The Guardian describe Jane as the ‘head girl among crime agents’. Co-founder of the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize) with writer Kate Mosse, as well as being on the committee for The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival,
Jane also worked in Rights before becoming a literary agent. Her many high-profile, commercially and critically successful clients include Val McDermid, Minette Walters, Mo Hayder, Elizabeth Fremantle, and Sarah Hilary.
With such a well-established list, the agency takes on only a few authors every year, and of them, even fewer are discovered through the slush pile. Many of the new clients Jane takes on are personally recommended to her. Having said that, she and her colleagues still take the slush pile seriously and read everything that is sent in.
While Jane’s specialist area has become crime and thriller novels, she is interested in other well written general fiction, such as family sagas, historical fiction, and upmarket commercial fiction. However, do note that she is not interested in science fiction, fantasy, academic non-fiction, children’s books, poetry, of plays/TV/film scripts. Occasionally, she will take on general non-fiction, though fiction seems to be where the agency picks up most of its authors.
Gregory and Company pride themselves on the excellent editorial services they provide for their authors. Something that writer Sarah Hilary attests to after submitting three novels to Jane, all of which were rejected but with detailed feedback, before finally finding success with her fourth attempt. Agents are increasingly expected to shape the manuscript before submitting to publishers, so finding an agent with an excellent track record in editing works as well as navigating rights, sales, contracts, etc is crucial to a successful career as an author.
Hi Jane, Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and welcome to Compulsive Readers.
Firstly can you explain to my readers a little bit about yourself and your background in the publishing industry before you set up Gregory & Company?
I had been employed selling rights for publishers – my last full time job was Contracts and Rights Manager for Chatto and Windus, and when I left them, I took a small step towards setting up as an agent by working on a freelance basis, selling rights for smaller publishers and agents, covering for maternity leave, whilst building up a client list. Then, I had the good fortune to be appointed the UK agent for the New York publisher, Simon & Schuster. With their brand name authors, the deals I made on their behalf were for telephone numbers, which enabled me to take on offices, staff and a business partner – this was in 1987.
I set up The Jane Gregory Agency first and then went into partnership, in 1987 and became Gregory and Radice Authors’ Agents and finally became Gregory and Company Authors’ Agents in 2000 when Lisanne Radice left.
Gregory & Company Authors’ Agents are known as the foremost agents for crime and thriller with some incredible authors amongst your clients including Val McDermid, Mo Hayder, Belinda Bauer, Minette Walters, Sarah Hilary, Paula Daly and Martyn Waites (plus many, many more), and you personally have a great reputation for picking brilliant writers – how do you know if he/she is the right author to represent?
I did not and do not do this alone, we work very much as a team. The slush pile is read with great care, we read the work of budding authors on creative writing courses, and these days we are recommended. We have always worked with our authors helping them to hone their skills. We are looking for ability to write, an original voice. Editorially we can help with structure and plotting. Having read the typescript we do like to meet the author. We expect to have a long a very fruitful relationship and we need to know that we will all be able to get along.
What exactly does an Agent do and can you describe an average day in your life?
An agents role is to represent an author to the best of their ability. We are in essence employed by our authors. These days we are not just deal makers, we are managers of an author’s career. Once an author has appointed us to be their agent we will probably give them advice on the best way to tweak their novel to get it into the best shape before submitting to publishers. It can be months before the typescript is ready to be sent out. In the meantime I will be talking to editors so that they are all waiting for the typescript. The good thing about my working life is that there is no such thing as a typical day. I may make a list of things to do and it is a very good day when I have been able to tick them all off. I tend to arrive at the office around 8.30am and will spend a great deal of time each day at the computer and on the telephone. But then there are meetings, with colleagues, clients, publishers. It is basically an office job, but you are dealing with people with original and exciting thoughts, so it is endlessly stimulating.
Socialising is obviously a huge part of being an Agent, what’s your favourite drink and who’s your favourite drinking buddy?
Wine is my drink of choice and any and all of my authors are totally fabulous drinking companions, they always have great stories to tell!
You are a co-founder of The Bailey’s Prize for Fiction – can you please tell me more about it and your involvement?
I am the co-founder with Kate Mosse of The Women’s Prize for fiction, which was sponsored by Orange and now sponsored by Bailey’s and others. It all began in 1992 when the Booker Prize short list did not have one single female author on the list. There were so many eligible female authors that year, including Angela Carter, so instead of complaining, we decided that we should do something about it. It started small as Orange were a fairly new company and only wanted to dip their toe in the water, so to speak, but when Orange realised the value of the publicity it gave them, it grew fast. Kate has always been the spokeswoman and I have always been behind the scenes dealing with the contracts and administration along with other members of the Women’s Prize Board. I am now on the Advisory Council.
You are also very involved with The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, tell me more about your role and what we can look forward to this July in Harrogate?
Yes, I co-founded the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and I am on the Programming Committee. Originally, I was approached by the then head of Harrogate Music festival saying that they wanted to set up a literary festival to complement the music festival. They had thought that, rather than just another literary festival, it might be a good idea to focus on a genre and because of the Agatha Christie connection, they thought of crime! I was asked because of the number of crime authors I represented. I suggested that the best way forward would be to have a committee with people in the industry with complementary skills and connections – so we have a publisher, authors, an agent, a reviewer and more recently the Reader in Residence. In addition to which, so that each year was fresh, with a different emphasis, we have a rotating Chair of the programming committee, which is why we have so such fabulous authors each year shaping the theme of that year and inviting authors. Elly Griffiths has pulled together a fantastic list of authors for 2017 special guests include Lee Child, Arne Dahl, Joseph Finder, Dennis Lehane, Stuart McBride, Peter May, Ian Rankin and Kathy Reichs.
I am sure you have too many to mention, but what are your professional career highlights to date and what are you most proud of?
Every time an author we represent has a fabulous review, gets into the bestseller lists, wins a prize is a professional highlight and I hope that they never stop.
Obviously you are a big reader yourself, can you tell me a couple of books you’ve read recently that you would recommend and why?
Apart from my own fabulous authors, I have recently read THE DRY by Jane Harper – beautifully written, wonderful description of the place, great characterisation. DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA by Antonia Hodgson – very evocative of time and place. EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN by Chris Cleave – lovely writing interesting period and A RISING MAN by Abir Mukherjee – a fascinating picture of India and great characterisations.
When you are not reading, socialising, taking part in literary events, what do you do to relax?
I love theatre, looking at art, gardening and reading cookbooks and planning meals!
Finally, if any aspiring authors are reading this and would like to send in a submission, what advice would you give and what are you looking for?
First and foremost good writing, fabulous characters, an original plot and, if you can do it, an elevator pitch!! No pressure!
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