Jack-of-all-trades Andrew Lownie is closely connected to every aspect of his agency. In this interview he tells us why this personal style is effective, why writers should branch out of only writing, and how editors are still looking for quality instead of guaranteed best-sellers.
Andrew, what title do you go by? And why are you the best agent that someone could choose?
I'm everything at the agency - owner, agent, secretary, post boy and confidante. I'm the best agent because the author always gets my undivided attention in whatever capacity I'm acting.
Can you tell us something personal about yourself that our readers might not know?
Though a British agent, I spent a year at school in North Carolina, I have a French mother, have a Masters degree in American Espionage, write books myself, and was a successful rower at Cambridge University - where I was also President of the Union.
How have you kept afloat while the industry is dealing with economic changes?
I've always had a diverse and large list across a series of genres selling direct into lots of territories and open to developing new business. As I result, I'm not reliant on a few authors, books or subject areas and am able to respond quickly to market changes. My overheads are low and have a strong backlist so I can afford to sit out difficulty times.
What do you think are the most important changes to the industry because of digital technology?
We are in the midst of rapid change in terms of the technology in which we sell, market and produce our words of wisdom, but also amidst cultural and economic changes. People now want to access information in a variety of ways and they want to do so quickly. At the same time, the industry is polarizing between worldwide marketing corporations aimed at brand names and the more localized, imaginative cottage industry of the past. Technology now means the entry level for new publishers is very easy as production and distribution are much cheaper. More books will continue to be published and in a variety of formats. As availability of digitalised books increases, the readers become cheaper and more compatible, and the cost of ebooks fall, we will see a growth in the ebook market. More sales will have to be on the agency model and there will be a growth in POD (Print On Demand) - meaning most contracts will be on short-term licenses. That said, the book and publishing industry as we know it will be around for a while.
What do you tell your writers to do during this challenging time?
My advice to authors is to diversify - there is money drawing on core expertise in speaking, articles, teaching, copy writing, reviewing ,consultancy, etc. - and to be as professional as possible. Authors need to have their own websites to help promote themselves, to study and respond to the market, to put together effective selling proposals, and to build good relationships themselves across the publishing industry. It is a collaborative effort between author and agent. Much of publishing is about timing. If the proposal/book isn't finding a home then put it aside and try something else.
What kinds of projects and submissions do you wish that you saw more of?
I receive over 500 submissions a week and am astounded at the range of subjects - and quality. I'm looking for fresh subjects and voices, written with expertise, and with someone who has a platform or profile in the area, who can make a good case for the commercial potential of the book. Some editors are obsessed with what was in the bestseller lists the previous week, but most want well-written books which add something to the subject area/genre and which will sell at least 3,000 copies.
How should a writer contact you? And how should they avoid contacting you?
Best way is on e mail so I can then circulate quickly to my team of readers. I read everything myself first and then ask for second opinions on about six or seven submissions a week. Writers should follow my submission guidelines about the format of preferred proposal. If thy do that then I'm very happy. For my 'pet peeves' look at various articles on my website www.andrewlownie.co.uk.
Andrew Lownie has been a bookseller, journalist, publisher and director of the Curtis Brown Agency. He has run his own eponymous agency since 1988, has been a literary agent for PEN and founded The Biographers Club, of which he is now President. His website is www.andrewlownie.co.uk.