5.27.2006

UK agents for US writers

Dear Miss Snark:

What's your take on a U.S. citizen querying Canadian or U.K. agents? Is it a terrible idea, a waste of resources, or worth a try?

Best regards to you and Killer Yapp!



KY dons his Union Jack beret and waits for the bangers delivery boy to show up while we answer this question.


Why would you do this?
US agents sell North American rights, and last I looked that included Canada and then we row across the pond and sell UK rights via a UK subagent.

I've never heard of a US author being represented only by a UK or Canadian agent. Maybe I'm off base here (and with the Yankees this season well...off base is pretty much the norm) but I don't see the advantage.

It's not illegal or stupid...but it's like moving to New Jersey...why would you do it?

39 comments:

Inkwolf said...

I've heard of people who were unable to sell their work in the US being accepted eagerly in the UK...and vice versa. Sometimes you just have to go out of your own country to be appreciated.

Did you know that P.G. Wodehouse spent years trying to be published in the U.K. and when he finally managed to sell something, it was in New York? His first US submission, if I recall correctly.

the green ray said...

A trick to remember which direction the streets go in Manhattan is: You've got to be odd if you want to go back to New Jersey. (And I'm from Joisey originally.) But like Inkwolf said, sometimes the subject matter is more suitable to a different country. I heard of one author (I forget her name) who couldn't sell her books here, due to their gay content, but had no trouble in the UK. Same with theatre - it's so much more cutting edge there, in London - and every new play worth seeing on Broadway these days is imported from there. So I wonder myself if I shouldn't be pursuing UK agents.

Anonymous said...

I know an American guy who could only find an agent in Pakistan...his books are a hit over in India.

Kiskadee said...

Mallory's Oracle by - um, I forget the author - was first pubbed in the UK. She thought the market would be easier to get into and it was. She got a 6 figure advance for it; I remember reading that way back when in Writers News. And then it was sold in the US.

I am doing it the other way around: I live in Britain but am looking for a US agent first. That's becasue of the subject matter, whihc would be more of interst to Amnericans, I think, most of the characters being Americans. I also want to break into that big market, having not found a US publishger for my first 3 books. ALso: US agents are much easier to research. They say more about themselves and what they want on their websites than UK agents. You finde interviews and articles about the, UKJ agents like to keep an aura of mystery about themselves, which can backfire because it means its impossible to target your ms to someone who sounds suitable.
Not all are like that, of course, but when I was submitting a novel last year in the UK everyone was just a name to me, and the most I could do was pick the names out of a hat more or less and hope for the best.

Kiskadee said...

Eeek, when am I ever going to learn to edit my posts before hitting the enter key!

Just wanted to add that Mallory's Oracle was written by Carole O'Connell.

diane s said...

Kisadee, didn't the Writers & Artists yearbook help with that?

I agree being published in the UK first isn't a bad thing (and yes, I'm from the UK...but still!)

I know of a few authors who've done this- from the blog world, Mimi Smartypants is one who was appreciated here and is now being published in her native US...

December Quinn said...

I'm in the same situation, kiskadee. I'm actually an American living in England, but one of the main reasons I'm still looking at the US market is that info on agents in the UK is practically nonexistent. Their websites, when they have them, rarely even tell you what they're looking for or how to submit.

Chumplet said...

I'm Canadian, and I was hard-pressed to find much information on any Canadian agencies. The few that I found were not taking work in my genre, and the only one who responded sent me a reject email: "I didn't feel compelling to keep reading..."

Based on the grammar, I don't feel compelled to send them a query for my second novel. Well, maybe I'll give them a second chance.

Perhaps after the next round of letters to the 10000 zip code.

BuffySquirrel said...

Searching on UK agents who represent SFF turns up dozens who have the word "NO" in front of those apparently much hated genres. The few who do dabble in SFF seem to have their hands full (one practically begs authors not to query...). So I'm querying in the US.

(I did find a novel pubbed by Orbit that was so like mine that I thought the British author's agent would be worth querying; turned out the author was primarily a dramatist and represented by that kind of agency)

Anonymous said...

