Friday, 13 February 2015

Meet the Agent with Shelley Instone from the Shelley Instone Literary Agency 11 February 2015

Went to the Meet the Agent event in the Outlaws Yacht Club, Leeds, as part of the Leeds Big Bookend where Shelley and her debut author, Leeds writer June Taylor, talked about the business of editing, getting your work published and the opportunity to ask questions.  Shelley is open to submissions and is actively searching for new writing talent specifically for literary and commercial fiction (this includes children's and adult fiction alongside non-fiction - memoir, biography and cookery) and wanted to meet the writing community in her home town of Leeds.

Fiona Gell, the Leeds Big Bookend co-ordinator introduced Shelley Instone and June Taylor, who Shelley is editor/agent for, explaining that Shelley is June's third agent.  They met in 2010 at the Eve White Agency when Shelley edited June's YA entry to the Times Chicken House competition, which placed runner up, and they clicked straight away as she was fun and enjoyable to work with. Eve tried to place the book but it did not get through.  Shelley signed June last year and this is the second book they have worked on.  It has been tough, rewrite after rewrite but it was thorough and brought the book to a whole new level.

An agent should have a strategy for your book, meets with publishers and send to readers for feedback and communicate with you the author throughout.

Shelley grew up in the era of the Yorkshire Ripper and was surrounded by a Mum and aunts who were brilliant storytellers.  She worked for the Eve White Agency, then was a freelance editor and last year became an agent (September 14).  She likes to take a rough diamond and leave her mark on a novel by a collaboration which shapes and moulds the work.  The narrative should have the WOW factor on the first page, with a confident authorial voice, a compelling story, original dialogue and great scene setting.  She feels she can teach plot and structure and even though an author submits the first three chapters of a novel, the first page will reveal the strengths and weaknesses and they will be run through the rest.

There are usually 7/8 edits, then it will be given to a reader at Harper Collins and through Tracker Changer the author can see the changes.  She will then call the publishing houses to pitch and she feels in 6-12 months you will emerge as a professional writer.  The work needs to go at the right time, to the right place and the right commissioning editor.

What not to do when submitting to agents: The introduction letter should be short and sweet and the same with the synopsis.  Be aware of the standard word counts for different genres as not adhering to these will indicate a lack of self-discipline in the author.  Charm and endear yourself to the agent and don't be demanding.  If you are self-published she cannot help you as your novel is already out there. 
She likes sophisticated narrative structures, but you can do something different so long as you are aware of the commercial market.  To do this, go to Waterstones and see what is out there in your genre and plan to write one better.

Shelley revealed to June that her narrative is what is known in the trade as ancient Greek backward-facing divination and that as an agent, she sees universal themes running through the novels. 

Your novel needs to be pitch perfect with no flaws in the narrative for the book to be bought and a lot of creative input - you need to write like your life depends on it, she knows it is a cliché but it really does take blood, sweat and tears.

Shelley likes dark themes and humour and studying the classics, ancient Greek tragedy with tropes such as the hero falling from grace with maybe a bit of incest thrown in, e.g. Homer's Iliad which is about grief, forgiveness and reconciliation, which is all part of the human condition.

Throwing the event open out to questions, attendees gleaned the following information:

An adult novel should be 90k words in length and she feels like Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall, is a fantastic plotter even though he does not use vivid description. 

Children's writing is 50% of the writing she represents for all age groups including junior, middle grade, YA and New Adult Fiction (NAF = YA with sex).

Collaboration is fine on a novel, but it would need a different contract.  When submitting it should be an A4 page synopsis and no more and she recommends dangling the carrot by not giving everything away to create intrigue. 

Percentages writer/agents depends on how it is sold, e.g. big publisher with world wide rights 15% of advance and royalties/sales, 20% of tv/film and merchandise, though you can sell the world wide rights separately.

When you submit to her agency on-line you receive an auto response to acknowledge receipt of your covering letter, synopsis and first three chapters and it takes approximately five working days for Shelley to personally get back to you.  Shelley admitted she goes straight to the chapters and informed the attendees that commercial women's fiction should be 90k words, thriller 90-100k words, junior 30-40k words, MG 40-50k words and YA and NAF 50-60k words.  She does feel that writers are overlooked in the North and that agents are still interested in trilogies.  Shelley would collaborate with the Night Hall Agency to sell tv and films rights and she recommended if you are offered a contract with an agent, you should ask who is editing it, their strengths and weaknesses, strategy, plan, contacts and which agency they are with.

Never pitch to a commissioning editor for a fee as this would be a pseudo-agent and should not be asking for payment.

A digital profile is good on social media to communicate your ideas across a broad range of people.  You need a nice person to work with and this can make/break a publishing deal.

Agents have to be realistic and if the third novel of an author is not accepted, the writer and agent usually part company.  You can also be self-published, but you have to offer the agent a different book to champion.

Website and submission details:

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