Name: Andrew Lownie
Company: Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
Job: Founder/literary agent
Andrew Lownie runs the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, founded in 1988, which is now one of the UK's leading non-fiction literary agencies, with a special emphasis on history and biography. All authors are individually handled by Andrew, who is himself a published author, having worked as a bookseller, publisher and journalist before setting up the Andrew Lownie Agency.
Follow Fridays are intended to be about one day in someone's working life, but to get the ball rolling on this glorious feature, Andrew Lownie has very kindly let us in on a whole WEEK as a literary agent. Reading this is practically work experience...
As always, numerous email submissions have come in overnight including: “a very exciting novel concerning the waste industry”; “ a series of 200 year historical wall calendars featuring various themes and running from the year of 1900 to 2100”; “a gag book about the United States Health Care Plain (sic)”; an oral history of East Harlem; “a compendium of more than 150 recipes (most other books stop at 100) for soups in a variety of cuisines and styles”; “an ethnobotanical investigation on the ancient shepherds use of entheogens. The second part is an anthropological documentation of the Bedouins of southern Jordan”; a paranormal romance, a genre described as “Self-Help/Fiction” and “a dystopian literary satire, set in Goa and Portugal, revolving around the ongoing plague of GM seed related suicides among Indian farmers".
Discussion with an author about an email proposal he has been preparing for the last year and which I’ve read over weekend. We agree it’s ready to go out and I pitch to ten publishers. Five ask to see a fuller proposal and I give them a one month deadline.
I arrange to meet an author over from Australia, and get a request from a man seeking “an assignment as a translator from Swedish to English”. I give him details of foreign language and scouting agencies.
Discuss with author picture costs for a Japanese contract.
Author offered deal for audio and DVD based on some of his previous books. There’s no advance and we’re not convinced the revenue is there for the work involved.
Alert author to an article in Good Housekeeping magazine which is of relevance to a book they are working on and demonstrates a level of interest in the subject.
Reassure author about forthcoming signature advance explaining that publishers are taking longer and longer to pay. The publisher has taken so long that I’ll be invoicing for delivery advance any moment.
Novelist, whom I’ve turned down in past, emails “Can you tell me whether this story idea has promise, whether it would interest you and whether it would be more likely to have a unique selling point? Your opinion is very important to me.” I’m flattered but have to explain I’m taking on very little fiction at the moment and it’s all in the writing. I tell her about a former boss of mine who once pitched the story of King Lear to his colleagues and how it was soundly rejected.
Author concerned that his extensive footnotes are being relegated to a website for paperback edition but I explain that length is now crucial both for price point and production – spine breaks and difficult to bind – of paperbacks and those who want footnotes in a book can always buy the hardback version. The book is selling a steady 60 copies each week and now almost at 10,000 copies which is pretty good for a serious and hefty non-fiction title.
I thank an author who has kindly written an article for the website.
An author pitches an idea for her next book and I think it has possibilities. I ask her to develop a longer proposal, though the key will be having the support of the editor. Even then, we’re all second guessing the reaction of the editorial committee.
Arrange for French author comps to go straight to the author as it’s an unnecessary extra expense for me to repack and take to the Post Office.
I fix a meeting with a publisher to discuss ideas for a new book with one of his authors. It’s booked in for months ahead. Can he really be that busy?
Nudge editor for a decision on an imminent deadline by asking if she wants to meet the author.
Some extensive but helpful notes from an editor. Such notes are rare. Unfortunately done because the editor feels more work is needed on the book before he can pay the delivery advance. Give some thought to how I’m going to ‘sell’ this to the author.
Various emails about renewing my professional indemnity insurance which is now very expensive, though in almost thirty years of agenting I’ve never had to call on it. Still if I don’t buy, I know I’ll need it.
Prospective author sends DVD of a television documentary based on a real life episode of his. The one episode will not make an 80,000 word book but with ghost there could be something here and arrange meeting with him and with a ghost who I think will be interested.
One of my authors has just been taken on by a presenting agency and I fix to meet the owner to see if I can give her more clients and vice versa.
Chase author producing customised proposal for the Asian market as I’m fixing meetings for London Book Fair. I’ve now more or less filled my schedule for the London Book Fair.
A French offer comes in for a successful author. It’s the first time she has broken that market and I’m hopeful we may sell further French rights in some of her other books.
