Alex Adsett is a publishing consultant and literary agent who offers commercial advice to authors and publishers, with a focus on print, digital, film and self-publishing contracts. As an agent, she represents a select list of genre fiction authors, and is always looking for exciting new manuscripts of science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery, and romance. She can often be found on twitter @alexadsett or via her website www.alexadsett.com.au.
1. Alex Adsett Publishing Services began providing commercial publishing advice to authors and publishers in 2008, and has been offering literary agent services since 2012. What was your motivation in transitioning to a more traditional literary agency and what are you looking for in a client?
When I sent up my consultancy business, it was to give authors who didn’t have an agent a way to have their contract looked at by a publishing insider, to explain what is and isn’t standard and to try to make sure the author was not taken advantage of. As a lifelong reader of genre fiction, I always said that when the right manuscript came along, I’d make the jump into being a more traditional agent as well. Well, the right manuscript came along, and then the second and then the third, and they haven’t stopped coming. Once word got out I was taking manuscripts, they flooded in. It was humbling to have all these authors put their faith in me, but overwhelming as well. The manuscripts that stood out have been the ones I took on to talk to publishers about.
I still offer my consultancy services, but now represent 14 wonderful authors across a range of SF/F, crime and romance. In an author, I’m looking for first and foremost, a manuscript that I fall in love with. I want to be so excited by the story that I’ll shout about it to anyone who will listen. It helps if the author isn’t too crazy, and has an understanding about the realities of the publishing industry, but it’s my job to take care of and educate them, so apart from a great manuscript, nothing else is essential.
2. I think most authors would see gaining agent representation as an important step in their pathway to publication, but I understand that it is your opinion that agent representation is not as necessary in Australia as it is in the US and UK. What do you think has caused this difference in the Australian market and do you think there are circumstances where an agent representation is essential?
I do firmly believe an author does not need an agent, and that it should be a choice as to whether or not they have one, particularly in Australia. Perhaps it is because our industry is smaller, or perhaps our publishers have always been more open to meeting and finding new authors directly, but more than 60% of what is published in Australia is not represented by an agent. In the US/UK, almost all of the commercially published titles come through an agent, and it is almost impossible to get a deal without one. (The rise of self-publishing is changing this, but agents in US/UK are still very much the norm).
I see an agent as doing three key things (as well as lots of other bits and pieces), essentially they get the author the publishing deal in the first place, they negotiate the contract and they manage the author’s career. If the author has secured themselves the publishing deal, and then gets me (or the Australian Society of Authors or a lawyer) to look over the contract, and is half way savvy about managing their own career, then I’d question whether or not they need an agent at all. However, if an author just wants to get on with the business of writing, then an agent is essential to managing the business side of things.
It is pretty much as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publishing deal, so I would recommend an author work with whoever comes along first.
3. If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be? Is it different to the advice that you would have given 5 years ago?
The big difference between now and five years ago, is that there is no right or wrong way to do something anymore. I might shake my head at some author choices, only to be proven wrong by their success or critical acclaim. There is still an enormous amount of luck involved in publishing, but to make that luck happen you also need a lot of dedication, hard work and stubborn refusal to give up.
It is hard to give advice in such a quickly changing climate, but I would advise any aspiring author to write every day and learn the craft of writing. Don’t be afraid to take chances, but do your research first and don’t go into anything blind. Don’t give up! Even if you end up with fifteen manuscripts in the bottom drawer, the sixteenth might be the breakthrough book that makes you an “overnight” success.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Am I allowed to mention my own titles? I’m very excited about them – Chasing The Ace by Nicholas J Johnson and Bound by Alan Baxter. Bound is a super dark urban fantasy published by Voyager Australia and is the first in a trilogy. Otherwise, I’ve loved the latest book in Kylie Chan’s epic Eastern/Western fantasy, as well as rockstar romance Lick by Kylie Scott. The book I’m currently obsessed with is The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn, a YA apocalypse novel that is so good it has made me rethink my end-of-the-world plans, and start to hoard canned goods (again). I’m also desperately waiting for the final book in Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
The biggest recent change is the rise in self-publishing and success of hybrid authors. I see myself doing more work with indie authors who want to bridge that gap between successful self-publishing and traditional publishing. I also love working with the digital-first publishers in Australia; Momentum, Escape, Impulse and Destiny, and they are the ones doing really exciting things with genre works. I hope that the big commercial publishers will continue to invest in local Australian publishing, because we have such a thriving group of talented writers here, but I’m also talking with UK and US publishers to get Aussie authors noticed on the world stage. It’s an exciting time to be in publishing. There are no certainties, but that also means there are fewer doors blocking the way.