Name: Ann Collette
Agency: Rees Literary Agency
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role? I was a freelance writer and editor for fifteen years. The late head of our agency, Helen Rees, was looking for someone to evaluate fiction manuscripts, and a friend recommended me for the job. Helen paid me a flat fee for each manuscript I read; she ended up liking my work so much that she asked if I’d like to become an agent. She became my mentor and remained a supportive and loving influence in my career for as long as she lived.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well? There’s nothing in this world I love more than books. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and as any writer will tell you, you need to read abundantly in order to write well. It turns out, you need to read abundantly in order to agent well, too. Nobody goes into agenting to make money, as it’s not the world’s best-paying job. But if books are your passion—as they are mine—it’s a way to submerge yourself in the written word. If you’re an avid reader, it automatically makes you a half-way decent judge of everything that comes in through the slush pile.
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with? I work out of a home office and check my email roughly four minutes after I get up. Every day. No exception.
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day? As I said, I check my email first. Sometimes it’s so demanding that I look up and it’s 4 PM, and I haven’t changed out of my nightgown yet. There’s a lot of back-and-forth with clients, editors, and new writers who are pitching me. Sometimes (after I get dressed, of course), I leave the house and go to a local library where I can read manuscripts without the distraction of the computer.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day? A client and an agent must have a lot of trust in each other. For that trust to develop there has to be honesty. You need to be upfront with each other and have realistic expectations. Problems develop if you don’t tell each other the truth. As an example, when a client turns in a new manuscript, she should expect me to be straight-forward with my criticism, and I should expect her to remain professional. She shouldn’t be defensive or argue with me that I didn’t “get” her book; she should listen, consider what I’d said, and then decide which edits work for her vision of the book. A client needs to remember that an agent is the middle; she’s the person in between the author and the editor. And an agent is constantly listening to editors and what they’re looking for. That knowledge can help shape a client’s book in a positive manner and doesn’t mean the author is “selling out;” it simply means the manuscript will be more marketable.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship? Obviously, the pitch has to be well-written and the writing sample engaging. Typically, if I like chapter one (which should be included in the query), I’ll ask to see chapters two and three. If I like them, then I ask to see the whole novel. If I like the book, then I set up a phone call with the author. If I feel that she’s someone I can trust and who I’d enjoy working with, I offer representation. Then it’s in her hands!
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me? The best approach is a kick-ass query and an excellent writing sample, submitted according to the requirements on my agency’s website. One thing that’s guaranteed to turn me off is when someone overstates the quality of their manuscript by describing it as “the novel of the century, a cross between The Great Gatsby and The DaVinci Code—a modern day masterpiece.”
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends? Reading manuscripts! And the occasional late-night phone call with a client who wasn’t able to talk during the day.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out? Try to find a writer’s workshop in your area. Feedback from other writers will help improve your manuscript while critiquing theirs will make you better at revision. If you can’t find a workshop, find a beta reader you trust.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Recognize what you love, and don’t be pressured into doing something you’re not passionate about just because others dismiss your interests.
Favourite film? John Ford’s The Searchers.
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? The Wire.
Favourite book? Any of Raymond Carver’s poetry collections.
Favourite director? John Ford.
Favourite writer? Tom Perrotta.
Favourite actor (male or female)? John Wayne or Bruce Lee.