Literary agents play a huge role in shaping what we see in bookstores.
Take a short walk with me and I’ll illustrate.
Let’s say you’re asleep one night when you’re woken by a voice calling your name from the darkness. After some investigation, it turns out that the voice belongs to God.
I know. Plot twist.
It’s the great I AM speed dialling you from Heaven and He orders you to sit down at your computer and start typing.
Several days and hundreds of pages later you finally finish and you’re shocked to discover that you’ve been inspired to produce The Bible: The Lost Testament.
What do you do next? Well, you’re gonna want to whisk that beauty into the hands of a publisher ASAP because it’ll be the most coveted thing since Harper Lee decided she had a little more to say about mockingbirds.
If you approached any of the Big Five (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) via their fifty million subsidiary imprints, despite holding (literally) God’s Word, they’d ask you to submit your masterpiece via a literary agent. You’d then have to toddle off to go hunt for a suitable literary agent, persuade them to read your new manuscript, get them excited enough to sign you, then wait for them to successfully sell your work to a publisher.
This is how most publishing deals work. Many publishers, big and small, will only consider a manuscript that comes to them via a literary agent. That’s an awful lot of power concentrated in the hands of a few. So, who are these people with so much clout dictating our reading choices and do they represent the UK population?
Well, in the UK right now, in the Year of Our Lord 2019, there are only three black female literary agents.
I spoke to two of them.
Emma Paterson and Nelle Andrews were kind enough to make time in their insanely busy schedules, to give me the inside scoop on what they do, how they became agents, how they select the authors on their lists, and how they feel the lack of racial diversity in literary agencies impacts UK publishing.
I’ve made it a two-parter.
I didn’t know getting published was such a tough process, that explains a lot.
Yes. If you’re trying to get published with a traditional publisher it can be an uphill task. Plus, it’s clearly (from the sameness of what makes the cut) not all based on talent.
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That’s so true. I’ve seen best sellers that had the same basic plot as the book before it
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Yup, so true. We need more black agents! If a particular story doesn’t resonate with an agent, it’s difficult for that story to see the light of day.
Absolutely. And if an agent doesn’t recognise the characters or situation in a story (because it doesn’t tally with their life experiences) then that story doesn’t get told. It’s a problem.
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