11 March 2015

Lorella Belli - Literary Agent

Hampshire Writers' Society

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Lorella Belli 

Literary Agent, Lorella Belli Literary Agency.

 E-books, Publishing and Self-Publishing: an agent's view
What are the pros and cons of getting a traditional deal or choosing the self-publishing route? In this rapidly changing landscape, what is the role of the agent?

Report by Lisa Nightingale

It was Lorella Belli’s ambition to set up her own agency. She set out to know the publishing industry inside out. Her brief to discover ‘new blood’ gave her not just invaluable insider experience, but introduced her to many unpublished authors.

‘An agent works for their Author.’ Lorella says. As an agent, her primary concern and something which she feels forms a vital part of the agent/author partnership is; ‘What does the author want from their writing?’

She is the first to declare that the agent’s role in the modern author’s career remains unchanged regardless of chosen route of publication – self or traditional. An area of particular interest is the protection and exploitation of the author’s rights and here, Lorella is well versed and undeniably diva.

For the most part, a writer wants readers, they want to see their work in a bookshop. Equally, it is important to recognise the financial aspects of a writer’s career. Both the traditional route and the contemporary self-publishing route provides remuneration, but in different ways.

It is her belief that an agent has a responsibility to be aware of the many platforms of publication available to authors both new and experienced, how those platforms work and therefore be able to fit the author to the best publisher.

Lorella Belli and Barbara Large

Lorella’s agency is vocational towards the needs of an author. There is no room for the agent’s preciousness over writing. ‘So what if the book is ‘trashy’.’ Lorella says, ‘If the writer is happy, then their readers are happy and so is the publisher.’

An author can retain some control over publishing decisions e.g. the cover even through the traditional route. An informed agent will know to insert such clauses into their contract. Similarly, self-publishing has given the publishing houses some much needed competition – authors now have an alternative.

However, authors must be aware that by choosing the self-publishing route, they are choosing to take on their career in its entirety and inevitably this will cut into writing time. A publishing house provides editing, a marketing department, a sales department and publicity.

The traditional route may seem like it is taking its time, whereas self-publishing can be a whirlwind. Of course this is after the author has learned all the skills needed to be a publisher.

One huge pro for the appointment of an agent – they get the hurtful rejections! However, an agent of Lorella’s talent will believe in the book and wants to see it published. It is that agent’s job to spot the writer’s talent and therefore their target audience.

It is hugely important that authors remain professional. When an agent is passionate about a book and has an author that they can build on, they will stand more chance of promoting it, even if it does not appear to fit, or is the wrong length.

Even to an agent as talented as Lorella, the next big thing is a mystery. There will always be the wild card – who could have predicted 50 Shades of Grey? However, a writer can keep their eye on publicity to hang on e.g. the Olympics.

As a writer grows more successful, their chosen path can become more complex. Lorella suggests building a team, delegate, remember the AAA (Association of Authors’ Agents) and ask an agent for advice. That is the bottom line of their job – to work for the author.
An agent’s website will state what they are looking for. There is no divide between male and female, it is all down to what that agent wants to feel when reading a book. For Lorella, it is what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.

The members present were left in no doubt of Lorella’s message – the agent works for the author, no one else, not themselves, not the publishers. Just the author. They thanked her for her candid, refreshing approach and dependably constant open door.

HWS Special Guests. Tuesday 10 March 2015.
Moira Blackwell and Liz Nankivel, joint authors of the Binky Bear books.

Now on their third title, Binky Goes to London, Lizzy and Moira are completely self-published.
Being a parent reader at a local school, Lizzy acquired a good feel for what children like to read. This gave the two women confidence when the traditional publishing route closed to them saying; ‘stories with photograph pictures will not sell.’
As partners, every decision and every woe is shared. As are their venture’s financial commitments. Lizzy advised us that using grants from the European Structural and Investment Funds, they attended locally run business courses.

Liz Nankivel and Moira Blackwell
The two authors keep to a strict business type functionality when making decisions. Once they settled on their chosen format things moved quickly. Within a year they were selling Binky books from a stall at Arlesford. Moira admitted to having to become brazen about their sales – marching into bookshops and asking the manager to put the book on the shelves. ‘When you’ve done it once, it gets easier’, she says. They now have some prestigious outlets including Harrods, Selfridges, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Binky Bear is one hundred percent British. He is printed using Cedar Press in Romsey and with the Union Jack branding, Moira and Lizzy now have an opening to sell Binky in Florida.

Claire Fuller. Author of Our Endless Numbered Days.

