This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Over the last month, we’ve been offering you the opportunity to put your questions to literary agent Madeleine Milburn. You know, the really nitty gritty publishing stuff that you’ve been wondering, but too afraid to ask. This week, Madeleine answers your queries on slush piles, discovering new authors and self-publishing.
I personally read everything that comes into my submissions each day. Working hours have to be spent with my current clients, but I am always excited when I look at my email submissions in the mornings and evenings. I also have a reader who forwards me anything they think that I might be interested in.
Do you ever contact a potential author after coming across their writing elsewhere? In a published article or from a blog address in their Twitter bio, for example?
Yes, I do occasionally come across blogs and might get in touch if I like the voice, especially those by self-published authors, but I spend much more time reading my own slush pile than searching the web. I have also contacted writers who have had their work exhibited in University Creative Writing courses / competition anthologies. I do prefer it, however, when writers approach me because it shows that they have researched my agency and that they like the way I manage my authors. It’s important to be as ambitious as each other and on the same wavelength.
In your opinion, what sets a potential bestselling author apart from other writers?
For me, a bestselling author is quite simply someone who manages to combine a very strong, recognisable voice or writing style, with an un-put-down-able storyline. Someone who manages to bring a new perspective, that readers of that genre haven’t encountered before. I place a huge amount of importance on character. I want to connect and empathise with the main character from the first few pages – a strong character can leave me desperate to read more…
If you plan to self-publish a novel, is it still worth trying to get a literary agent? Can the agent play a role in the self-publishing process?
Yes, agents are increasingly becoming more and more involved in the self-publishing process. It is always advantageous for you to have an agent on side to fight your corner, and to negotiate and help handle all aspects of the book’s publication (whether that be with a traditional publisher, or not). There are also so many other rights to a book that an agent can handle, for instance I handle all the translation rights and film & TV rights directly for my authors. A lot of self-published authors are unable to exploit these rights.An agent is an invaluable source of knowledge on the industry, and will be able to help you make an informed decision on which route is best for your book. I personally prefer it if a prospective author approaches me with their work before going ahead and self-publishing or accepting a deal from a traditional print publisher or digital only imprint, as there is less that I can do for them with regards to the UK and US market once this has already been agreed upon.
How long should I wait for an agent to respond? Is it ever okay to follow up?
Due to the high volume of submissions I receive, it is impossible for me to respond to everyone – that would be a full time job in itself! If I am interested in reading more of your manuscript, I should get back to you within six weeks, sometimes even overnight. If I haven’t been in contact within that time frame, I might have had too many reservations or have a similar author on my list, and calling up won’t make any difference. However, if you have some important news regarding your manuscript that you would like to share with me – i.e. that a publisher has since been in contact about it, you have submitted to me in the past, or that another agent is reading the full manuscript and you would really like me to take a look too, then I will definitely do this. I’m only human, and some submissions have slipped through the net, or I haven’t felt the time was right to submit that particular story.