The industry’s biggest get-together, the Frankfurt Book Fair is looming and publishers – and agents – are getting their knickers in a twist about what the new hot thing is. At DGA (my day job), we have a Frankfurt list with nearly all first time authors with a few wonderful books from our more established clients.
Last week at least three first time novelists found homes with publishers. The lovely, Sarah Savitt at Faber bought THE SPIDER KING’S DAUGHTER by a 19 year old debut novelist. The book tells the story of a romance between two young people from different backgrounds – a 17 year-old poverty-stricken hawker and the cosseted daughter of a wealthy businessman. I asked Sarah why she decided to publish the book and she told me: ‘In the case of THE SPIDER KING’S DAUGHTER, the two central characters just jumped off the page at me and I cared about them and believed in them immediately. I was also fascinated by the setting of the novel – both the slums and mansions of Lagos – and charmed by the author when I met her. For me, liking a book is a bit like liking a person – it’s hard to say what you’re looking for in advance, but when it happens, you just know!’
Clare Smith at HarperPress has bought the rights to a novel by Araminta Hall, a first-time novelist who was a one-time ghost-writer for the supermodel Caprice. She called it ‘a stunningly assured debut’.
And Jon Riley at Quercus bought Elaine Proctor’s RHUMBA, set in East London, a joyous novel about the Congolese community there. Jon said: ‘It is rare to discover a first novelist of such talent as Elaine Proctor. In RHUMBA, she has written a novel of immense power and beauty. Her three characters each endear themselves to the reader from their first appearance and their story is deeply moving. I am very much looking forward to publishing this incredible author.’
There will have been other deals that didn’t get reported in the press but the point is first time authors seem to be popping their heads up again and getting some attention – and getting sold. Advances might have fallen and publishers’ lists slimmed down but agents and publishers are always looking for hidden gems, for undiscovered talents. There is nothing as exciting as being one of the first people to read someone’s work that really touches you and makes you fizz with the thrill of it.
If you are an unpublished writer, target the agents hungry for new material (often – but not always – the newer agents, the ones with smaller lists), go direct to independents (try Will Atkins at Macmillan New Writing or Lucy Owen at To Hell With Publishing – there are others) but don’t be put off by the big celebrity books this Christmas, there is space for your book on the shelf as well.