Catch up on some of the submissions which have come in over the course of the day or in the post: a farming memoir of a couple who move from the UK to France sadly now ubiquitous; another account of the Rudolph Hess mission which is too late for the raft of books coming out for 70th anniversary in May and, in any case, not sufficiently fresh, distinctive or well-researched; fifteen comedy sketches by a woman whose job is to “design novelty gadgets for a design company in the US”; an enquiry from a lyricist; something described as “Horror/Christian fiction with a Sci-Fi twist”; a tv comedy; an “epic(ish) poem about the history of mankind”; an Urdu-Roman Urdu-English-TURKISH dictionary; “a beauty book for women of color”; “a 26k word Biblical account of the resurrection of Jesus” and a “drinker’s guide to Savannah”.
My reader gives a good report on a novel on which I had reservations so I look at it again.
Arrange for a reader/ghost to work up a novel for a rich businessman for a fee. I doubt it’s publishable but it has provided her with some money and he seems happy.
Author forwards publicity plans for his forthcoming book for my input. The publicist has done a good job and I have little to add. Much of the publicity will also only develop once the book is out.
Continue drawn out email negotiation – I prefer this because there’s no confusion then about what was agreed – with a publisher. The terms aren’t great but it’s our only offer so the negotiating position is difficult.
An American publisher rings to brief me on libel action being taken against a true-crime book. These books need to be done but sometimes one wonders whether the effort and risks involved make it worth it.
Discuss with my film agent Meg Davis pitching a documentary for a book which I’ve failed to sell in the hope it generates fresh interest, a strategy successfully adopted with Daniel Tammet’s bestselling memoir Born on a Blue Day several years ago.
Have been talking to a new audio company so I’m trying to revert unsold audio rights in old contracts. It’s a time-consuming and difficult job as publishers aren’t keen to relinquish rights even if they have not managed to sell them.
I end the day by going to a publishing awards drinks party.
Submissions include: a self-help guide from “a website author and online advice columnist dedicated to helping women, especially ones who are in cycles of abuse and exploitation”; a book which “offers a careful examination of the relationship between scientific theory and biblical teaching” but as I don’t understand what it’s saying I turn it down; a proposal on how to limit the growth of ‘Big Government’; biography of a Russian violinist which might sell as a memoir but music biographies are tough; a memoir pitched as “James Herriott’s animal stories meet Tom Brown’s schooldays”; a memoir which could be a legal nightmare “Beatifying the Vatican’s Paedophile Pope”; enquiry from Bamenda-Cameroon which I think is a novel but even though finished it’s unclear; a novel about “an alien artifact”; a musician who writes he has “combined my passion for food with my love of music to create, For Those About To Cook: Recipes From Your Favorite Musicians”.
One submission reads “We request you to guide us, read our book, give us your review and recommend us if God guides you.” I’m afraid God gave thumbs down. Another reports “I have done as you suggested and amended my book so it is less dairy and more narrative.”
I begin contractual negotiations on a recent book contract. As the idea came from the publisher, our negotiating position is not strong but I hope we’ve ended up with terms with which everyone is happy.
An author kindly takes me out to lunch. Everyone is so busy that this sort of contact is rare – especially being taken to lunch – but most enjoyable and useful. Even though it’s a couple of hours out of the day, I vow to do it more often, even if I’m paying.
Current affairs/history idea pitched by a writer who gets in touch every couple of months. I research competing books on Amazon and there is clearly a gap. I encourage him though I wonder if the gap is because there is no market or because it’s simply too difficult a book on which to obtain information.
Long discussions with my contact specialist Stephen Aucutt. Publishers, now calling themselves Digital Media Executives, are rushing to standardise e-book terms. Contracts can range from 10% to 50% and I’m keen to sort this out so books can be made available but every situation varies and calls for a different response. The rights in some books have reverted or might be reverted whilst others are part of active contracts. I notice one publisher has produced e-books for one author where the terms are not yet agreed. For once I’m in a stronger negotiating position.
Meet to talk through some new book ideas with an author.
Approach from a graduate seeking work experience. I receive several of these each week, all from well-qualified candidates prepared to work for free, and have to refuse as I don’t have time to supervise.
Read very funny memoir about growing up in Nigeria which I forward to my reader for a report. He has just sent me a report on a biography of a member of the Royal Family. The author has some fresh material but it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees because of the detail and I make some suggestions myself on how the narrative thread can be strengthened.
Film rights enquiry for an old book by an author who we have just taken on. He contacts his old agent for the paperwork.
Supply writing magazine with details of how I took on and placed Dear Mr Bigelow, the immediate post-war pen pal letters of Frances Woodford who is in her late nineties and remarkably young at heart. The book was sold to Chatto, was a Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’ and I remain hopeful of placing the film rights. Frances agrees to be interviewed.