Interesting thread. I'm out here in Rabbitania querying both US and UK agents and discovering that they're worlds apart. For one thing, we writers are told that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES are we to telephone a US agent, but most of the UK agents I've been able to run to earth so far say to telephone before querying.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

"It's not illegal or stupid...but it's like moving to New Jersey...why would you do it?"

So that I can move in right next door to a certain so-called literary agent in Matawan and play bagpipes and heavy metal at all hours of the night, of course.

jaywalke said...

I moved to Jersey because $900 a month rented me a whole floor in a large, clean house, as opposed to the roach-infested closet I could have shared in the M-word. I also like Cuban food, and there is no place like Weehawken for getting a plate of fried plantain, black beans and rice and amazing roasted pork while practicing your Espanol.

kis said...

I'm a Canuck, and let me tell you, it's a bitch to find an agent in Canada willing to lower himself to repping genre fiction. Which is a real shame. Personally, I'd like to keep any money I might make in my homeland, but even publishers for SFF are hard to find north of 49. There's just this pervasive snootiness in Canada--if it isn't literary, its beneath us. God forbid anyone in Canada wrote a DaVinci-esque best-seller. No Canadian agent would touch them--successful books are just soooo *American.*

That's why I'm forced to go south, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm happy to stay there. Things just seem a lot less judgmental in the US.

NL Gassert said...

I’m with Inkwolf and Green Ray. For some of us writers, looking outside US borders makes great sense.

And I loved living at the Jersey shore. NJ hasn’t become one of the most expensive places to live (buy a house) for nothing.

Glenda Larke said...

I was living in Austria when I obtained an agent in UK, and published in UK, German and Russia when I was living in Malaysia. The next three books sold world English language rights to an Australia publisher, and the Australian publisher sold US/Canada rights on to a US publisher, while my agent sold German and Russian rights from her base in UK...and I wish I could tell you about the negotiating that is going on at the moment about the next books because it's even more complicated.

Trying to work out how and where to pay tax, avoid double taxation and how to lose as little as possible through exchange rates is a nightmare!

But hey, I'm published. The secret was in getting the right agent for me, not in where we lived. However, my advice would be: don't complicate things unless you have a good reason for doing so.

rachel said...

Nice to hear some other Canucks chiming in. I've just finished my first novel (YA fantasy), and was wondering what the hell to do with it.

I'm FROM the US, originally, so that was my first inclination, but I didn't want to offend my adoptive country!

Just Me said...

The only one I can think of is Lee Child (lives in the US, but is represented by Darley Anderson, who's in the UK). But Lee Child is English, and I think he started off his writing career in the UK.

I'm in Ireland and my agent's in the UK. He and his genius team have sold my book in both the US and the UK. I think if you get a good UK agent with good US connections, he can sell your book in the US just as effectively as a US agent can.

The absolute BEST thing about Ireland, from a writer's point of view, is the Artists' Exemption Scheme. Earnings from fiction writing aren't taxed :-).

Anonymous said...

I know a few Canadian authors with UK agents who got a bit miffed upon discovering that the great 2 or 3-book contract they'd just signed didn't include ANY Canadian distribution. Booksellers have to order the book from the UK and pay the shipping, so the books in hardcover are too expensive to be regularly on the shelves in the authors' hometowns. And the UK agents are either not looking for or not finding Canadian sub-agents.

Scary. I'm with Miss S on this one: Why do it?

.02
Jeb

Kiskadee said...

"The absolute BEST thing about Ireland, from a writer's point of view, is the Artists' Exemption Scheme. Earnings from fiction writing aren't taxed :-)."

I think I'm going to be moving to Ireland soon.

Kiskadee said...

Hi jeb.
You're right: if you're in the US and you get a UK agent you'd have to be certain that you can also sell the North American rights. Your UK agent can do that through a sub-agent in New York (you won't need a separate Canadian agent, as US and Canada are sold together.), but it isn't guaranteed.

I am fairly confident that if I get a US agent he/she will be able to negotiate a UK and Commonwealth contract as well (through a sub-agent), as I have already been published in the UK and have a reasonably good sales record here. But for first time authors it is a bit tricky, as you rightly point out.

