What I Learned in Agents School: Feedback 101

Mike Carey delivered his new thriller to Little, Brown this week.  The editor there, Daniel Mallory, not only read it overnight (it’s huge, and he says he’s a slow reader) but also wrote Mike two poems about how great it is.

OK, short poems –a haiku and a couplet – but this is the mark of a really good publisher.  Yes, the book’s fantastic; Mike’s an extremely talented writer and it’s a genuinely exciting book.  But feedback about how good something is, is very hard to give.

Agents, publishers, and producers often confer, like the team of diagnosticians in House, over exactly what’s going wrong with a book or script.  Many of us have learned in English courses or Film Studies how to analyse work.  When we’ve been in the business for a bit, we’ve got used to seeing work in a raw state, seeing what it could be at its best, and working out how to inspire the writer to get it there.

Writers work best when they’re happy and confident, and know where they’re going with a piece.  An agent can kill a book or script by rolling up her sleeves and showing how expert she is at diagnosing what’s not working yet.  But it’s equally important for the writer to know what’s going right.

Why is that so hard to identify?  Why is it so much easier to, say, come out of a movie talking about the bits you didn’t like, and assuming that what you don’t mention is OK?

There’ll be editing to do on Mike’s book.  There always is.  No book is perfect.  Not only that, but I think writing a book or a script is too big a job for one person.  Also, the publisher will have in mind any adjustments they feel are necessary for what the market’s doing at the moment.  A producer will have their execs, controllers, studios, investors to please.  But for all that it costs double the effort to work out what’s good about a book or a script, it’s vital.

Meg Davis at the Ki Agency

I’m an established literary agent, representing writers in all media, and in all genres except non-fiction, children’s and poetry.

Besides working hard for my clients, I like to get involved with the bigger picture, so have served on the council of the Association of Authors’ Agents, and am currently on the council of the PMA (the other relevant trade association).  I’ve been on the negotiating teams for a number of standard industry agreements, and am also on the management board of PLR.

I love my job.  I’ll be telling you more about how I like working with writers ,publishers, producers – everyone involved in the field.

Welcome to the Ki Agency!

Welcome to the Ki Agency!

‘Ki’ in Japanese means ‘energy’ as well as ‘tree’ – both of which seemed auspicious as a name for a new company.  I started it because I wanted to work with writers in a more dynamic way, tailoring services to their individual needs and what will best advance their writing careers.

Ki started about six months ago, with just a few clients.  I’m proud to represent (in alphabetical order):

Emma Adams, a scriptwriter whose first play was recently shortlisted for the Meyer-Whitworth Prize

Piers Bearne, author of an exciting debut historical novel

Mike Carey, scriptwriter, and novelist, as well as his wife Linda and daughter Louise.  Mike’s been nominated for major awards for his graphic novel work as well.

Stephen Davis, television writer extraordinaire and novelist

Daniel Depp, a scriptwriter and author of (so far) two thriller novels which have had fantastic reviews

Anne Perry, internationally bestselling author

Simon Scarrow, No.1 bestselling author

Catherine Webb, playwright and author of very cool urban fantasy novels under the name Kate Griffin

Timothy Wilson, who – currently as Jude Morgan – is writing excellently-reviewed historical novels

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We’re in a period of enormous change, both in the media industries and in the world at large.  It seemed a bit crazy to be starting a new company during an economic crisis, but very energizing to be part of changing times, and to start with a fresh attitude.

I’ll be blogging about my clients and developments in the agency, but at the moment there’s something that affects all writers – the government’s proposed changes to copyright law.

Last week, I was part of a small team from the Association of Authors’ Agents to meet with the Intellectual Property Office.  All writers and agents – everyone involved with copyright work – should be mobilized during this period of consultation.  We discussed two main issues, which I’ll outline briefly here.  Much more detail can be found at Action for Authors’ Rights (www.authorsrights.org.uk)

The Digital Copyright Exchange – The government is looking at whether there’s a way to make licensing quicker and easier.  This is a tricky one: it’s in everyone’s interest to license as much work as there’s a demand for, in an efficient and simple way.  But we don’t want to trample on a writer’s right to get the best market price, and to be careful of who gets a licence.  It’s tempting to imagine a fully automatic service where you click on what you want and pay online.  But would this mean that everyone gets the same (possibly low) price for everything, regardless of its value?  And would it mean an automatic system that’s a nightmare to keep accurate?

Extended Collective Licensing – This would also streamline the system, by having certain rights automatically licensed through a collecting society.  This already happens with some rights, like educational licenses for photocopying, or some television usages where a lot of content is bundled together and a lump sum paid.  These usages are considered so ‘small’ that the only efficient way of dealing with them is through a collecting society such as the ALCS or DACS.  But how far do we want to go down this road?  The issues are similar – possible loss of control and revenue for the writer.

The consultation period finishes on 21 March.  Many organizations such as the Association of Authors’ Agents, Society of Authors and Writers Guild will be submitting consultation papers.  Now’s the time for writers to speak!