[Images courtesy of Shelley Instone]
Shelley Instone is a newly launched literary agent and the director of the Shelley Instone Literary Agency. The agency strives to support, develop and nurture debut and established writers of both children’s and adult fiction alongside non-fiction writing. On Wednesday the 11th of February at 7pm Shelley will be returning to her home town Leeds to give a talk at Outlaw’s Yacht club, organised by Leeds Big Bookend Events. The event will provide a unique opportunity for Northern writers to hear all about the business of editing and getting your work published from someone with years of experience in the industry who is actively looking to tap into the wealth of literary talent in the North.
Ahead of the event next month, I spoke with Shelley to find out more about the daily life of a literary agent, her favourite authors and what she’s really looking for in a manuscript…
TSOTA: What inspired you to become a literary agent? How does one go about becoming a literary agent and setting up your own agency?
SI: It was more of a matter of feeling that the time was right rather than inspired. I had worked for Eve White and had a lot of success there. You really do need to have some kind of track record in publishing to become an agent, as you have to assess the probability of what manuscripts you think have commercial viability.
TSOTA: What does your average working day look like? Is the life of a literary agent as glamorous as one might imagine?
SI: I always start my day with a strong cappuccino whilst going through my submission inboxes. Then it is responding to emails from publishers and writers. After that, it is cracking on with editing a manuscript. I don’t think it is that glamorous! A manuscript can often take months to edit before it can be submitted to a publisher. It is an awful lot of hard work and an intense collaboration between agent and writer. At one given time I may well be doing various edits all at different stages of the writing process. There is never enough time in the day to do all the things I need to do!
TSOTA: Your literary agency champions debut writers-what do you look for in a manuscript?
SI: I am on the lookout for a compelling story with a strong authorial voice. Something unusual that doesn’t fall into clichés and stereotypes. I always want strong dialogue that moves a plot forward. The first few opening lines tell me a lot about a manuscript. I can often see where the writer is going wrong after the first few paragraphs. Basically, a manuscript has to have the wow factor.
TSOTA: Which writers that you’ve worked with so far do you feel most proud of?
SI: I just love Sarah Naughton’s writing. The Hanged Man Rises and The Blood List are superb. She’s incredibly self-disciplined and it shows. Her writing is vivid and utterly compelling. These are the books to read if you want to know how to write! She creates memorable characters who move the plot forward. She was just a joy to work with and she’s very funny and witty! I feel incredibly proud of what she has achieved. Also, Lara Williamson because she was just a joy to work with. It is always amazing to see a writer’s journey, knowing that you discovered and developed them.
TSOTA: If you were to give one piece of advice to an aspiring author looking to break into the field and get published what would it be?
SI: Writers need to be able to take on board constructive criticism. When I sign an author I really put them through their paces! One of my writers, June Taylor could talk a lot about this. We have worked so hard on her novel and I know I have pushed her to the limits. At one point, I wouldn’t let her go to sleep!! That’s what it takes to get a novel into shape and ready for submission!
TSOTA: Which authors do you read in your spare time? Can you name us some of your favourite books?
SI: I do try and read in my spare time. I constantly move between children’s and adult fiction. I recently read Piers Torday’s The Dark Wild which I thought was brilliant. Also Non Pratt’s Trouble. They both had strong authorial voices. Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was utterly compelling and moving as was Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall. My favourite children’s author just has to be Robert Westall. He understood exactly what children (particularly boys) want in a novel. My favourite story of all time has to be Homer’s Iliad. It has everything; great characters, action and pathos. It is really about forgiveness and reconciliation. Homer has the power to make the most simple scenes unforgettably moving. I’ve read it so many times and I always find something new in it. At the moment, I am reading Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles.
TSOTA: You are giving a talk at Outlaw’s Yacht Club in Leeds next month. Can you tell us a bit more about this event and give us some of your thoughts on writing in the North of England?
SI: Leeds is my home town and is very close to my heart. The North has a history of great writers. I know that they are out there! I really connect with dark stories told with dark humour.
To buy tickets to the ‘Meet the Agent’ event visit Big Bookend’s website