It's a bit disappoointing that though Canada is in the Commonwealth it is paired with the US. Strictly speaking it should be in the UK-and-Commonwealth contract.

archer said...

Just wait until you land Mr. Clooney. You'll be out in Short Hills faster than you can say "center hall colonial."

Bernita said...

Geography trumps,Kiskadee.

archer said...

faster than you can say "center hall colonial."

Yes, yes, yes, she'd commute.

kis said...

rachel,

I'm not saying Canadian agents who rep genre fiction aren't out there, it's just that they seem so atrociously hard to find! The agents I did look into all had the words "literary fiction only" plastered all over their listings, in bold caps with double underscore. It's like their attitude is, "leave the lowly trash-fic to the Yanks so we Canadians can deal with the *important* books."

I found one all-Canadian publisher who'd look at work from unagented authors, but their word-count limits killed me--80 to 100k for SFF! Who can build a world in 80k? Plus, their guidelines were so exacting--right down to the number of spaces from top margin to put the title on the cover page!--that I ran off screaming.

I've tried to find out who Guy Gavriel Kay's agent is--if you haven't read him, you should--but all I could nail down were a couple of sub-agents. Arrgh!

So what's a girl to do? Head south, I guess. If I make a name for myself, maybe then I'll look into moving my business back north. Of course, I might just be so happy with a US agent, I'll stay there.

Bruno said...

Kis,

I couldn't agree more. After looking around for a Canadian agent who even went near SFF (or any mainstream spec. fiction) I gave up and sent my stuff to the states where at least the agent's will look at you. Not sure what it is about Canadian agents. Unless you're writing CANLIT (ie depressing, oppresive and sometimes downright preachy quasi-historical fiction where the protagonist dies or is at least heavily disabled by the end of the book, forget it.) Most popular Canadian authors I know of are published and rep'd stateside. Sadly, there's a very good reason for it.

Anonymous said...

"Most popular Canadian authors I know of are published and rep'd stateside."

Well, if you're talking about the older generation of well-established writers here, you'd be right -- and mostly because there weren't many Canadian publishers around back "in the old days." Things are different now. I know several Canadian authors who sell Canadian rights first, followed by US and overseas.

I write commercial fiction and managed to not only snag an agent here in Canada, but also a publisher. We (or rather my agent, who mostly definitely wouldn't turn up her nose at a blockbuster novel, are you kidding?) sold it within Canada first.

That said, there aren't as many Canadian agents as there are American -- only a handful, really. I used to wish I WAS American, so that I had a bigger list of prospective agents from which to choose when the time came for queries.

kis said...

Bruno

Hah! Just ask WP Kinsella, who wrote Shoeless Joe. After Field of Dreams came out, and the book went into reprint, his publisher chose *not* to use the movie poster as the new cover art. When Kinsella asked why, the publisher's response was something like, "we don't want the taint of popularity to soil you. We had you more in mind for the role of an impoverished author who writes wildly unsuccessful but very important books."

Needless to say, WP flipped out.

But there it is, in a nutshell. The Canadian publishing industry has this attitude that anything with a broad appeal--anything vulgar enough to be fit for the great unwashed masses--is garbage. Are they still living in a time when a large segment of the population never made it through--or even to--high school? Don't they realize that good writing CAN appeal to a wide audience?

And as for depressing, hey, MY mc is going to have a rough time of it, but I'd like to think that the story is uplifting, or even--dare I say it--entertaining. And as for all those dreary CANLIT books, reading should not be a form of self-flagellation, for dog sake!

Annie Dean said...

"I heard of one author (I forget her name) who couldn't sell her books here, due to their gay content, but had no trouble in the UK."

Don't know if this is who you mean but this sounds like Storm Constantine.

kis said...

anon,

Commercial fiction is one thing. SFF is another. How many Canadian authors of SFF do you know who didn't have to go to the states first? And GGK doesn't count--anyone lucky enough and talented enough to have collaborated with Chris Tolkien already had a HUGE head start on the rest of us.

If the Canadian publishing industry is changing, it's us lowly genre writers who'll be the last to feel the change. I mean, c'mon, we only just started to get a little respect from the US industry--and by no means from all of it.

