Wednesday, 6 February 2013

An Interview with Jane Gregory, Literary Agent

With our February 2013 issue out tomorrow themed Crime Fiction, I took the opportunity to interview  literary agent Jane Gregory.

Jane Gregory is now the sole owner of Gregory & Company Authors' Agents. The agency offers extensive editorial advice and guidance to ensure that a typescript is in its best possible form before being submitted to a publisher. They purposefully keep their list of authors small to ensure sufficient time is devoted to each author. Gregory and Company are known as the foremost agents for crime and thrillers although they handle many types of fiction and general non-fiction and their interests are wide-ranging.

Can you tell us a little about how you became the UK’s leading crime fiction agent?
I do not think I would call myself this, but we do represent some truly wonderful crime and thriller authors, and a number of them are bestsellers.

I began agenting by selling British rights on behalf of a large US publishing company. I needed to build up a list of UK authors so I then brought in Lisanne Radice and we formed a partnership, Gregory and Radice. Lisanne has an encyclopaedic knowledge of crime fiction and I could see that concentrating on this genre it would be a great marketing ploy and distinguish us from the many other agents already in existence. Lisanne joined as the editorial partner, whilst I handled the sales and the business. We were the first agents to have an “in-house” editor. Lisanne left in 2001, and by then I was completely seduced by the genre, it is so very varied. Basically I love great stories well told.

How did you get involved in the Crime Writers’ Association, and The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival?
I am an associate member of the CWA. As I am not an author I am not a full member. However, I am a co-founder of the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate. This crime writing festival began because The Harrogate Music Festival wanted to set up a literary festival to run alongside it. It was suggested that as there were already so many literary festivals in towns and cities all over the UK in order to make this literary festival special why not concentrate on crime – Agatha Christie did “disappear” in the Old Swan hotel. We set up the original committee – an author as the Chair, Val McDermid, a publisher, Maria Rejt of Macmillan now Mantle, a representative from the Harrogate Festival office and a part time administrator and me, a literary agent. The committee now includes a reviewer and the Reader in Residence and the Festival office has grown to cope with what has become a hugely successful festival.

Traditional publishing is undergoing a series of rapid and dramatic changes. Which elements make you optimistic and which pessimistic?
On the plus side wonderful authors are still being published and previously out of print books are being made available again as ebooks. On the minus side, books and ebooks are being underpriced and therefore probably undervalued.

How will the role of agents change, do you think?
The role of the agent has been subtlety changing for some time. We are there to represent and protect our authors, our role has changed in that we probably are needed more than ever to guide and manage an author’s career.

Where does Gregory and Co. find its clients? Do you ever make ‘slush-pile’ discoveries?
Yes, we take our slush pile very seriously. We may only find one in 5000 submissions but it is worthwhile. Many clients are recommended to us.

When considering an author, what other factors besides their writing do you take into account? Eg, online profile, personal history, platform etc.
First and foremost is the writing, everything else is secondary. Part of an author’s “job description” is a willingness to talk on radio, television, festivals, book launches. If an author does not wish to do this it will not affect whether or not we wish to represent an author but it will definitely affect their profile and their earnings.

Is there such a thing as a typical day for you? What might it look like?
Almost the best thing about my job is that days are not typical! However, I suppose I usually arrive in the office at around 8.30 am and once I have made my green tea I will start dealing with emails. Colleagues arrive at 9.30am. The rest of the day is spent dealing with emails, telephone calls, reading contracts, updating the database and discussions formal and informal with colleagues. Rarely do I have time to read typescripts in the office. If I have an evening appointment I leave the office around 6pm otherwise around 7pm.

Writers often say they’ve become more critical as readers. How does it work for agents? Can you take off your ‘work’ persona and enjoy a book?
Yes, I still enjoy reading a good book. However, if I am not enjoying a book I will definitely give up on it sooner and more readily.

Interviewed by crime writer JJ Marsh

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