Book Broker – an interview with Meg Davis
Agent: Meg Davis
Preferred genres: Crime, science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, historical fiction, anything a bit bonkers.
Bio: Meg Davis worked in the theatre and in bookselling before becoming an agent. After some years at MBA, she started Ki Agency in 2011 to represent authors and scriptwriters.
Meg’s work for her clients is informed by her involvement behind the scenes, previously as co-Chair of the Dramatists’ section of the PMA, on the management board of Public Lending Right, and as the external examiner for the MA in Scriptwriting course at Sheffield Hallam. She is currently Chair of the Writers’ Organisations Advisory Group, and serving a third term on the committee of the Association of Authors’ Agents.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A professional attitude. Our submission guidelines have been followed, and the author understands that they're asking agents and publishers to make an investment in them and their work. That being said, we'll forgive any rookie mistakes if the book is exciting.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
A lot of people write what they think is publishable: it's good work, but feels like it'll get lost in an ocean of similar books. It's great when an author thinks about the question, 'Why should someone read my book?' Publishers ask me why I think they should publish something, and without an answer to this, it's very hard to move forward on something.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
Personalisation is a good sign the author is taking themselves seriously, and asking me to as well. Even the obvious, like quoting the pet hates I list on our website, shows they've thought about whether I'd be a good match for them.
4) Given that you are based in the UK, do you ever work with authors from abroad, for example from the United States and Canada? And what would you say is the main difference between the UK and North American markets?
It's difficult to represent someone based in the States or Canada, unless they have a track record (and/or local agent) and I can see a market for them in the UK. Our business is very much smaller than the American one, and publishers always favour indigenous talent, so I need a good reason to persuade a British publisher to look at something.
Speaking as someone who grew up in Canada, I would say that the British are less interested in the highly-engineered plotting you often see in American fiction, pride themselves on their individuality, and get a little cynical if something seems too pat or too upbeat. They also expect themselves to be articulate. I heard someone recently use the word 'vainglorious' in a casual conversation, and no one batted an eye.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
Much as I like people, this is the least interesting part of the query. I don't mind if there aren't prior publications—and I need to know that—but what's grabbing my interest is the quality of the book.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
Its snobbery. Genre fiction—especially SF/F—brings in a lot of money but no recognition.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
Frances Hardinge's Cuckoo Song. In the first chapter, the protagonist is sick in bed, and her mum is looking after her. She should feel sick in a good, cosy way, but she doesn't. Then her sister comes in and looks at her with veiled hatred. It just gets better from there—it's familiar but surprising, and you have to know what's going on. I read it in one sitting, and snarled at anyone who tried to interrupt me.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
All my clients are my favourite! But I'd like to highlight the wonderful Louise Carey, whose solo debut Inscape was published yesterday. I'm thrilled that it's getting great reviews.