Literary Consultancy - Fraser Ross Associates

We established our Literary Consultancy - Fraser Ross Associates - in 2002.

After a decade at Scottish Book Trust and previous careers that took in teaching, bookselling, writing and reviewing, we wanted the opportunity to use our experience in new ways and within a different business environment.

At the heart of our portfolio of activity is the Literary Agency.

We represent writers from all over the UK, and some from overseas. Because much of our experience has been in the field of readership development amongst young people, most of our clients write or illustrate for children. Our role, very broadly, is to establish their careers as securely as possible. New writers can have an extremely tough time. Publishers often regard them as a high risk investment, so an agent can be a useful support. The media loves stories of rags to riches book deals, but the reality usually falls somewhat short of that.

No two clients are the same in terms of their expectations. Established writers and illustrators usually have the kind of creative partnership with editors to which new writers aspire. But their time must be managed, and occasionally it's a case of suggesting that they say 'no' once in a while. New writers often only appreciate the luxury of writing their first book - the virtual silence and lack of deadlines - once the second book is underway. Juggling the rewrites and proofing their first novel alongside the looming deadline for the second can be a tough challenge. And the power of marketing can usher in another chilly gust of realism. The 'look' of a book is sometimes so far from what the author originally envisaged that they require reassurance from their agent – or for their agent to give the red light to the publisher. It is always a dialogue.

The daily arrival of submissions at Fraser Ross Associates is both encouraging and heartbreaking. We can't possibly take on even those writers and illustrators we feel have potential. As a relatively new Agency, we necessarily took on a high proportion of new writers, and although almost all of them are now enjoying the pleasure of handling their finished books, the timescale is such that two years can easily elapse between the signature of a contract and the publication of the book. Adult publishing is speedier, but still mystifyingly slow at times.

The hurdle at which most submissions fall is a lack of awareness of the market. In theory it is enough to write the book you want to write, but in practice, publishing is a business and there is little room for indulgence. Talk to librarians and booksellers – they have their finger on the pulse of what the publishers are doing and what the public is looking for. Read widely and familiarise yourself with the layout of a book. For example, many people submit perfectly respectable picture book texts, but they haven't thought in terms of the book's layout. Like any industry, it's important to do as much preparatory work as possible. For a book to work economically, thousands and thousands of people are going to have to buy and read it. It's not enough to have the loyal admiration of your family and friends.

But when it works, there is such a buzz! One of the best moments is the phone call from the writer or illustrator who is finally holding their book in their hand. There's then the important business of rushing around checking that it's face out in every local bookshop…

We continue our involvement with readership development work – supporting teachers and librarians through CPD workshops and parents and carers through the Scottish Executive's Read Together! initiative – http://www.readtogether.co.uk/ These activities dovetail well with the work of the literary agency, keeping us in touch with readers as well as writers and illustrators.

Lindsey Fraser, Fraser Ross Associates

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