Literary agent, Donald Winchester, of Watson Little speaks at #LWCLIVE

Donald Winchester spoke yesterday evening at #LWCLIVE. He was incredibly insightful and showed great understanding of the publishing industry and the part the author (and their book) plays in it. Following are some notes from his talk.

Personal information: Watson Little was established in 1970’s, before working as an agent there, he worked at AP Watt for five years. He worked with three agents there with a wide list of authors including Zadie Smith, Caitlin Moran and Boris Johnson.
Watson Little are well known for their childrens authors and also their commercial non-fiction. Donald was brought in to bring more high-brow fiction and non-fiction to the list. But an agent’s list always depends on their taste . Its important to keep to your comfort zone as you can’t manufacture enthusiasm. He loves literary fiction but has lots of other interests including; history, science, film, zoology, music and sport. So an eclectic taste.
His list is young – only been agenting for 2 years but he is keen to find writers! He attends creative courses, events, is on social media and finds authors through those routes and through recommendations and through the ‘slush pile’.

Case study: Greg Jenner

Greg Jenner was the only historian on the famous Horrible History series. He came via another client (who was his friend). He came to Donald with 8 or so ideas – all of which Donald said ‘no’ to but he could see great potential. He met Greg, spoke on the phone and met a second time. Then offered representation. And they began working on a proposal. The relationship between an author and an agent is very important – its the closest in publishing as the agent always has the interests of the author in mind. Greg now has a two book deal with Orion with his first book coming out this year.

1/Reputation is paramount – a good name is better than great wealth It is a small industry and both the author’s reputation and the agent’s reputation is vital in securing a deal with the right publisher. Publishing is opaque from the outside with vague and often standard rejections. The industry isn’t easily quantifiable. Editors will be more welcoming to those agents they know or have done a deal with previously.

2/A book is much more than just a text
Its impossible to evaluate on text alone. So many more elements come into play: the cover (style/colours/fonts), publicity/reviews, influences, the social context, timing (news events etc), length of book/pace.
Word of mouth is still the most effective way of selling a book – especially if you like and trust the person recommending the book.

What’s in vogue?
Not erotic fiction (which are finding more of a home in ebooks now). Non fiction – big books on big subjects for historians and experts are doing well, as are narrative non fiction books (fiction in a novel form). Fiction – crime and thrillers are still strong.

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