Success in the Book Business (and Loving the Job!): An Interview with Canadian Literary Agent Samantha Haywood

Samantha HaywoodWith over 15 years experience representing authors in Canada and abroad for both volume publication and film/TV deals, Samantha Haywood successfully navigates the sometimes choppy waters of the Canadian literary industry as an agent with Transatlantic Agency.

In this interview, she gives us a look at her thoughts on her role in the industry and what writers can do to attract the attention of a top literary agent like herself.

What are your thoughts about being a literary agent in Canada currently?

I’m finding business is better than ever, last year and this year look poised to be my best yet. And I’m having a ton of fun. I really love my work and my authors, which I like to think has a lot to do with the success and growth of my list.

That said, the agenting business model is under strain for many. Advances have come down in most cases. Publishers are often acquiring more rights for these more modest advances, so one has to be nimble, persistent and cost effective with the business model. You also have to respond to what the publishers are looking to publish and pay attention to what is working in the marketplace.

Are there any misconceptions writers have regarding an agent’s role in their career?

Perhaps that agents are required at every stage in one’s career. I notice authors often looking for representation right off the bat. There is something to be said for building up a publishing history before approaching agents.

Many independent publishers in Canada prefer to work directly with authors. If you’re starting out as a literary fiction author and your book isn’t overly commercial and you’ve received great enthusiasm from independent presses then start there without agent if it feels right.

At what point in their career does a writer need an agent?

Agents are useful when your work is ready for a wide audience, or an international audience. Perhaps for combined reach to publishers and film producers. Once you’ve developed a readership and/or platform in the community. That’s a good time to start. Or you just have a damn fabulous big book in you. Not sure how much the range of that answer helps!

What are some common mistakes you see when writers approach you as an agent?

Form submission letters which smack of some cover letter model they’ve learned off a paid website to prepare them for the submission process. I’m also not a fan of playful and silly cover letters that try to be painfully original at the cost of content and quality. An intelligent, well written submission letter goes a long way, believe me.

What makes you want to work with a writer?

This is impossible to answer in a blanket statement. But here are some key qualities I hope for in the person: level-headed, professionally savvy, and warm and collaborative. A good reputation.

What kind of submissions would you like to see from writers?  

My submission mandates on our my bio of the website I love literary fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, upmarket crime and thrillers. And I love narrative nonfiction (true crime and investigative journalism), memoir and graphic novels, to name a few!

In terms of the writing itself, fiction or nonfiction, I love an assured voice which is original and remarkable. A feeling of necessity and urgency, that I can’t do without reading every last drop of it.

What excites you about the work that is being produced by the writers that you currently represent?

What excites me is that I often read the newspaper headlines and see themes and stories that my authors are addressing in their books through their novels or memoirs. I believe we better understand ourselves and the world through the exchange of narrative and inspiring stories. I feel all my authors are improving me in that sense.

Samantha Haywood is a director, partner, and agent at Transatlantic Agency where she represents award-winning and bestselling authors such as Zoe Whittall, Grant LawrenceMiranda HillIain ReidCatherine BushDani CoutureStacey May Fowles, and Dave Bidini.

* Originally published on Canada Arts Connect Magazine.