This time we put our questions to Louise Lamont, literary agent extraordinaire at AP Watt Ltd. in the UK.
Ria has worked with Louise for several years and when she and Hannah were planning the How She Does It series, she immediately thought: Louise would be amazing to interview. It’s fascinating to get a window into another facet of publishing, one that has things in common with both the writer’s end and the publisher’s. Many people aren’t aware of the amount of editing a manuscript can go through with an agent before it even sees an editor at a publishing house. Louise is an excellent editor, and given her answer below, clearly spends a lot of her life reading and working with manuscripts. So much the better for her clients!
Without further ado, here’s the charming and talented Louise Lamont…
How did you come to be doing what you do?
I’d never really considered agenting* as a career – when I thought of working in publishing, I didn’t really think beyond being an editor. Actually I didn’t think beyond the lunches. But then I did a holiday placement at a literary agency: three of us squeezed into a cupboard/office off our boss’s kitchen, during the hottest summer London has ever known.
I don’t remember doing anything much except be shocked by the presence of a landline phone in their bathroom (to answer, to not answer…). But I do remember how appealing this agenting malarkey was: it came down to the zing of finding good writing and doing something about it. It seemed like fun. BUT DID I FOCUS ON GETTING A PROPER JOB IN PUBLISHING AFTER UNIVERSITY LIKE A SMART PERSON WOULD? No. I moseyed off to do internships** at film companies; found myself working in a designer baby clothes shop; decided the dream was over.Then one day I went for an interview at the world’s first/oldest/longest-established literary agency, AP Watt Ltd. I started a few days later as their receptionist, and have stuck around ever since, like a literary limpet.
*My spellcheck doesn’t recognise the word ‘agenting’. Way to judge, Microsoft Word; I thought you’d be on my side.
** Just remembered I also chose this point to do a Masters, in Canada, in medieval studies. I think we can all guess how useful that has been.
What is your proudest career moment so far?
Being sent to Kensington to buy underpants for the head of Miramax. (Except the person sending me was too embarrassed to say underpants, so they told me ‘white shorts.’ I went to the shop, couldn’t find their white shorts selection, had to use the shop phone to call the office just to clarify those instructions…). They could have chosen any of the interns, but they picked me! Oh the honour.
Also: answering all 15 questions Ria had about our terms of representation, hopefully to her satisfaction.
What about your work brings you the most joy?
Truly: any time I get an offer for a book. Whenever that happens, I shoot both my arms in the air and stare at my colleagues like a loon. When things go particularly well, I take to reciting Josh Lyman’s Keg of Glory speech*.
Also: reading an author’s manuscript – either for the first time, or after revisions. That’s the fundamental joy to it all.
Also: being introduced to new things by my clients. Ria, for instance, is responsible for my discovering the pleasures of Issa, certain brands of chocolate, and John Green.
*It goes like this: ‘victory is mine, victory is mine: great day of the morning, people, victory is mine. I drink from the keg of glory, Donna; bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.’
Who is your biggest supporter / cheerleader?
While all my family are very supportive, I have to single out my mother for sheer commitment to the cause. No prospective author within a ten mile radius of her goes unqueried. Christmas lunch has become a chance for her to review APW’s stance on e-books. One year she found out who was on the Booker shortlist before we did. That was a high/low point.
What do you enjoy least about your work?
Turndowns can only hurt when you believe in the author and their book. It’s hard to strike that balance in your response to a turndown between respect for another person’s [wrong] opinion and…well…the opposite of that.
What quality do you think is the most important for a person to be successful in your field?
How do you juggle the work you do with your other demands or responsibilities?
Reading and editing are done out of the office, and I prefer to have long stretches of quiet afternoon or evening to read a book all in one go: it’s easier that way for me to see if a book holds together. So weekends are mostly given over to that, and there is always plenty of reading to do.
Which book(s) made a big impact on your life? Why?
The two books whose influence I can see most immediately in my life are BOY by Roald Dahl and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by LM Montgomery.
BOY, it turned out, was much better preparation for boarding school than Malory Towers.
AOGG (I have to be honest: I am conflating the 1985 miniseries with the book): everyone thinks of Anne as a drippy, dreamy character – but everyone is probably mixing her up with Pollyanna. Anne is bad-tempered, judgmental and stubborn; her stories are terrible; she knows how to hold a grudge; and, most importantly, she sees no reason why she can’t compete with the boys when it comes to her education – and she never apologises for her ambitions. Jo March has nothing on plain old unromantic Anne Shirley.
Who was your favourite author as a child?
I was obsessed with Anne Frank. All my diary entries began ‘Dear Kitty’ and ended ‘Yours, Anne’, and my doll house furniture was rearranged to look like the Secret Annexe.
Digital reader or paper? Why?
I know I have to be open to the possibilities of the digital revolution, and objectively I am (I really am! Nothing currently angers me more than publishers’ unfounded resistance to a rising e-book royalty), but on some level I will always be vaguely suspicious of people who actually prefer digital readers to paper.
Do you eat while you read? If so, what?
A friend of Katharine Hepburn’s once said you could always tell when she’d read a book because of the tell-tale chocolate crumbs between the pages. Good enough for Hepburn, good enough for me.
Also: blueberries. No sugar, no cream. Just blueberries.
Who is on your dream dinner party guest list?
Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges; Joel McCrea and Allison Janney; Barack and Michelle Obama; Tom Lehrer and Judy Garland; Michael Chabon and David Nicholls.
The best meal of your life was….?
The dinner I ordered every night for a week at a hotel in Blois. In particular, the dessert – to this day I don’t even know what it was; I can only describe what it was not. It was like a baked Alaska, but not; the centre had the texture of frozen banana ice cream, but not the iciness; the next layer was like meringue or marshmallow, but somehow lighter; there was coulis; there was a sprig of mint. I will never forget you, Gratin de Banane or whatever you were.
What is the most important non-food thing in your kitchen?
The cookbook my dad bought me during my post-grad studies. It’s called ‘The Reluctant, Nervous, Lazy, Broke, Busy, Confused College Student’s Cookbook’; ten years on, I still cling to it as I try to make an omelette.
If we could “beam you up” anywhere in the world for a meal, where would it be,
what would it be and with whom?
Right now, I’d like to go to Noma in Copenhagen to try out their mad mossy menu (http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-of-food-at-noma-in-copenhagen-2013-3?op=1); for company, I’d like the entire cast of Danish political drama Borgen, and Sofie Grabol from The Killing. Tak.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
‘Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true King.’ Maybe Mufasa didn’t direct those words right at me, but still: good to know.
Sum up your life right now in three words.
What the heck.