US publisher hears about a popular science book I’m offering and asks to see proposal.
Meeting with a prospective author over from Los Angeles, after which I decide to take her on.
Update the website with revised author blurbs, fresh rights deals, review extracts etc.
A Chinese agency offers to represent a particular author whose books are currently in the news but I explain we already have an exclusive agenting arrangement in China.
Re-pitch by e mail and phone a trivia proposal to an editor who should be interested and would be appropriate if she ever responded.
Arrange for an author to do some reviewing for a national newspaper, which will be good for building their profile.
Go to Post Office to send on a book sent by a publisher seeking an endorsement from one of my authors.
Submissions include: memoirs of a New York private investigator; collection of vegan recipes called “Cooking with compassion”; a book originally published in Germany on Knights Templar which looks promising; a police memoir which doesn’t really say anything new about police work, corruption etc; “a children’s story book series about kitties who work for a superhero coorperation (sic)”; “a collection of recipes from some of Colorado’s top chefs”; someone offering “ six novels, 63 short stories, three screenplays and an opera” ; an account of life in a Hungarian travelling circus during the 1940s and a “memoir of my first year as a professional figure skater with Holiday on Ice”.
I have lunch with an editor whom I’ve not seen for some time. She agrees to look at several book ideas.
Meeting with the books editor of a national newspaper who has brought in an undercover agent whose self-published book, which has sold modestly, he serialised. I have read the book and we discuss ways in which the book could be fully revised.
A film rights enquiry has come in for a book which was just sold and announced in Bookseller. An editor, who I haven’t dealt with for years, pops up suggesting we meet having seen the announcement.
Discuss titles for a misery memoir. Ghost suggests Invisible Tears but they go with my suggestion Haunted and subtitle as one word titles are the current vogue for the genre.
Fix meeting at London Book Fair with my Canadian sub-agent.
I have a discussion with an author and a publisher about a serial in a national paper which has had to be delayed. We agree to give them longer and hold back on publication. The author has concerns about the publicity efforts of the publisher and I diplomatically try and find out more from a very defensive publisher.
Usual collection of e mails beginning “With due respect” which is always a cue for a Nigerian scam letter.
Submissions today include: “ a delicate piece of writing centered on a threesome affair that overcomes the boundaries between homosexuals and hetheros leaving in its wake just an essence of unforgettable moments”; “the first account of the many synergies between the bicycle and architecture”; “the Criminal History of the Catholic Church”; book on Stonehedge (sic); a “young urban fantasy romance”; “ 750 British & Irish railway anniversaries”; a proposal “about how to make personal decisions in order to avoid dying”; a novel “about a Hindu right political heavyweight who stumbles into bed with a Muslim woman and loses more than his virginity”; “ Hitletters: Imaginary correspondence(sic) between Hitler, Churchill, Goebels and others, pre, during and post war”; “a collection of ten life stories from the women on death row”; the story of two generations of a family from the village of Caton in Lancashire; “ a fish-out-of-water love story set in Ukraine”; a book on guitars and “Scandalous Clergymen in Victorian London” which I’m sure will make a full book.
Taken to lunch by a celebrity agent to meet one of his clients who wants to write her autobiography. I like her and so I arrange for one of my ghost writers to ring her to discuss collaborating. Joint agenting projects can be tricky but I have high hopes for this and other books we might do together with this agency.
I put forward some authors to be interviewed for an Express feature on the SAS written by a journalist I know.
An idea of mine for a book and tie-in tv series has come to nothing. The tv presenter has done nothing in terms of pitching to her agent and the writer of the book has taken a job in PR.
Forward nice review in Literary Review to the author.
Sort out details for a series of weekend talks by eight of my authors at a hotel in the Channel Islands which I hope may lead to a more ambitious literary festival.
I check with author that they are happy to go ahead with a promotional book offer with Octagon books. The money is peanuts but the argument is that it broadens the market. My suspicion is it’s simply a way of off loading stock.
Receive an enquiry for the stage rights to a novel published forty years ago by an author who has just died. I liaise with the widow trying to obtain a copy as second hand copies are rare and expensive.
I pass on the details of a UK sale to a Japanese sub-agent to help with their sale, then read a book just delivered by an author beforeforwarding it to the publisher.
My reader loves the Nigerian memoir but I decide it’s just too difficult to sell especially as the author lives in the US. A novel might be easier to sell.
Sadly there’s no better news on the film enquiry. The rights were purchased many years ago so all I can do is forward this current interest to the rights holder.
