Hellie Ogden is a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit. Read on to find out more about the role of a literary agent and Hellie's top tips for authors when submitting their work...
In short, what does a literary agent do?
In the first instance we discover new writers. Authors come to us in a variety of different ways and all agents here have different interests/tastes. It’s our job to spot a great writer and story and to mould that idea into something that is perfect for the market. From that point on we champion our authors, supporting them through the publishing process and advising on strategy.
Talk us through a typical working day:
I get to the office for about 8am and will start by checking the submissions pile. We get a huge amount of manuscripts sent to us daily and we need to swiftly deal with them in case we lose out to another agency! If I like the opening of a book sent to us, I will contact the author for more and read the full manuscript immediately. I then tend to deal with my existing client list, I never want my clients to feel I don’t have time for them. Jobs might include discussing jackets or cover copy, looking over edits or marketing/publicity plans and dealing with contracts. The rest of the day will be spent working on new clients so I will be editing their work, submitting to editors if it is ready to go and negotiating deals.
Physical submissions, or by email?
Always by email please. It’s much easier for us to share with colleagues that way both in the UK office, and the US.
You’re very hands on editorially with your authors. Tell us about the editing process as an agent.
Yes, I love the editing process, my favourite bit of the job! It’s tough to get any debut off the ground and published so I strongly believe the book has to be in the best possible shape when we submit to editors. Before I take on any client I will discuss my vision for the book, it would be foolish to take someone on if we don’t have the same intentions. I then tend to do a structural edit which could include suggesting revisions to certain characters, cutting scenes, increasing tension, tightening where necessary. Some of my authors go away and work independently for a period of time on those changes and some I work with chapter by chapter. It depends on the client and how they like to work. It’s worth saying that our authors have final say on edits, I would never want to change a book against the client’s will.
Roughly how many submissions land in your inbox each week?
It does depend, some parts of the year quieter than others but I would say probably 100 a week.
A covering letter should be…
Professional and well researched. But above all I’m looking in that letter for a smart, original and concise book pitch.
A synopsis should…
Be one page and map out the book. Don’t get too bogged down by it though, I won’t not take someone on because I love their manuscript but their synopsis isn’t perfect.
The opening chapters of a manuscript should…
Instantly hook me in so think really carefully about voice.
Taking all of the above into account and thinking about the submissions you’ve read over your career, what’s the most common mistake writers make when submitting?
I think it’s writers not having a clear enough idea of what their work is. As soon as you approach agents you are entering a creative but also business discussion and you must be clued up on where your book might fill a gap in the market, what is working out there and what your book is doing differently. Spend some time in bookstores and read lots.
Any tips on putting together an elevator pitch?
Keep it brief, focusing on the key points and drawing out what makes your book original and fresh.
One killer piece of advice for authors looking to get published would be…
Read, read, READ! I definitely think there is direct correlation between my most successful writers and biggest readers. It is so important to have a sense of the market.