Forty-seven year old, mum of two, HWS member Claire refused to be dissuaded from writing when she was advised by a writer less than half her age, who had met her agent at a party and been signed up, that what matters is not what you know, but who you know.
Claire is proud of her writing and enjoyed it. She began an MA in Creative Writing and Our Endless Numbered Days was her dissertation. But she cannot say that her consequent success was secured by the MA. However, she is adamant that a writer should find a good writing group who will critique constructively.
Our Endless Numbered Days was submitted to a lot of agents, many of which Claire did not hear from at all. Her pitch letter stuck rigidly to the requirements stated on the Agent’s website. ‘See it as a job application.’ she advises, ‘If the application is asked for in one way, you would not submit it another.’ She also listed her previous publications which gave her credibility.
The agent that Claire chose wanted a face-to-face meeting. This told her that the agent was checking her out to ensure that she was workable with. It is worth remembering that an agent must sell the author as well as the book.
Once signed, Our Endless Numbered Days was ready for publication in 19 months. Debuts are published in the Spring. Claire’s enviable deal is for one book, so although the publisher is harassing her for book two, she can relax - book two is passed draft one.

Claire and her publisher, Penguin will be hosting a workshop at the Winchester Writer’s Festival this year. We hope that success will not go to her head and she will return to keep us updated on her future successes.

March 2015 Competition Report

Competition Report 10th March 2015

Write a Romantic Encounter – Falling in Love

The lovely, lively Lorella Belli was the main speaker last night and also the adjudicator. She gave a refreshing look at the world of writing and inspired many of our members to try different routes into publishing. Read the main report for the full account of the evening.

Lorella’s assessment was based on the following criteria;

1) readability (based on the submitted piece alone, rather than how it might fit into a longer piece of fiction, for example as part of a novel)
2) writing itself (both the use of language, metaphors, word association, etc; and even more avoiding clichés, stereotypical imagery, and even spelling, for example)
3) originality of concept/idea
4) characterization and scene building
5) pace, flow and element of surprise/suspense/mystery
6) final twist

Lorella’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: David Lea, Killer Heels
‘This entry won because it ticked all the above boxes: Enjoyable and clear/clean writing (ie. careful and meaningful choice of words, which is key especially in a short piece); well observed, structured and vividly-described scene, one can picture it very easily. Characters well introduced and relatable; good use of dialogue; catchy title and nice element of surprise at the end, it makes you wish to read more of it.’

 2nd Prize: Honey Stavonhagen, Midsummer Mountain
‘Very much enjoyed the writing here, carefully selected and measured use of language; I also liked the originality of this entry, not the obvious theme or scene to describe 'a romantic encounter', so it shows imagination and flair. Good sense of pace and great last sentence. It's the kind of piece one needs to re-read to appreciate the work which has gone into it I feel.’

Lorella said she couldn't separate the third place winners even though they are two very different pieces:

3rd Prize: Diane Batten, A Romantic Encounter at the Rec
‘A witty and entertaining read, characterization spot on, which is not easy to do in a short piece, and lovely use of 1st person narrative (and dialogue to go with it). Good balance of action and description. Lovely punch line at the end. (But not so keen on the usual description of 'a tall dark haired guy with broad shoulders', which is used endlessly in romantic fiction and should really be avoided).’

3rd Prize: Amie Simons, The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon
‘I enjoyed this modern day fairy tale scene.  Original idea (falling in love with the moon rather than a man) and liked the fact it combined the everyday ordinary act of doing the dishes to being magically transported to another time and place, the daffodils being the trigger for it  (and as yellow as the moon). Great title and loved the last sentence.’

Highly Commended: Linda Page, Didn’t See that One Coming
‘A Sweet story which will touch the heart of anyone who cared and looked after a pet. What seems like a clichéd relationship and description at the beginning, turns into a surprising and moving ending when we realize the 'big, dark, handsome fella' is not a man.’

Winners Amie Simons, Honey Stavonhagen and David Lea
Prizes and Awards:
The 2nd and 3rd prizes were signed copies of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, and a copy of Claire Fuller’s debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days was given to the winner, David Lea. David, as the winner of the last three competitions, already had a copy of the Snowden Files. A signed Certificate of Adjudication from Lorella Belli completed the prizes. The winning entries are shown below:

1st Prize: Killer Heels - Copyright © David Lea, 2015

We reached Clapham Junction and people bundled over us and around us to get out of the carriage – him on the floor, face grey with shock, and me trying to be a one-woman protective shield. I went as if to help him up, but he made no attempt to move. I should have worn my flatties.

‘Why did you do that?’
‘God, I’m so sorry’, I said, ‘I thought it was you.’
‘Thought what was me?’
His foot was very long and narrow in his hands. And the hands were abnormally long and thin - delicate without being womanly.
He is a pianist: I know that now.
Good job he wasn’t a dancer.

‘Somebody was rubbing themselves up against me.’
‘And you thought it was me.’
‘Whoever it was, he was behind me.’
‘Rubbing yourself against someone for the purpose of sexual excitement - often practised while clothed and in a public place.’
‘You seem very familiar with the subject.’
‘I went to public school – we know about these things.’

I had been standing with my Evening Standard resting nicely on the back of the black woman in front of me when I felt something pressing up against my bottom. I knew what it was and tried to shift forward, but he just eased up against me and settled into the rhythm of the train. So I stepped back, took my left foot off the ground and let all my weight go through my right heel.

