We are so looking forward to having Tanera Simons, an agent with literary agency Darley Anderson, attend the Fremantle 2020 conference. Read on to learn more about her, her agency, and the type of work she represents.
What was the path that led you to a career as an agent?
Agenting wasn’t actually a job I had specifically sought out. I’d always known that I wanted to work in the publishing industry, but my initial ambition was to do so as a fiction editor. I started at a book reviewing website where my roles were very much admin-based but which gave me a brilliant grounding in novels and what readers are looking for. Spending time reading the books, and then reading 30-odd reader reviews of that book was invaluable to me in terms of proving how subjective writing can be as well as what readers look for from different genres. I then spent time working in the production team of a children’s publishing house, before I came across the job description for the role of ‘women’s fiction agent’ at Darley Anderson and decided to apply.
What do you love about being an agent?
Lots of things! Mainly though, it is seeing and sharing in my authors’ joy: whether that is signing a first publishing deal, holding their paperback for the first time, hearing good reviews… there are so many joyful moments that I get to share with my clients, and I feel so privileged that I can be a part of that happiness. Another aspect that I love is how varied this job can be – no two days are ever the same – and that so much of this variation is positive: from finding a brilliant submission in the slush pile, to finding out that our rights team have sold an existing author’s novel in a foreign language.
We’d love to hear more about your agency. How many other agents are a part of Darley Anderson, and what are you looking for, genre-wise?
I’m part of a team of three agents, and between us we cover all adult commercial fiction. We also have two TV/Film agents and three translation rights agents, who work on getting our authors’ work made into films, TV programmes, and translated into other languages across the world. Genre-wise, we are looking for commercial fiction: we are looking for writing that appeals to the wider market in all genres, such as thrillers, crime, women’s, historical, romance. We don’t specialise in literary or non-fiction, but of course if we fall in love with a manuscript we wouldn’t say no to it! In addition to this, we have a separate children’s agency (The Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency) which is made up of two agents who we work very closely with.
Is there such a thing as a typical day in the office for you?
My days do vary depending on a number of factors, but a typical day would look something like this. I tend to arrive into the office between 8am and 9am and the first thing I do (after making a coffee!) is check my emails. I’ll make sure there is nothing urgent that needs attention, and then reply to editors and my authors. This can take a few hours, and of course the emails never stop coming in! Next up I will focus on my to-do list: this can hold anything from reading and editing manuscripts from my current authors; going through a contract for a new deal; discussing strategy with authors; phone calls with editors; or looking at material from potential new clients. Often I will have meetings during the day too, which more often than not take me out of the office. Finally, if I have time, I will read new submissions that have come in, although often this reading leaks into the evenings.
How many submissions do you get weekly?
Personally, I receive anywhere between 30 and 50 submissions in one week and as an agency we receive in the region of 600 (across 5 agents). This is of course a lot of material to read, but we genuinely do give each and every one due consideration – which sometimes means we can take longer than we would like to respond to submissions.
Can you tell us the process of what would happen after you read a submission you like?
Our submissions guidelines ask only for the three chapters and synopsis of a novel, so if I read these and am left wanting more I will email the author asking for the full manuscript. I will then read this as quickly as possible and, if I love the full, I will ask to meet with the author with a view to offering representation. It is really important that the author and agent can work well together, so I do always try to meet or have a conversation with a potential author before formally offering representation.
What do you love about writing conferences? Any advice for conference goers?
Conferences are brilliant for both authors and those of us in the industry: they provide ample opportunity for proper conversations and a real dialogue between us. It is wonderful for me to meet authors face to face – as I mentioned above, the relationship between author/agent is so important! – and it gives authors an opportunity that they might otherwise not have had to ask questions or discuss their novel with other authors and with industry folk. Of course, I am always on the look out to find new talented authors for our list when at conferences! In terms of advice, I would think about what you want to get out of the event before attending: are you looking for general publishing advice, feedback on your novel, trying to secure an agent, or want to make connections with other authors? Once you know what you are hoping to achieve, you can pinpoint the seminars/panels etc. that will help you come away feeling satisfied. Also, talk to people! Being an author can feel isolating at times and conferences are the perfect chance to discuss your ups and downs with others who are going through the same things.
What do you do in your ‘down time’? Are you going to able to have some down time on your visit to Australia?
I love travelling and the outdoors, so I am very much looking forward to my trip to WA! I’m hoping to stay for a few weeks after the conference so am really excited at the opportunity to explore this beautiful part of the world.
Do you find much time for reading as a pastime?
It is actually one of my New Year’s resolutions this year to read more for pleasure! I find that I get ‘the guilt’ if I’m reading a non-work book when I have a pile of manuscripts that I need to read, which in the past has meant that I just haven’t been reading for pleasure nearly as much as I used to. Not only do I love reading – obviously! – but it is also important for my job that I’m reading around the genre in order to know what I’m talking about when it comes to trends. So, I’m making more time to read at the moment and am really enjoying reading an eclectic mix of things!
What’s on your TBR pile right now?
I’ve just this morning finished Where the Crawdads Sing and absolutely loved it – I can’t recommend it highly enough! Next up on my list is My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, about which I’ve read brilliant things. I am also listening to Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez on Audible at the moment, which is fascinating.
Any advice to unpublished writers?
If you love writing, keep going with it! Listen with open ears to all advice you are given, but do not feel obliged to accept advice that you do not agree with. Most importantly, take your time in finding an agent or publisher who is right for you: whilst it is of course tempting to jump at the first offer you receive, the hope is that an agent will see you through your career. You want someone who has a similar vision and aspirations for you; someone who will be in your corner and who truly believes in your talent.
Any advice to published authors?
This is a tricky one, as a lot of published authors will either have agents guiding them already or will have been managing their own careers successfully! In terms of general advice for authors, I will always recommend that writers continue to read as much as possible in the genre in which they are writing, so that they are aware of trends that are doing well, as well as plots that have been done before. I know that it’s been said a thousand times before, but it really does show when an author knows their genre!
And are you seeing any new trends emerging in the romance genre?
Trends are always a tricky one and I would never advise that an author write to a trend – by the time you’ve written the book and found a publisher, that trend might have disappeared! In the women’s fiction genre in general, though, I’m getting a lot of requests for ‘quirky’ and ‘uplifting’ fiction: emotional yet heart-warming stories that will leave the reader feeling ultimately happy. My advice would always just be to write what you know, regardless of the current trend: who knows, you could start the next one!
What books within your agency that are coming out in the near future are you excited about?
I have a couple of debut authors publishing next year, which is always really exciting: keep an eye out for The Neighbours by Nicola Gill (Avon) and This is Not a Love Story by Mary Hargreaves (Trapeze). Both are wonderful explorations of friendship and of finding yourself, with side helpings of romance!
Finally, we are so delighted you’re visiting us in Western Australia. Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?
I am so thrilled to be joining you and visiting the beautiful Fremantle. I have also been advised to visit Broome, the Ningaloo Reef – for scuba-diving! – and the Margaret River – although any other suggestions are very welcome!