From their California base, they actively develop career strategies for their clients and continue to offer representation to writers wherever they are based in the world.
Laura Bradford herself is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), Romance Writers of America, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and she is also an RWA-recognized agent.
In your early career as a writer did you receive any rejection letters from literary agencies? And if so, did the experience influence how you respond to writers through your own agency?
No, I didn't. I never took my own writing to the point where I thought it was ready for querying. My time as a writer was actually quite short...turns out I didn't like writing all that much. And a lot of my time writing overlapped with the time I was interning for my first literary agency, so I was pretty aware of both sides from the beginning. I was really cognizant of how tortuous the wait (to get a response on a submission) was to writers and how much my fellow writers loathed "no response means no." So I try really hard to make sure I keep my response times as short as I can and I do respond to every query.
When you made the decision to become a literary agent, what were the deciding factors in opening your own agency, rather than work for an established one?
I worked for an established agency originally. I began as an unpaid intern and worked as a bookstore manager at the same time in order to pay the bills and support being able to hold that unpaid internship. Then I became the agency assistant and later they let me start acquiring. I really wanted to handle commercial genre fiction, specifically romance and my original agency was not involved in that part of the market. I ultimately elected to leave so I could freely work with the genres and projects I felt led to work with.
In the years since the Bradford Literary Agency opened their doors, in what areas do you believe the publishing industry has changed for the better?
I actually think that the expansion of the digital format and self publishing as a viable publishing option are both good things and have made the publishing landscape better. However, in many ways, they have made my work a lot harder. In Romance, the ebook format is huge and the lower overhead model has allowed publishers to take on some riskier projects. There is overall more choice available in the market now because of that format. As a reader and booklover, I appreciate that. But, in Romance, there are fewer and fewer print deals to be had now. The mass market format--which was always the bread and butter of the romance genre-- has gotten hugely impacted by the abundant availability and excellent price point offered by the digital format. Brick and mortar retailers have been disappearing and publishers are doing fewer print deals than they were before.
It is not uncommon for an agent to pitch a book seeking a print deal and end up with offers for digital 1st from the major Publishers, often with little to no advance. And there are many authors who aren't always compelled by that offer and may feel that they could have gotten a no-advance offer all by themselves without the help of an agent. And to be sure, there are many ePublishers that do not require agented submissions. So there are a lot more authors who now choose to self publish or to not partner with an agent and instead seek a path to publication directly.
Authors have more choices now so it is more likely now than it was 10 years ago that I could work with an author, pitch a book, receive an offer and have that author turn down the offer and decide to self publish instead. That is great for the author to have all those options. But occasionally less great for the agent. It kind of depends on what that agent has decided re: his or her relationship with the hybrid publishing model and self-publishing authors. I love authors. I work with them, I am friends with them and I fundamentally think it is a good thing that they have more choices now and that they can make their own path if they choose. I think it is great that they can forge new paths and publish work that is unexpected and outside the box and unconventional, things that maybe a traditional publisher may shy away from.
I think it is great that readers have more choices now about what to read and what format they choose to consume those books. I think in general, the changes have made the publishing landscape fresh and exciting. Hybrid publishing is exciting and success in self publishing can hugely influence an author's success in traditional publishing.
How many submissions do you receive per month? And what percentage of them ignore the specific requirements of your agency?
We get somewhere between 800-1000 submissions a month and we always have some that ignore the query guidelines. I have no idea what the percentages are. I get a handful of mailed queries every week. Those are ignoring guidelines since we haven't accepted mailed queries for something like 5 years. Everyday I get 3 or 4 queries sent to my personal email address. Those are also ignoring guidelines. I'd say every day, we get a handful that don't paste in a sample chapter, or who send attachments or who don't send a synopsis as instructed. But the vast majority of queriers do follow the guidelines.
You accept submissions from writers based outside of the US. Do you prefer their manuscripts to be written in American English before submitting? And if not, at what stage are these changes made?
What I want is for an author to submit material that is as close to pitch-ready as they can get it. If they want me to pitch their material about a cowboy in Texas to a US publisher, the material shouldn't be written in British English. It just seems like common sense to me. Most US publishers have American English style rules. If the book is set in England, that may be different. Or a book about Australian living in Australia. But if you are Canadian and writing a book set in the US that is intended for a US publisher, you have to know that colour is going to have to turn into color at some point. Why would you choose to have me make those changes or the publisher when you could do it? Sometimes style (British vs Canadian vs American) can have an effect on the mood of a piece and it can pull the reader out of the story if it feels jarring and wrong given the setting and characters. So that should be considered.
In your time as a literary agent, how many writers have you signed from the slush pile?
I have no idea the actual numbers. The vast majority of the authors I sign come from slush. That was really the case earlier in my career though now that I am more established I do sign a fair number of people that come through referrals and introductions and people I have met at conferences etc. But I'd say over the course of my career, I have probably signed 50 authors from the slush.
Although writers should always send polished final drafts to you, you do occassionally offer editorial assistance to your clients before sending their work out to your publishing contacts. Has this enabled you to see at first hand how a new client will handle the feedback of an editor once they land a book deal? And how important do you believe this early training is in the writer-editor relationship?
I edit and or polish everything before I pitch it. I don't think I have ever pitched a ms or proposal that I haven't touched in some way beforehand. As far as seeing how well an author handles feedback or editing before I sell them, that isn't completely determined through actually editing the work, but usually when discussing the changes or edits I have in mind when I am initially talking to them about representation in the first place. If I think a ms needs some work when I am looking at signing the author, I'd discuss it with the author on that initial call. If they seemed resistant or it felt like we were not on the same page, I probably wouldn't end up offering representation. Beyond that, how an author works with me on edits may be completely different from how they would work with their editor because everyone has a different communication style. They could work great with me and not work well with their editors. They could work well with me and then also work well with their editors but in a totally different way. So I don't really think of it as me training them to work with an editor. It is simply about crafting the best, most polished and sellable work.
How should writers send you their work, and what genres are you particularly interested in representing?
Any author interested in querying me should send a query letter and the 1st chapter of their ms and synopsis pasted into the body of an email. They should send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The submission guidelines are posted here.