in the UK and another one in US, but always trying to make sure it is the authors’ rights that are respected, as much meeting profit margin demands. The literary agent is responsible of much of the negotiations between author and potential publisher, as well as being the gatekeeper for first drafts, offering initial feedback. What this boils down to is not the individual likes and dislikes and quirks of personalities, but also being aware of the target audience and the market demand, for what has been a phenomenal success in UK does not mean it will also fare well in other countries. And here it is, the sad truth; best books are not necessarily the ones that sell.

The tweets from Lindsey Fraser’s Visiting Speaker session are Storified here.

Aija Oksman