Last December I wrote a post about the Brit Writers’ Awards and a furious bun-fight ensued, so it is with some trepidation that I write about the BWA again.
A couple of weeks ago I heard of an email sent out by the BWA, which contained this interesting snippet:
During the last year, a number of partner agents have asked us to help them identify potential literary gems to save them ploughing through their slush pile. Therefore we have been asked to find potential ‘sign-ups’ for agents in the following genres:
- Novels: commercial and literary fiction
- Books for Children
- Short stories and Poetry for anthologies
The deadline for submissions was Tuesday of last week, which meant that writers had only a few days to get their work into shape and send it out. That seemed pointlessly rushed to me: not only does publishing usually move at a glacial speed, all of the decent agents I know are still ploughing through their Frankfurt followups. Where are these “partner agents” going to find the time to look at any “potential literary gems” which The BWA identifies? An agent’s first priority has to be their exisiting clients, not the contents of their slush pile; and that Frankfurt backlog is likely to translate to some serious deals if it’s dealt with promptly.
And who are these “partner agents” anyway? The BWA hasn’t named them, and if I’m going to send my work anywhere I want to know who is going to consider it. Are these “partner agents” agents I’d want to work with? Might they already have seen my work, do they work with publishers who are appropriate for my writing, and are they any good at what they do? Are they even competent? Have they made any good sales? Might they even be frivolous and fraudulent? So long as the BWA doesn’t name them I have no way of knowing.
That short list of genres is troubling too. “Commercial and literary fiction” and “books for children” are both very broad descriptions and in order to cover all that ground the BWA’s “partner agents” would have to be both many in number and eclectic in their tastes and agenting skills: most good agents cast their nets over a much more narrowly-defined area of writing so that they can be sure to know their market in appropriate detail. And the suggestion that agents would be interested in short stories and poetry by unknown writers is bizarre. When I asked literary agent extraordinaire Carole Blake if she’d be interested in representing such works she responded with a very clear no. I don’t know any good agents who would be interested in or able to sell such works, or who would want to collect a whole load of short works from various unknown writers in order to put together anthologies they’d then need to find publishers for: anthologies aren’t compiled like that, and anthologies are such notoriously poor sellers that even if an agent were to embark on such a project they’d be very unlikely to be able to find a publisher willing to invest in it.
The BWA email was signed off by “Hari Kumar, Brit Writers Agents Division” which makes me wonder if the BWA is shortly going to start offering literary representation as well as literary prizes: I sincerely hope they’re not, because they have neither the experience nor the knowledge to represent writers well; but we’ll have to wait and see about that.
What we don’t have to wait for is the response that submissions to the scheme will receive: and suddenly, all becomes clear. Some of the members of Harry Bingham’s Word Cloud sent their work in and have now heard back from the BWA, and this is part of the message they’ve all received:
from what you have submitted, the assessors could not refer your work to agents immediately, but they see great potential here. The issues highlighted above can be rectified easily, so before you go any further with this, we suggest that you need a consultancy to advice on your synopsis, positioning the book for an agent/publisher, highlighting USPs and ensuring that the main plots are woven into the synopsis which also needs some basic formatting. We believe this will encourage the agent/publisher to read on to see its true potential.
You need to find an experienced literary consultant/marketing expert that can help you with this. There are many providers out there and it shouldn’t cost very much but it’s important to find the right person that knows what agents/publishers are looking for. Please do not have it edited at this stage, as this is not required. If you would like us to arrange this for you, please let me know immediately.
My first thought was that I wouldn’t let anyone who wrote such mangled prose loose anywhere near my work; my second was to wonder if they really meant to say this;
Please do not have it edited at this stage, as this is not required. If you would like us to arrange this for you, please let me know immediately.
So editing isn’t required at this stage, but the BWA can arrange it if you like. Ha! I think what they really meant to say was, “please let us know if you’d like us to put you in touch with an experienced literary consultant/marketing expert that [sic] can help you with this”.
The BWA appears to be suggesting that the writers concerned should concentrate on the marketing and presentation of their work, but not bother improving the writing at this stage; and that the BWA is able to put writers in touch with appropriate people who can help with those things.
This is wrong on a couple of levels.
I wonder if writers who take the BWA up on this invitation will be asked to pay for those services? Because we all know Yog’s Law, right?
Agents, editors and publishers are on the lookout for good writing with strong commercial potential when they search their slush-piles, not slick marketing packages which discuss a book’s USPs. Very few books require the advice of a marketing expert at the submission stage and to suggest otherwise reveals a rather odd understanding of publishing as I know it, and hints at exploitation.
In an effort to be less cynical I’d love to hear from writers who submitted to this scheme and who actually ended up with a referral to a literary agent. Who is the agent the BWA sent your work to? And how did that referral go? I’d also like to hear from any writers who asked the BWA to find them “an experienced literary consultant/marketing expert” to help them with their book: who did the BWA refer you to? What was the cost, and would the BWA get any sort of kickback from that fee?
Coming up in future episodes: the BWA publishing awards, and the BWA Publishing Programme. If I squeeze enough time out of my days those posts might even appear this week.