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Meet the agents: Jenny Savill
Jenny Savill represents young fiction (7+, 8-12) and Young Adult, as well as adult fiction, with an emphasis on women’s literary and commercial fiction, historical fiction and non-fiction.
Always on the lookout for new talent, she represents a growing list of children’s authors, such as Keren David, Ellen Renner, Katie Dale, Pat Walsh, Helen Moss, Sara Grant and Andy Robb. She was the agent for The King’s Speech, by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi. Andrew Nurnberg Associates was founded in London in 1977 and represents some leading UK and US agent and publisher clients for translation rights through ANA’s offices in the UK and overseas.
When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?
I fell into agenting head first, one August day in 2002, when Andrew Nurnberg was kind enough to give me a trial period as his PA (the original candidate having dropped out). I lived locally, and needed a job that enabled me to pick my kids up from school. I’d previously worked in the theatre, and had done my fair share of hurtling around the country in a van with a bunch of like-minded thesps. (It’s fair to say the RAC beckoned more often than the RSC.) I nonetheless spent happy and formative times devising theatre with young people. Then, so help me, I married an actor and we ran our own theatre company, working in schools. I also tried to write a novel for 9-12s, which I cheerfully sent out to publishers … and received a ton of rejections – and some suggestions for revisions – back.
It wasn’t until I found myself assisting one of the most highly-respected agents in the UK that I saw first-hand the myriad of ways in which an agent may be useful to an author. I discovered that copyright holders have rights that need to be protected. These may be disposed of, not only in the author’s native country, but in territories all over the world.
I discovered that an agent is someone who, amongst other things, reads your manuscript and gives you feedback, sends said manuscript out to publishers, holds your hand when it’s disappointing news and celebrates with you when it’s good news; negotiates your contract to get the best deal so you don’t have to, turns up to your launch and makes a speech; places your books in foreign countries – yippee! bravo! formidable! ausgezeichnet! – and guides your career; makes sure your royalty statements are correct and up to date and that your monies are being paid to you on time, and spends time with you on the phone or in the pub, listening to how it’s all going. I quickly became hooked on the entire business of agenting and I set to work learning everything I could as my job evolved. ANA didn’t have a children’s agent and after a while I was given the opportunity to build a list – something I am still doing today, as well as taking on writers of adult fiction.
I love books where time is integral to the structure and meaning of the story. Not only time travel stories, but also stories where past and present (or present and present) run in parallel or intertwine. I am fond of multiple narratives, and twists. In YA, boy protagonists are something I’m interested in. I love books that explore relationships in any setting – whether that’s in reality or in fantasy – and I love books where there is an unexpected meeting of outlooks or cultures. At the moment, I’m particularly enjoying books where a strand of fantasy is woven into an otherwise “real” setting.
On the historical non-fiction front, ordinary voices giving extraordinary insights are where I’m at. I’m interested in the experiences of people who were slightly to one side of the main action or who were for some reason thrust into the limelight – people whose opinion wouldn’t ordinarily be sought at the time, or whose voice wouldn’t normally be heard. And fresh perspectives on the everyday. Come to think of it, that’s what I like in fiction too. Children’s and YA literature is the home of fresh and unusual insights because it is full of brilliant, quirky and engaging voices. I now find myself seeking that out in adult fiction.
Are you most drawn to beautiful writing? Or a wonderful plot? Or a stunning premise? Or what?
The writing doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it must be strong and intensely pleasing in some way. What captivates me is, I think, mostly down to voice, being able to connect with the characters, and the feeling that here is a writer who knows what they are doing. It’s that thing of being able to relax and enjoy the ride. Similar to when you’re in the audience and an actor walks on stage who not only knows their lines, but who brings their craft to bear on those lines without you noticing, so that you enter fully into the play.
Tell us how you like writers to submit work to you. And how you’d like them not to submit work.
Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?
Since 2008, several authors have come through as a result of the wonderful Undiscovered Voices anthologies, five have come through personal recommendation, one is someone I knew professionally. I was fortunate to find two on a creative writing MA when I went to talk to the students, and a couple more were already published, un-agented authors. Two arrived through the slushpile – one lives in Ireland, the other in Canada – and another was the winner of a competition I was judging.
What’s the most important part of your job? Is it editing/shaping the manuscript? Selling the manuscript? Or supervising the publication process?
The most important part of my job is to make sure that the author’s interests are at the centre of all of these processes.
If you had one bit of advice to give to new writers, what would it be?
Hello, new writers. There is lots of advice out there aimed at you. Find what works for you. Be brave. Write what is in your heart. And don’t forget to read widely while you’re at it.
What Unique Selling Points do you have as an agent or agency?
Andrew Nurnberg Associates is uniquely placed to sell an author’s rights worldwide, as for the most part our agents were born and grew up in, or at the very least have lived in, the territories into which they sell books. They speak the languages in those territories, so they have great relationships with editors there, as well as a deep understanding of the book-buying culture. Each agent looks after only one or two territories and that sort of ratio means they have an intense understanding of what’s happening, and what will be happening in those markets in the next 18 months. We are also the only UK agency with associate offices in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, China and Taiwan. I’ve seen the most amazing deals achieved in foreign territories on behalf of our authors and those of our clients and it’s always a thrilling moment when an author’s book arrives and it’s the Hungarian, Catalan or Complex Chinese edition.
If you weren’t an agent, what else would you be?
I’ve no idea but it would probably be something to do with words.
Do you secretly have a book in you? And if so, tell us more…
No. The manuscript is firmly in a drawer. A locked drawer. The key to which has been thrown away. Actually, the key has been eaten. By a dog. Who, sadly, has since died and been buried. Cremated, in fact. And whose ashes were sent in envelopes to the four corners of the earth. Where they were each eaten by a polar bear, an ant eater, a camel and an elk, respectively.