Monday, 15 March 2010

In the steam room

Last week I had an interesting lunch when I finally caught up with an old friend. Lillian works for a leading London literary agency (how’s that for alliteration for you?). She isn’t exactly an agent herself, although that remains her ambition. She’s fairly new to the whole business, having spent two years since her English degree as an editorial assistant with a publisher.

At the moment a big part of her job is to steam the stamps off the slush pile. You see, they receive about 200 unsolicited manuscripts a week. That’s around 10,000 a year, for those of you who blushed in the Maths classroom. In her first twelve months, Lillian was able to generate almost £12,500 in free revenue from the stamps she painstakingly peels off the SAEs.

It’s a lucrative source of revenue and brings in more than the agents are able to make on many of the books they tout to publishers. It also covers most of her salary. The steaming only takes about four hours each day, which leaves her enough time to take on other responsibilities like driving the rejected manuscripts down to Kent to the pulp merchant for recycling. At £140 per ton, the agency is able to bring in a good chuck of extra cash that way too.

Recently Lillian had a flash of inspiration. She’s found a way to increase the revenue eightfold. Her idea has been supported by the head of the agency and Lillian’s been given a pay rise. What they do now is ask for a full manuscript from all the writers who submit to them. By requesting the full via email they don’t have to use the SAEs that come with the original three chapters. They require a second SAE for return of the full, and the beauty of it is that this one comes with a whacking great average stamp value of more than £5.

That’s for an industry standard literary novel of 80,000 words. Blockbusters that weigh in at 120,000 to 140,000 words are even more profitable. They come plastered with stamps worth £7-8. Recently Lillian amended the submission guidelines on the agency website to say, We are particularly interested in longer fiction – please send the first six chapters (don’t forget to include an SAE) and we will promptly inform you if we would like to read the full manuscript.

This increases the whole steaming business to an annual value of over £80,000. In fact it’s a lot more when you add the scrap value of all those eternal reams of double spaced white paper. Lillian now gets a fifty percent bonus. When I questioned the ethics of this over an extra glass of Montagny, she pointed out, somewhat defensively, that her labour means that many writers who would never normally receive more than a standard rejection slip now have the frisson of being asked for a full manuscript. It’s an experience they will treasure for life. And you have to admit that, in these troubled times, it’s encouraging to hear that someone is able to make a living out of literature.

28 comments:

Rosy T said...

Rod, you are a wicked, wicked man.

Old Kitty said...

Hi

I always new steaming stamps was a lucrative business!

There's gold in them thar philately!

:-)

Take care
x

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Hilarious!
Fab stuff as always Rod. x

Karen said...

What a norty post! For a second there I really wanted to be a stamp peeler :o)

Bernadette said...

If only I didn't have a sneaking feeling that there was less tongue in that cheek than I would hope!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Love it!
Susiex

Ellen B said...

Loved this! :D

Gillian McDade said...

:) Great post for a Monday morning, Rod. More, please!

Emerging Writer said...

This explains a lot. I wasn't paranoid, but clairvoyant. Thanks for the giggle

Caro said...

I'm convinced that every word of this is true. Great post, Rod!

The Virtual Victorian said...

So funny! I love it.

Helen Black said...

PMSL.
HBx

CarolineG said...

LOL, LOL and LOL again...

I particularly loved: '....the frisson of being asked for a full manuscript.'

LOL!

Xuxana said...

very funny

Paul said...

I knew it! I just knew it!

Emma Darwin said...

Brilliant!

Emma

Roderic Vincent said...

Thank you, everyone, for your generous remarks. I can't comment as Strictly Writing is being sued by the agency concerned, and I've been advised to keep schtum. Don't worry, though, we have an excellent lawyer on the team (Helen), and if the worst comes to the worst, the blogger account is in Caroline's name, so she's the one who will go to prison for my art.

CarolineG said...

I knew this was going to happen...only a matter of time.

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Sorry Caroline, I snorted out loud!

Lydia said...

Hilarious and I'm afraid less untrue than we'd like!
www.lydiajones.co.uk/blog

Debs Riccio said...

I'm scared to make this comment... because until I read all the comments following it, I actually thought it was true... oh god, does this make me the resident blonde?
(you're right, Caroline, I should have realised with the 'frisson', I know, I know...)
*hangs head in embarrassment*

Debby Waldron said...

Great site Rod! And I love this post post....

Roderic Vincent said...

Debby, how lovely to see you here. Please sign up as a follower of Strictly. And keep on writing!

Roderic Vincent said...

Debs, you can't be serious! I'm still laughing at your comment. Quite flattering to think I nearly passed this off.

Derek said...

Genius! And maybe they're delaying my next rejection to see if the cost of stamps will go up in the meantime.

Debs Riccio said...

Rod, in my defence I did read it at stupid o'clock in the morning the minute I woke up...

Brian Keaney said...

I actually believed this for the first three paragraphs.

Debs Riccio said...

Thank flip, Brian!