Norah Myers is known on BookMachine for her blog posts about being an Editorial Assistant. This week she is back with some advice on Reading for an Agency.
Norah studied publishing in London at City University and worked for Picador and Bloomsbury before returning to Canada. She worked for a boutique literary agency before moving to an independent publisher of fiction and nonfiction. She loves yoga, books, and endless cups of tea. @bookish_norah
Before I began my editorial job, I read manuscripts for a literary agency. I read literary fiction, historical fiction, memoir, women’s fiction, psychological thriller, young adult, and work that defied classification. I found it tremendously helpful in the work I do now as an editorial assistant (and a freelance editor). These are the top 5 things I learned when working for an agent:
1. Agents are editors, too
Agents work tirelessly with their authors to develop draft after draft of their manuscripts to make them the most polished they can be before they create book proposals and send them to publishers.
If you’ve been on Twitter at any point since the weekend, chances are that you’ve come across the YouGov profiler, a jolly little plaything/terrifying cross-section of all the privacies we wilfully surrender that allows users to input the name of ‘any brand, person or thing’ then presents them with a picture of a typical fan of said brand, person or thing courtesy of the titular market research firm. It’s by no means exhaustive (apparently there weren’t enough fans of Yo La Tengo to constitute an appropriate sample size, which is of course just how Yo La Tengo fans like it) but it’s certainly an enjoyable way to pass a few minutes
confirming your existing prejudices engaging in some low-level market research. With the profiler’s help, then, BookMachine proudly (?) presents a guide to the demographics you need to pitch to if you want to make it big in publishing [puts feet up on desk, taps out cigar ash].
To the surprise of hopefully very few who have so much as glanced at a bestseller list since spring of 2012, business magazine Forbes’ annually released figures of the biggest sellers in publishing have revealed that, between June 2012 and June 2013, the highest-earning author in the world was EL James, the first-time novelist whose Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has made her $95 million (£65 million) over that twelve month period. James’ closest rival was veteran airport standby James Patterson, whose books have sold over 270 million copies since the publication of his debut novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, in 1976, and who made $91 million in the same timeframe. Both authors’ sales dwarfed third-placed Suzanne Collins, whose Hunger Games trilogy made her a mere $55 million, presumably helped along by the highly lucrative film adaptation of the trilogy’s first instalment. I’m sure she’s inconsolable.
In further news of cinematic adaptations of novels that may entail extensive use of prosthetics, it appears that the Fifty Shades of Grey film – which feels like it’s been in production since before the books were actually written even though it still hasn’t started filming – may finally have a confirmed director. Disappointing all those who had hoped Gus Van Sant may have chased his feted ‘Death trilogy’ of Gerry, Elephant and Last Days with a petite mort trilogy, Variety is reporting that the position has been filled (fnar fnar, etc.) by Sam Taylor-Johnson, formerly Sam Taylor-Wood, celebrated visual artist turned director of John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy and spouse of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, star of that film, Kick-Ass and Anna Karenina.
With Bret Easton Ellis seeming at long last to have gotten the message that no, he will have absolutely nothing to do with the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, no matter how often he creepily insists that James Deen would be perfect to star whilst staring, unblinking, into your own eyes (again, please do not Google James Deen if you’re unfamiliar with the name and at work or around children), another long-time chronicler of the beautiful and vacant has proven a source of unexpected ardour for the project: Film-maker Gus Van Sant, director of American arthouse classics like Gerry, My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy, is seemingly so eager to steer the book to the screen that he’s already filmed one of the sex scenes, entirely unsolicited and off his own back, if that phrasing isn’t too misleading given the circumstances.
It’s been a hot, awkwardly phrased minute since we last had anything worth reporting on the ol’ Fifty Shades of Grey front. Thankfully however, after three months, our long, hard, throbbing national nightmare is over with the news that Vintage is set to publish the excessively punctuated Fifty Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess (A Journal), which is either a canny piece of Fifty Shades merchandising or a spin-off of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Big week this week for EL James (when is it not?): after being named ‘publishing person of the year‘ by Publishers Weekly last Friday – insert your own Simpsons reference – the author and anagram of Jams Eel, which could conceivably be a sex act featured in her next novel, saw Fifty Shades of Grey beat off all comers (snigger) to take the title of popular fiction book of the year at the National Book Awards. Since civilisation had already ended by that point, presumably the canapés at the ceremony weren’t up to much.
Potentially ending our long national nightmare of not having heard Lorraine Kelly read aloud from Fifty Shades of Grey, the nominees have been revealed for this year’s National Book Awards. The ceremony, which takes place on December 4th as a special birthday treat for Jay-Z, probably, will indeed feature the hugely popular, scandalising controversy magnet, but only in a hosting capacity, arf arf . (DISCLAIMER: This is obviously an unfair characterisation. I’m sure Lorraine Kelly’s lovely. And she can probably hook you up with a stylist who’ll give you a wonder of a dye job and get those fifty shades down to fewer than ten.)
As the leaves fall from the trees, autumn descends and the turn of the seasons rolls relentlessly onward, it’s nice to be reminded that some things are, indeed, constant and unchanging, such as the neverending news cycle about the forthcoming film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, which still hasn’t been made even though it feels like we’ve been writing about it since some time before the Boer War.
In the latest in a series of slow news day-saving incidents that we might as well group together under the headline ‘Chris has had a long, tiring day and needs a big, fat, easy target’, full-time Fifty Shades of Grey cheerleader and occasional novelist Bret Easton Ellis has once again refused to let a piffling thing like flat-out rejection by its makers stand in the way of his weighing in on every aspect of the book’s forthcoming cinematic adaptation. Remember when people used to freely admit to reading Bret Easton Ellis? Weird times.