Literary agents – and what not to do…

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Agent Jacinta di MaseMost aspiring authors looking to publish their manuscript traditionally can envisage a finish line with a publisher and a contract. But the path to that line is often arduous, which is where agents can help.

After more than 25 years in the book industry, Melbourne-based Jacinta Di Mase started her own literary agency in 2004. Her philosophy from day one was a commitment to the creation of quality books that engage, entertain, and inspire.

Jacinta’s agency represents writers and illustrators across a diverse range of genres including picture books, young adult fiction, and both fiction and non-fiction titles for the adult trade market. In a recent episode of our top-rating podcast So you want to be a writer, Allison Tait had a chat with Jacinta about her job as an agent.

On the role of agents through the years:

“I don’t think the role of an agent has changed substantially. Agents are still an author’s number one advocate… Publishing’s always undergoing change. So whether it’s a change of personnel, whether it’s ABC announcing they’re closing their retail stores, whether it’s company restructures, or whether it’s the influence of technological change and the big impact of digital on the publishing scene. All of those things have been happening over the years. What agents are able to offer is continuity for their clients in that ever changing landscape.

“The benefit of having been in the industry for so long is that you’re able to provide perspective as well and say, ‘Look, we’ve been through something similar before, this is what happened last time, this is what we did.' And essentially being optimistic and reassuring. You can usually find a way through.”

On choosing whether to represent someone based on an unsolicited manuscript:

“I probably receive between seven and 10 a day… completely unsolicited. That’s not including the submissions that come in from the almost 50 clients that I represent. And from maybe seven to 10 a day, I’ll read maybe one or two sample chapters. And from there, I can ascertain pretty quickly whether I want to keep going and (in the case of the fiction) read the entire manuscript.

“To be honest, if the first page is a shocker, I'm not generally going to go on – if there are grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, etc. And it would be the same for you, if you picked up a book off the shelf in a bookstore and you read the first couple of pages, you can pretty quickly tell, ‘Oh, I don’t think this is for me.'

“And I’m also looking at things and thinking commercially ‘is this for me?' So (a) do I love it? Am I really responding to this in a ‘I’m a reader' kind of way? And (b) if I am doing that, okay, I’m loving this but can I actually sell it [to a publisher]?”

The biggest mistake that writers make when approaching agents:

“Not really understanding how the industry works. A lot of—a surprising number of—authors don’t research their own genre. And by that, I mean reading widely, within their own genre and also reading in general across what’s happening in the Australian market. I see a lot of material where writers think, ‘All I need to do is write, so reading doesn’t play a major role in that.'

“I know, it’s sounds like, ‘Who’d do that?', but you’d be surprised!”

To hear the whole interview, check out our podcast episode page here.

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