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Ampersand Agency Interview

Posted on 25 November 2005. © Copyright 2004-2017 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Peter Buckman of the Ampersand Agency about what makes his heart sing or sink, and how he manages to respond to submissions in under a month

Tell us all about the agency; history, ethos, your list etc

I started The Ampersand Agency in 2003, having been a publisher in London and New York and then a full-time writer. Agenting has always been part of my life, as I’m married to Rosie, who runs The Buckman Agency (handling foreign rights) with our older daughter Jessica. Rosie was taught the business by Peter Janson-Smith, who represented Ian Fleming, Eric Ambler, and other great writers, and I sought his advice on starting up. He is now Ampersand’s consultant, and brought us the Georgette Heyer Estate. We have some thirty writers, ranging from first-time novelists like Will Davis to much-published authors like Beryl Kingston and Philip Purser. It’s a business in which you have to combine instinct with experience, knowing what works and who to send it to, and having contacts in all media here and in the USA means we can offer a full range of services despite our small size. And in a publishing climate that has got harsher even in the two years we’ve been going, translation rights – handled by The Buckman Agency – form an important part of our clients’ income.

How do you find your writers?

Most of them seem to find us, either through related websites or word of mouth. We respond quickly, honestly, and personally to all enquiries; we read all sample material sent to us; we contact new writers offering our services (but never poach, of course); we come up with ideas and try and match them to writers. We get around 100 submissions a week, and our response time is under a month. The close personal and professional relationships we have with our writers also gets us recommended.

Favourite writers and why?

I wouldn’t dream of publicly favouring some of our authors at the expense of others. Nor would I want to list my own favourites among the classic greats, as I’d then be deluged by people claiming to write like them.

What excites you about a piece of writing- what keeps you interested?

An intriguing opening, obviously, and a good story told in a distinctive voice and peopled by credible characters. Even non-fiction needs a narrative to bind it together and keep you reading. And the art of keeping things simple is much under-appreciated.

-and what makes your heart sink?

Self-consciously “literary” writing. Lists of facts and slabs of background research material. The overuse of the present tense. Lengthy synopses and character descriptions. Prologues in italics.



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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Comments by other Members



EmmaD at 22:12 on 25 November 2005  Report this post
Interesting and practical stuff. So much is rumoured and agonised over about agents; it's nice to have a straightforward take on the business.

Emma

<Added>

And I'm with him on over-use of the present tense!

Luisa at 20:50 on 26 November 2005  Report this post
Very interesting.

But what's 'over-use of the present tense'? Surely your book is either written in present tense or in past tense...

Luisa



Anna Reynolds at 11:12 on 27 November 2005  Report this post
Plenty of books dip from present to past tense.

Jago at 16:11 on 27 November 2005  Report this post
And their website is pretty straight-to-the-point too.

Jumbo at 21:22 on 27 November 2005  Report this post
How wonderful!!

Jad at 06:03 on 28 November 2005  Report this post
Thanks for the interview Peter, it was refreshing to read what your agency is all about, and for what you shared with us for first time writers.

And your advice on 'over description of characters' was much appreciated as this is one of my errors, but I'm working on it.

Do you really dislike 'prologues'? Or any other agent for that matter, because I've included one in my second book, and an 'epilogue'

I really enjoyed the interview, so thanks again.

Julie

Derek at 09:47 on 28 November 2005  Report this post
Hi Peter,

How are you? I had a story 'Fussy Felicity and Grotty Griselda' on your storyzone website which has sadly closed down but I do want to thank you for the encouragment you gave me in relation to my writing and for having the faith to upload the story. Have since had a children's novel published entitled 'Back up the Beanstalk' which is doing well so hopefully it's onwards and upwards...

Derek Keilty

Gulliver at 12:29 on 28 November 2005  Report this post
For general info - contacted this agency by email to see if they were looking at new work. Not at the moment. Client list is full.

<Added>

Also did a random check on their author's list (through Amazon). Some have published works but the majority have no published works available yet. This probably explains why their list is closed - too busy trying to place existing clients.

Luisa at 16:30 on 28 November 2005  Report this post
I take the point that some novels mix tenses, but I still don't understand what 'overuse of the present tense' is. Using it once? Five times? Throughout a whole book? I assume it means using it badly. Whatever that means...


Luisa at 17:56 on 28 November 2005  Report this post
It worked perfectly, Myrtle, and that was a very interesting discussion. Thank you for that.

Luisa

Zigeroon at 14:45 on 29 November 2005  Report this post

Another interesting interview, thank you Peter, thank you Writewords.

choille at 15:18 on 29 November 2005  Report this post
Yes interesting. Thanks.

Account Closed at 10:46 on 30 November 2005  Report this post
I was rejected by the Ampersand about two years ago, but the advice they provided was valuable, and made a refreshing change from the form rejection letters I was getting at the time. That is always appreciated.

JB

Ian Smith 100 at 08:44 on 07 December 2005  Report this post
It's good to see that not all agents are hopelessly out-of-touch, incapable of reacting to change, and unprepared to put in any work to create new markets. Well done.

Ian

Neil Nixon at 09:32 on 19 December 2005  Report this post
Agree with the above, some common sense and pragmatism in evidence in this interview. Very welcome.


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