Spread the Word is accepting submissions for a limited number of written feedback reports from literary agents Kate Burke and Chloe Seager of Northbank Talent Management.
So we thought it would make sense to chat to them. Here’s our interview with Chloe Seager, who is responsible for Northbank’s children’s and young adult list as well as science fiction and fantasy.
Not everyone knows what an agent is and why they should use one. Can you explain what it is that you do?
Good question! In the most basic terms, we read what comes into the inbox, filter it and send material onto publishers, as most publishers will not accept unsolicited material (i.e. they will only read it if it comes from an agent). However, we do so much more than that!
A lot of the time, editing will be done with an agent before a manuscript is seen by a publisher. Editing with your agent first will give you the best possible chance of securing a good deal. This can take between weeks to even, possibly, years.
When it comes to submission, agents know editors’ tastes and what they’re looking for, and will make sure your book lands with the right person. They also know the market and how to best pitch the book. A good agent will not just pitch your book to publishers in your home territory: they will devise a global strategy for your career as an author across all media, including making separate submissions to publishers in different territories as well as to film and TV companies.
On the negotiations’ side, they’ll make sure you’re getting the best possible terms re advances and contracts. There’s a lot to know about contracts and for this reason (amongst many!) I would never advise signing with a publisher unagented.
Once a deal is struck, that’s not the end of it. We’re there at every stage to make sure a publisher is doing everything they ought to and that you and your book don’t get lost in the very competitive publishing world. And once book one is done, we help you think about what comes next. Alongside the editing and the admin, we’re here for guidance – we’re as invested in your career as you are. We’re your support system and cheerleader throughout the entire process and as an agent with an agent, I can’t imagine doing it without one!
Why is it important to you to get people from under-represented in publishing represented?
The reason that I love reading so much is that you can empathise with someone else’s life and viewpoint. With a book, you don’t have to be forever stuck in your own head, you can climb into someone else’s! If we only ever read books about people similar to us, I think we’d be losing what makes reading so special in the first place.
We are actively looking for diverse submissions, particularly in genres you wouldn’t traditionally have expected e.g. When Dimple Met Rishi, which is an Indian-American YA romcom about an arranged marriage. I’d also like to add that whatever makes the book ‘diverse’ can be the main focus of the narrative, but it doesn’t have to be; we’re looking for diverse characters in all sorts of settings e.g. White Rabbit, Red Wolf, in which the main character has a mental health problem but that’s not what the book is about (it’s predominantly a thriller).
What do writers of children’s and young adult fiction have to bear in mind when writing for this audience?
Something we see a lot in the subs inbox, that I would like to mention, is from writers ‘looking back’ on their childhood/teenage experiences. This makes a book quite tricky to place on the shelf. With a children’s or young adult book the reader has to feel as if the narrator is the child/teenager. I’d say that’s the essential starting point for anyone thinking of writing a book for a younger audience.
It could be assumed that writing for a younger audience is easier – is this the case?
I wish it was. Then my inbox would surely be flooded with children’s and YA bestsellers!
Writing for a younger audience comes with its own unique challenges, like accessing the child/teen brain (as I said above). Keeping it involving – if adults aren’t enjoying something they might persevere, whereas kids won’t. Handling themes sensitively – you have an element of responsibility to a younger audience that you don’t with an adult one. Saying more in less words – I think people assume that a lower word count makes it easier, when saying more in less words is a skill few people possess!
Children’s and young adult books are often less formulaic than commercial adult fiction, too. And to think all books for a younger audience are less thematically sophisticated than adult books would be a mistake. Writing a brilliant children’s book is not easier than writing a brilliant adult one; it’s just different.
You yourself are a published author of young adult fiction (first novel Editing Emma published by HQ in 2017 and the sequel Friendship Fails of Emma Nash published in 2018) – is there a difference in the way you approach writing as opposed to reading?
Very different – I view my writing and my agenting as totally separate, and what I write is not necessarily representative of what I read. For instance, because I write funny/contemporary some people are surprised to learn I like darker books or that I read fantasy. Just because I can’t write it, doesn’t mean I don’t love it! I read broadly and whilst I love funny books, I wouldn’t want to only represent writing like mine.
You also look after science fiction and fantasy, both of which seem to very much on trend. Why do you think this is?
I’ve heard other agents suggest our current political climate, which may be true. I think it could also be that we’re starting to see fantasy in a different way. Historically, I think fantasy has been viewed as something inaccessible and very separate. But something like The Power, for instance, slides into ‘general fiction’ as much as fantasy. It feels relatable and the fantasy element just seems like an interesting way of talking about issues very relevant to us.
Commercial fiction sometimes gets looked down on in the literary world. Why is it something that you enjoy working in?
There’s a lot of debate about what’s commercial and what’s literary, so this is a tough one! But I’ve always been a broad reader… When I was a teenager my two favourite authors were Ian McEwan and Louise Rennison. I think there’s different merit in all kinds of books, and I find it difficult to understand why anyone would look down on anything that someone enjoyed reading. Particularly in children’s books; I think if a child loves reading something, whatever it is, it would be heart-breaking to discourage that.
Find out more about the opportunity here.