Literary agents look to change 'distant' image

Literary agents look to change 'distant' image

Literary festivals can “provide help and support for new writers” and enable them to ask questions in a “relaxing, happy, supportive environment”, event organisers and literary agents have told The Bookseller.

Festivals can also bring would-be authors closer to the publishing process by connecting them with agents, who want to move away from the perception that they are “very distant and difficult to meet”.

Earlier this year, the Battersea Literature Festival and the Literary Kitchen Festival included dog walks led by literary agents as part of their programme.

Agent Jo Unwin, of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency, said she started the dog walks “because it seems to me that the people who find it easy to submit to agents aren’t necessarily the best writers”. She added: “Some people feel more entitled to write than others, and it’s just a way to open things out a bit. Of course the danger with being too open is that you get inundated by unpublishable work, so it’s all a bit of a balancing act.”

Isabel Losada, artistic director of Battersea Literature Festival, said its dog walk was an “informal” event, which made it easier for authors to get to know agents. “It gave the authors the sense of whether an agent could be right for them,” she continued. “The agents that came said they want to move away from [the perception of] agents being very distant and difficult to meet. The agents said they want to be accessible.”

Among the agents who took part in the dog walks was Carrie Kania from Conville & Walsh, who said she was “not sure where the reputation [of being distant] comes from—agents are normal, nice, passionate people who 
just happen to love books and writers”. 

Andrea Mason, founder of the Literary Kitchen Festival, agreed: “Agents are people like us and they want your manuscript.”

Kania said literary festivals were a “chance for writers to ask questions directly”, especially because the internet, while “brilliant, can be filled with so much information—often contradictory facts”.

“It is valuable one-on-one time, or participation in small groups, where there is no pressure,” Kania added. “It’s a relaxing, happy, supportive environment, so people with the question ‘I’ve written a book, now what do I do?’ can get straight answers.

“I have done two ‘agent dog walks’ with Foxy (pictured left). Both events were full up with writers at various stages—from the half-finished to those in the process of sending their manuscripts out. Writing is a lonely business and these walks—along with other talks geared to new writers—can be incredibly valuable to meet fellow writers, agents and 
authors, as well as to gain valuable advice.”

Jane Furze, director of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, which this month held its 65th annual festival, said festivals were a key support for new and upcoming writers.

“For me, in terms of an overarching theme, a key part of what we do is providing a platform and giving help and support to new writers,” she said. “We have quite specific events and workshops aimed at new and emerging writers.”