Truth is, for most of the Canadian industry, SFF is still steeped in the reek of serial scrubbers from Rabbitania. I don't know why this is, because writing in general seems to be leveling out--that is, the quality of genre fiction is catching up to that of more literary work. A growing openness to financial success in publishing may be the industry's response to that. But we aren't that far removed from the days when Canadian publishers made their money from government subsidies, either. When a good part of your paycheck is coming from the same people who fund the CBC, you can afford to be as snooty and unprofitable as you want.

kis said...

and anon,

Who says you have to be agented in Canada? I'm sure any agent in the states would have looked at you.

Anonymous said...

IIRC Guy Kay is represented by Linda McKnight, Westwood Creative Artists (Toronto).

If you are really interested in researching Cdn agents, check out Quill & Quire.

--Danielle, a Canadian librarian
[long time snarker, first time commenter]

kis said...

I remember getting Linda McKnight's name (and others) from the acknowledgements page of one of GGK's books and googling it. I did get a few hits, but nothing more informative than an address and the comment "queries only, no mss." There was no information on what genres she reps, whether she's open to new authors, etc. In fact, at the time, I couldn't find anything to confirm she actually was GGK's agent. (She may have been the agent who repped the illustrator who did his maps, you never know.) And as far as I know, considering the literary quality of Kay's work, Ms. McKnight might only rep literary fiction.

Like UK agents, Canadian ones don't seem to put themselves "out there" like US agents do. There are just so many more agents in the US who go out of their way to make themselves accessible. And way fewer who have "no SFF" in their guidelines.

And as far as querying GGK's agent, well, I did think about it, but he's kind of a hard act to follow. :)

Chumplet said...

Now, I've had another look at Canadian agents, and the list is just as depressing as it was when I first searched based on my very cliche romance.
Maybe the second novel would appeal to the masses. After all, it's about hockey. At least there's some hockey in it. Alas, I managed to extract only two names that might be interested in such a premise. It's not literary, it's sitting just outside the edge of genre. Sure, it has a happy ending, and that's probably the very characteristic that will put the final nail on its coffin.
Unfinished novel number three has a child that dies of cancer. Oh, yeah, the Canadian agents will definitely be interested in that one!

Chumplet said...

Oops, did I say that out loud?

kis said...

chumplet,

Your hockey novel might appeal to the masses--that's why no one in the Canadian industry will touch it.

Oops, did I say THAT out loud?

Serenity Now! said...

I was so happy to see other Canadians in here!

I'm a Canadian and I have an agent in MA considering a proposal of mine right now... I didn't even bother looking for a Canadian agent.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see people finally critiquing the snobbery of the Canadian publishing industry. It's ridiculous. All those boring books with their typical three readers have given our authors a bad name. Even the head of a Canadian publishing house admitted to me that the pub industry here is non-profit!

I didn't want to rely on grants to be able to write - I wanted to make a living at it. So I set my sights on a New York agent. It took some time, but I found a great one.

I'm tired of the perception that great writing can't be well-liked. I think this kind of snobbery (the same that leads many Canadian literary types to bash books like Davinci Code without ever reading them) hurts us all.

kis said...

Hear, hear, anon!

Just cause something is popular, doesn't make it plebeian. For a long time, the Canadian industry has been heavily subsidized, so no one had to get their hands dirty with books that actually sell. I just find it amazing how different the definition of "good book" is on either side of the border. In the US, everybody's looking for a best-seller. Here, the attitude is (or feels like) if your writing sells, you must be a whore.

WP Kinsella--who from his earthiness certainly does not hail from TO or Montreal--put it best: (I paraphrase) "My first concern is cashing my paycheck." Being an unapologetic literary shit-disturber, I don't think he could ever be accused of selling out.

Anonymous said...

I'm the original questioner. (Quester? Questee...never mind.) I'd do it to expand my query base, because it's hard to get your hundred rejections when you can only find fifty agents who rep juvenile fiction. Based on the comments thread, it sounds like I'd do better to just stick with the U.S. and not bother casting the net quite that far.

Thanks for all the good advice!