We were delighted to have Sophie Lambert, literary agent at Conville and Walsh, speak at September’s event. Here are some notes from the event:
Sophie became an agent via working as a buyer in a bookshop for Blackwells, Foyles and then Selfridges. She worked first in New York for the agency, Janklow and Nesbit. She was mentored by two great agents and then moved back to London to work at Tibor Jones and began to build her own list. 18 months ago, she started working at Conville and Walsh.
Sophie represents 45 authors with a 50/50 split of fiction/non-fiction. Conville and Walsh is a relatively new agency – established 12 years ago – and so is dependent on new authors. It has a distinct identity and writers include SJ Watson, Stephen Kelman, DBC Pierre, Sarah Hall and Nathan Filer (author of SHOCK OF THE FALL).
How has the industry changed over the past 10 years?
An important difference for debut authors is that editors now expect a novel to be in a really good state. The hands on work now falls to the agent (where previously an editor would take on a manuscript and work with the author to polish it). Sophie works with authors months – if not years – to ensure that the draft is ready for editors to consider it. It is important for an author and an agent to have a shared vision given the time they take working together on the manuscript. And it goes without saying that an author must like their agent.
How do you find fiction writers?
* Many come from unsolicited manuscripts e.g. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.
David is incredibly important to the agency and takes all submissions seriously.
*Some authors come via recommendations from editors or existing clients. Make use of any relevant connections with the publishing world.
*Events – with industry professionals are very helpful – providing pointers/advice and confidence for unpublished writers.
*Prizes/competitions – when Sophie was at Tibor Jones, she set up the Page Turner Prize for unpublished writers. Booksellers were judges. Sophie signed two writers through this competition – one of which was Nathan Filer. His book received 11 offers within 24 hours of Sophie submitting it to editors. He also won the Costa Prize.
Note a similar competition will be launched at Conville and Walsh very shortly.
How do you find non-fiction writers?
Half of Sophie’s list are non-fiction writers and come to her through different routes. They could be experts in their field – or journalists. She often approaches journalists with a clear concept about what she would like them to write about – or discusses different ideas with them.
Non-fiction books can often be sold as proposals – this should be an overview of the book. With sample chapters to show the writer can write well. Narrative non-fiction must have a clear hook – and pitch. Try and ensure it is two or three sentences no more. A non-fiction proposal should be around 15k to 20k words in length.