Guest post by Shalini Bhatt: notes on LWC event with Ben Clark

Events and networking are key in the publishing industry.

That’s what I keep hearing, over and over again, anyway. So I jumped at the chance to attend a networking talk with Jacq Burns and Kirsty McLachlan, otherwise known as the London Writers’ Club. They hold an event every month to put writers – with or without memberships – in touch with a different agent who talks about their experiences, personal interests and what they’re currently looking for. I observed a fantastic opportunity for a variety of writers to discuss current trends in the industry and their ideas for books with an industry professional to get feedback and advice; as well as meet new people embarking upon what can be a notoriously lonely endeavour.

A little about this months’ agent: Ben Clark of Lucas Alexander Whitley literary agency (LAW). He claims to be adventurous with food and has a widespread area of interest when it comes to books; so what is he currently looking for? He discussed this, along with what prospective authors should do before sending their manuscripts into the publishing world by submission to agents.

You are all likely to know that a great manuscript should come with a great pitch letter to match – and that’s the key: the pitch letter has to match the manuscript. Make sure you know your story; after all, your prospective agent will be going on to pitch your writing to prospective publishers. If you don’t know your story well enough to sell it, how can they?

Accompanying your matching pitch, Ben also likes to know why. Why are you telling this story? How did you come to the decision to tell it? What has affected you in such a way that makes you want to write this story for other people to read? What is special about you and your story? Sometimes, boasting and bullet points can work; if it’s non-fiction you’re pitching, you have to be able to prove that you are a complete expert in your field, and this could mean listing a selection of the most important achievements and experiences which you may not be able to write in detail about in your letter. For non-fiction you should also supply a breakdown of chapters with your initial idea, and an example of your writing. It may be the case that you have a great idea which he’d love to take on, but your writing might need extra attention: don’t be offended, he will have your best interests at heart!

He has been known to take on a few clients based on a long letter outlining an idea and he looks for a personal approach. If you’ve researched his interests and his clients, addressed the letter specifically to him, and (if it’s true) told him that there are other agents who are interested, he will take your idea on board and try to at least give you some feedback if he can’t take you on. But you have to bear in mind that agents are very busy people and can’t always promise an in depth critique or a quick reply. As a hands on guy with a personal approach, he dislikes the automated reply to submissions, but has to use it because of the quantity of submissions received, so don’t be disheartened.

Ben only takes on one or two fiction clients a year, so what is he looking for? Stories which stand out to him aren’t necessarily ‘new’, but have a fresh approach. He enjoys fiction with an underpinning philosophical ideas and speculative fiction; so what could happen in the future as a result of an event happening now. This doesn’t have to be sci-fi, but can be a contemporary narrative which stemmed from the every day. Don’t feel like you have to follow the current trends; remember that trends come and go, so be original in your telling. He wants to see stories which haven’t been told before, or stories told in a new way.

Naturally, the topic of the London Book Fair arose. The trends he could identify were the continuation of the thriller, narrative non-fiction and books which open worlds. Speculative fiction is on the rise with authors such as Margaret Atwood and Emily St. John Mandel both having released books in this genre. Diversity is also a very current topic. With publishing fighting to diversify, tastes and trends for what will get published will change in line with views. However, publishing is notoriously resilient to change so this progress will be slow moving.

It is worth remembering that Ben is only one agent in a huge pool; he may take a very personal, hands on approach with his chosen clients, but other agents will have their own ways of working. What Ben is looking for will not reflect what other agents you may be pitching to will be looking for.

It is, however important to craft your pitch letters carefully, with each individual agent in mind. Research the company they work for, research their interests and clients. This way, you will know whether or not you will be a fit, and they will see that you are invested in your writing. As a young agent, Ben is keen to have his client list grow, and is therefore willing to travel and do what he needs to do to find new stories to publish. He seeks out gaps in the market for stories he’s passionate about, and, likewise, carefully selects his stories to fit gaps he has found in the current publishing landscape.

He confessed the the is not a huge Twitter fan, so for more information on what he does at LAW, for submission details, or for contact details of the agents at LAW, your best point of call is www.lawagency.co.uk. He can also be reached at ben@lawagency.co.uk.

For more information on the London Writers Club, its membership rates, and its events go to www.londonwritersclub.com

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