Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oliver Munson - Literary Agent with Blake Friedmann

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Oli ?

After completing  an English Literature MA from Edinburgh University I wasn't 100% certain what I wanted to do career-wise for the next 50 years of my life but had a suspicion that the world of publishing might be right up my street. Not really knowing where to begin but wanting to get an overview of the whole industry, I signed up for the Publishing Studies MA at City University in London. As part of the course one student has to undertake an internship with a literary agency and after a few months I'd already decided that my ambitions were more suited to the agent side of the fence rather than being an editor. I wanted a job where I could freely represent and work with clients without having to answer to the whims of the sales and marketing team.

So I was the student selected for the agency placement, I came to Blake Friedmann, and haven't left since.  Carole Blake's assistant left when I was a month into my internship, I got called up to fill the gap and then two years later I was representing my own clients.  That was nearly six years ago (but fortunately doesn't feel like it!).

What makes your agency different than any others?

Firstly, out the ten people that work here in a London based agency, only three are fully British. We have a real League of Nations – I'm half American and grew up in Dallas but we also have two South Africans, a German, a Greek Canadian, a Canadian and a Jamaican.  I think that international flavour is represented in our client list and the importance we give to translation rights. Because we don't have an in-house dedicated foreign rights department, the agents here can decide when they send books out to overseas market. A foreign rights dept will usually send things out only when there's an English language sale but that's not always in the author's best interest.  For example, over the past year I've been selling a novel called THE NOSTRADAMUS PROPHECIES by Mario Reading. I'd sent the book out in the UK without any success but had also sent it to our co-agents who represent our list in foreign markets.  By September this year I had 13 international deals and then finally one day I received a call from Ravi Mirchandani at Atlantic who wanted to make an offer for World English Language rights. Traditionally speaking it's not really an Atlantic book which is what made their proposition so interesting – this is Atlantic going commercial and we're all really excited about next August's publication.  But without the international buzz maybe Ravi wouldn't have offered and had I waited for an English language deal to get the ball rolling elsewhere, I could still be waiting today.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?

Interesting sports books which can work in more than one market! Something like IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE. I'm a big fan of sports on either side of the Atlantic but it's really tricky to find a sports book that appeals to both sides and beyond.

Oli what are you tired of receiving?

Email submissions that are just an author carpet bombing 200 agents without really caring where an agent's interests lie. A bit of homework is always appreciated and in this day and age it's hardly difficult to do.

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?

If they can explain why theirs is a project or story I would personally be interested in and if they have some idea of people I already represent. Get the basics right: spelling, punctuation, the agency's name. All things which if correct show that you're at least making an effort.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

By having an understanding of the natural rhythms of our job, particularly that there are two times in the year when we as an agency are particularly busy (September/October for Frankfurt Book Fair and March/April for the London Book Fair). My client list isn't big enough to result in me having to be chased when an author has a query but I think once a book is sold to a primary editor, it's important for me to be cc'd in author/editor discussions just so I can use that information for the bigger picture – the rest of the world.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Oli that they don't seem to?

That's a tough one, not being very enigmatic. I don't  feel personally misunderstood but I think all agents would like unsolicited authors to have a better appreciation of the number of submissions we receive each day and that it does take time for each one to get a fair crack of the whip. Chasing after a week is probably the fastest way to get rejected.

What's the best way for a writer to reach you?

Enquiry email in the first instance is appreciated.