Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Agent Appreciation Week

This week, on the blog, we're appreciating our agents.

My agent is Catherine Clarke from Felicity Bryan Associates. I met her through my Creative Writing MA at UEA, when a series of agents and publishers visited to talk to us about the publishing industry. Catherine impressed me with her professionalism and knowledge but more than that, with her clear talent for discovering strong voices in childrens fiction. Her list includes Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now) and David Almond (Skellig), as well as newer authors like Jenny Downham, (Before I Die) and Annabel Pitcher (My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece).

Catherine has helped some of my favourite books come into the world, so I was pretty excited when, after reading the first section of my book, she offered to represent me.

Mine and Catherine's agent/client relationship was very editorial. I sent the whole draft of Infinite Sky to her at least three times, and each time she would have suggestions - sometimes large, more often small. Each time she would push me to do a little more on the manuscript. To make it bigger. To take more risks. The book would have turned out very differently if I hadn't received her input, and I'm so grateful that I did.

Catherine could see what the story needed to make it better in a way that I couldn't. Perhaps because the novel started out as memoir, I was too close to it. Too concerned with how the mother or father or brother character was coming across. Catherine saw it as a story, clean and true, and because we love a lot of the same books, her suggestions made sense to me. We have similar ideas about what good fiction looks like.

The other way that Catherine has been invaluable to me is in explaining how the industry works. It is a strange apprenticeship to be on (or was for me). For months nothing happens except writing and redrafting and playing with the dog, and then all of a sudden your book is deemed Ready. It is going to land on the desks of a dozen of the biggest publishers in the industry who, in the space of two weeks, will examine whether the craftsmanship is good enough, and let you know whether they believe you can make it as a professional.

And as excited as you are to discover that they think you have a chance, you may also be a little overwhelmed by the less literary side of things that are now to do with you. Foreign rights. Royalties. Money in general. It is so good to have someone calm and professional and informed to talk you through all these stages as you arrive at them.

For me, these are the three most important things when looking for an agent: reading tastes,  professionalism and industry knowledge. The two of you are aiming to be a superhuman. A lovely, powerful mix of literary flair, legal expertise, an ear for dialogue, and business sense.

C.J. Flood is a novelist who dreams of being a professional table tennis player. Her debut novel, INFINITE SKY, comes out with Simon and Schuster on Valentines Day 2013. Say hello at her blog, Good Reads or Twitter.

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