Submissions today: memoirs of a 9/11 survivor with PTSD but I think he’s missed the boat and is not sufficiently distinctive; “a book about being a mature student from 1990-1995” including a year in China; thriller “ set in Northern England during the 1980’s” where “ a Chinese gang inadvertently brings about the destruction of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in the Ukraine”; “ a part travel, part biography book depicting my challenge to overcome a serious mental illness through my hike of the 2,178 mile Appalachian Trail in the US” but the writing’s not quite strong enough to make this a commercial possibility; a novel set in Tunisia; a memoir about dating in middle-age; a psychological thriller from Alaska; the biography of the founder of Iron Maiden; a book on the Afghan drugs trade and “ not your ordinary African-American romance novel” – I hadn’t realised there were so many varieties.
I receive a permission request for the Julian Maclaren-Ross Estate, and give feedback on a proposal by an author.
An unpublished novel is optioned for a film, and I can’t decide whether to wait and sell once it’s made or try now.
I turn down an invitation for an author to appear on a TV programme.
An enquiry has come in by a widow about registering her late husband’s books for Authors Licensing and Collecting Society.
I see an author across from Australia who is keen for me to try and sell his Special Forces memoir published in Australia and which his Australian agent failed to sell.
Four authors come to dinner. They generously bring lots of wine setting the theme for the evening. A very jolly occasion, with people whom I greatly admire and whose company I enjoy, and I’m touched that one of them has taken the bus from Herefordshire and will be catching the midnight bus back.
The post brings a job application from someone with “a B.A. in Writing Seminars and a minor in history” and a notice offering “the most exciting digital event of the year”. I’m excited.
Submissions: “Diary of a Redundant Man” which I think is probably a website blog; “book is based on writings of foreign writers/ visitors writing about India at different times”; diary of a GP in prison; “Have You Ever Kissed A Toad? Tales of a Traveling Teacher”; a pilot training manual; “a work of historical metaphysical fiction with a literary bias”; a story that is about “sensual love and the American Labor Movement”; a “fashion-oriented comedy memoir “Fashion Asylum”, which takes place in the Fifth Avenue ladies’ accessory market of the 1980’s and 1990’s”; “a book of different warm up ideas and games for primary school children”; a cake decorating book; the memoir of a Vancouver Cabbie; “A Biblical Guide to Tax & Business Management: a how to book for business owners and entrepreneurs, based upon Biblical principles”; a comic novel about North Korea; a “swords and sorcery” novel with a gay priest as the central character; a genre new to me “Homosexual Fiction / Magical Realism for young adults; age 14-18” and a self-published book promising on the cover “Starvation, Fornication, Degradation, Brutality with a touch of humour.” I put it to the top of my reading pile.
An invitation has come in from Warwick University History Society which I forward to the author in question, and from a bookshop asking another author to take part in a bookshop event.
I have read the Australian Special Forces memoir. It needs customising for the UK market and restructuring, so I email my suggestions.
I e-mail the misery memoir proposal, which been revised, to the six publishers who wished to see it, and send out for a reader’s report proposal from a new author we have just taken on which needs work.
I forward a request to am author to speak at a community college in Wyoming in the US. He agrees and will sort it out himself.
A film/documentary proposal comes in from an author which looks good and I forward it to my film agent.
Submissions : “travel memoir of life and travel in the UAE 1996-2006” which has stunning photographs but the author is not a household name and I don’t really handle illustrated books; memoir of an alcoholic; a short story collection set in Hollywood modeled on James Joyce’s Dubliners; “an adventurous journey hitchhiking to Alaska’s Inside Passage with an alter ego”; a book on the subject of Humour in Pharmacy; a story “written in working class English and it’s a tale from the horse’s mouth”; a 600 page novel set in Izmir in the Thirties and Forties; “ an extreme adventure that explores the notion of synchronicity and the dynamics of happiness in a little over 101,000 words” and “a photographic Nature/Poetry book featuring ancient Navajo cultural philosophy”. I go through a US contract and forward it to the author for comments.
I write in response to a submission “Sorry this wouldn’t be right for my list but good luck with your approaches elsewhere”. The reply is almost instantaneous “Alright, thanks and go get fucked, Bryan.”
It’s countered by a rather more cheering e mail: “ A couple of years ago I approached you with a fictional work ’The Therapist’s Cat’ and although you don’t publish fiction, you were kind enough to offer me encouragement(sic). I just wanted to say that I found a publisher for it I might not have persisted if it wasn’t for your advice.” Now that makes the work all week worth it.
As one author signed off recently “The God’s undeserved kindness be upon you, AMEN”.