An Interview with Literary Agent Frances Black (Literary Counsel)

By Wendy Tyson

Frances Black is the founder of Literary Counsel, a New York-based boutique agency. Fran got her start in the illustrating business, representing photographers and illustrators whose works have appeared across many markets, including well-known magazines, books and newspapers.  In 2010, Fran opened her doors to authors.  Recently Fran took some time to sit down with The Thrill Begins to discuss her own journey as well as advice for writers.

You have an interesting background.  Can you tell us how and why you became an agent? 

I wanted to be a rock and roll singer, but the truth is I cannot sing, therefore those doors were obviously closed to me, and with good reason.  I always knew that I enjoyed helping people and after years of being a photo editor and art representative I decided that running my own business, a management and representational agency in the literary world, was the right path for me.  I love being a literary agent.

What does a day in the life of an agent look like? 

I love this business.  It’s not easy; in actuality we never close—we’re open 24/7.  In fact, that should be on my business card.  I love what I do but it takes time.  I am up checking emails at 6am and do so until I go to bed.  The day starts early, I answer and send emails, I talk to editors, I research new editors, I read manuscripts, pitch manuscripts, follow up on manuscripts, and hopefully if I’ve picked right, make deals with publishers. 

We manage careers because it is not enough for us to represent an author, book by book.  It’s about social media, expectations, brand building.  In this age of publishing—and thankfully I read yesterday that paper is making a comeback—it’s not good if authors rest solely on publishers to promote.  Authors must be empowered to promote, to sell their books.  So we help brand build.  In addition, every day, no matter how many polite no thank you notes I write to writers who solicit our agency, there are about 375 emails yet to be read.  Writing a polite, sorry, not for us note is tough, but it is important to me to acknowledge the writer.  A writer spends 6-9 months, perhaps longer, writing, and I cannot ignore, or answer no thanks, without explanation. That doesn’t cut it for me.  I think the no thank you notes take up a lot of my time because I do try to be critical.

What makes a manuscript stand out?

Good question.  I have to love it.  You have to grab me in the first chapter and I need to keep reading.  I need manuscripts to capture me.  Reading a manuscript could be compared with dating:  What makes you want a second date, or what makes the reader want to spend more time with your story?  And that applies for fiction and non-fiction.  In the fiction world it is easier to ascertain that you might want a second date/page. In the non-fiction world, the grab is different.  Am I learning or resisting what the author is saying?  Do I buy into the rhetoric?  If I do then the manuscript becomes a stand out.

Clearly the publishing world has changed dramatically over the last decade. What trends excite you?

I wish I had a crystal ball because I would love to predict the craze following coloring books, and see what will follow Harry Potter, and I’d really like to use that crystal ball to discover the next writer who writes like Isabelle Allende. I’d get in on the ground floor.  Great story telling is truly a gift, a present to us.  The word “trend” scares me because publishing does tend to become saturated with trends.  I think it is up to the author to write and share their gift, if their words are inviting, mysterious, sad, comical.  If their words live, they are truly a present to us and a new trend just might be discovered. 

Has your approach evolved given the current market?

We do more research.  Books are more accessible than ever before, and because of that editors are swamped and there are more rules.  When we submit, we have to do our due diligence. 

As you noted, the publishing world has dramatically changed over the last decade, and that is a good thing.  It was sort of the gentrification of the publishing world, which shook up what we knew and actually I think helped us.  In the long run I think we became smarter and better agents.

Are there any particular characteristics or habits that you believe help to make an author successful?

Love what you do.  It’s simple; if you are not in love with your work, honestly in love, please do not send it to me, or any other agent. Be aware of how hard our job is.  We’re on the same team.  Author, agent and editor, all with the same goal in mind—to publish books.

When it comes to success I use my CLAD method—

CLAD

  • Create
  • Listen
  • Add
  • Delete

Once you create your story you have to listen.  Critiques are like asking for directions when going from point A to point B.  You have to listen to them if you want to get anywhere; if you disagree know why.  Add content in order to make your manuscript richer and delete content or ideas if your words are pulling your story down.

Are you currently accepting submissions?  If so, what would you love to see cross your desk?

Yes, non-fiction with a platform.  Fiction that makes me sad when I get to the last page, books that inspire and books that move me.  No vampires.  And if you include sex scenes in your manuscript it had better be good and not gratuitous.

What advice do you have for authors seeking representation?

Have passion.  Do your research.  Spell-check.

WENDY TYSON has written five published crime novels.  The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com.  Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, was released in March 2016. She lives with her family on a micro-farm near Philadelphia. 

To learn more about Wendy Tyson’s newest novel, click on the cover below:

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