I tried to ease his shoe off, but he put his hand over mine.
‘It wasn’t me, you know: elderly gent, thin, blue overcoat.’
He smiled up at me - floppy fringe, knobbly cheekbones, grey-blue eyes.
And I still don’t know why I did it, but I kissed him.
On the lips.

2nd Prize: Midsummer MountainCopyright © Honey Stavonhagen, 2015

Have you ever free-wheeled down a mountain in midsummer?  It all starts so innocently; a lingering sip of the view, a heart-warming breath, and then the dive that causes your legs to spin in giddy rotations.  You are blissfully blinded by the vibrant colours of the setting sun.  The steep mountain path encourages your speed, while the wind entices the air out of your lungs and steals it away.  You’re moving too fast. 

Your stomach once filled with moths is teeming with rhinos, agitated and jostling.  Lifting your feet from their haven on the crossbar, you try to reunite them with their pedals.  But the treadles are livid.  They stab at your shins pitting them with bruises and the brakes rigidly mock your pleas to stop. You want to get off.  

You look to the verge. There’s no hassock of grass only a row of hardboiled kerbstones. Weary legs grope for the ground, but the tarmac steals their sandals and your wounded feet retreat like slugs from salt.  Forlorn.  Your heart fills your ears with its pulsating song.  You must stop.  Wrenching the handlebar clean off the bike you’re shaking, your steed unbalanced and slaloming.  You close your eyes tight and swallow your pride. It will soon be over.

The front wheel is struck by an unseen obstacle and thrown from your saddle you spiral though the air and land in the comforting arms of a bush.  But the pain in your limbs exposes their thorns, which shred your pricked skin as you flail to get free. You sink ever deeper. The sun is eclipsed and you’re alone in the dark, crying and wishing you’d never set eyes on that midsummer mountain, which looked so inviting and tempted you down to the depths of despair. This is love most unfair. 

3rd Prize: A Romantic Encounter at the Rec Copyright © Diane Batten, 2015

Northbury has to be the worst place in the Western Hemisphere for night life. Dull brick houses, a couple of dismal pubs which smell of stale beer and school dinner cabbage, and a supermarket.  I use the word ‘super’ in its loosest form.  Personally I see nothing super about trying to get a tin of beans from the top shelf of an aisle so thin even a super model would struggle to navigate it.

Northbury was also the home of my Ex Chris.  Things had been running along smoothly with him, until he was caught kissing mouthy Martina. Chris claimed he’d been practising First Aid but the Instagram pictures were compelling. After that I trusted the local talent about as much as the kebabs from Dodgy Dave’s Van.

A visit to the White Lion with Jo met all my expectations.  Warm vodka and lime, crisps so dry they could have been unearthed from an archaeological dig and old men clustered like vampire bats outside the side door in a fog of smoke.  When Jo said “Lets go to the Rec” it was almost a relief. 

Of course the Burger Van was down at the Park and Jo can never resist a kebab.  I went along with it though greasy meat and limp bread isn’t my idea of meal.  Someone nudged me and said “You don’t want that do you?” I turned around and saw a tall dark haired guy with broad shoulders, clearly not local.  He held out his hand.

“I’m Phil” 

As I clasped his fingers my stomach lurched.  For once it wasn’t because of Dave’s kebabs.

3rd Prize: The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon Copyright © Amie Simons, 2015

On the night that the girl travelled back in time, people from all over the world loved and laughed and sang songs from their souls.

Aurelia did not mean to time travel but her unconscious was an illusionist, creating unexpected things to the eyes of her world. As she stood at the kitchen sink, delving soft hands into frothy water making it dance, the daffodils that her husband had brought sat patiently on the windowsill in a plastic cup, waiting to be noticed.

It was as the girl stroked a wooden spoon with a dishcloth that the nostalgic scent finally seized her, in an instant pulling her from one moment to another, as if time and space were as boundless as she.

By the daffodils the little girl sat once more wrapped in her dressing gown, their crowned heads bowing to the dark sky, a stream of moonlight beams turning the flowers into ghosts. The woods below looked like shadow lands where bony arms and fingers waited to pull her into the depths. But the girl was not afraid because when she tilted her head upwards, sending her eyes flying into the universe, Aurelia discovered a torch. In its primordial arms she was held, her soul illuminated through an unspoken understanding of all things. Over the hill, in the distance, her parent’s emotions could still be heard setting fire to the house. For once though, Aurelia neither noticed nor cared for her heart was on fire too for that was the night that she fell in love with the moon.

In Conclusion:
The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition. It had been a very good turnout with 22 submissions, and Lorella said there had been an interesting mix of genres and styles, as well as some very good writing.

Next month’s competition is to write the first two pages of a novel in an exotic setting. Rebecca Smith will be our adjudicator. Rebecca is a Teaching Fellow in English and Creative Writing in the School of Humanities at the University of Southampton and is very pleased to be joining us.  

Please email your entries to the Competition Secretary, Jim Livesey competitions.hwsAThotmail.com by noon (BST) 1st April 2015. (Please replace AT with @)

Please read HWS Competition rules