“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Brian J. Wood) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Brian J. Wood of the agency Brian J. Wood Literary Agent enjoys bringing compelling sports stories to the marketplace. He is dedicated, passionate and has worked with Canada’s top sports television personalities.
He represents: nonfiction, specializing in sports titles. He represents both Canadian writers and American writers.
How and why did you become a literary agent?
I used to be a buyer for Indigo Books for their BC (British Columbia) stores. I would do local breakdowns for local titles. They more or less eliminated that job in 2004. A couple of months later, I was just at home watching television. Somebody that used to work at one of the main stores called me and said, “There’s a local author here who needs your help and he’s willing to pay for it.” I said, “Well, that sounds good.” For a year or two, I represented people who would sell published books with Trafford and iUniverse. I helped them get into book stores and try to get them reviews and interviews on radio and that kind of thing. I was kind of like a small time publicist. I was working with Whitecap Books (a cookbook publisher) about something and I said to them, “Why haven’t you done a book about Sophie’s (a popular Vancouver breakfast restaurant)?” They said, “Brian, if you bring her here, we’ll cut you in on the deal.” So, I called Sophie and, after a few months, we put together a little proposal and that was my first sale in February of ’06. When I was working on that one, another publisher said to me, “Brian, while you’re at it…” They had a couple of restaurants in mind and I sold those too. By early 2007, I had sold 4 cookbooks, so that’s how it got started.
Why did you shift your focus from cookbooks to nonfiction sports titles?
Cookbooks were doing well, but I wasn’t really making any money. I was watching TSN (Canada’s version of ESPN) as I often do and Bob McKenzie (TSN hockey expert) was doing a feature on, I think, training camp. I thought, “Boy, I bet there’s a book there. I’ve got to go after him.” So, luckily, I knew a friend of a friend of his. I grew up in Ottawa and the Ottawa Senators PR Director went to the same church I did when I was a kid, so I popped him a note and said, “Look, I know it’s been 25 years, but do you happen to have an e-mail for Bob McKenzie?” He goes, “Here you go. Good luck kid.” I popped Bob a note and he said basically, “Who the hell are you? But, you picked a good time to e-mail me because I am thinking of doing a book.” Bob was my first big sale.
Tell us about some notable books you’ve sold recently (publisher, title, author).
I guess the Mike Richards one is huge for me because that one took two years. Mike is a very good sports DJ at TSN 1050AM in Toronto. Before that, he had the number 1 sports talk show in Calgary for years. I think before that, he was a stand-up comedian. He is known throughout the country for his impressions: my own favorites are “Evil Jerry Howarth”, Bob Cole, Peyton Manning and Foster Hewitt. It’s going to be a fun book coming out next Christmas 2014. It’s called 100 Things Everyone Else Is Wrong About (Penguin Canada).
What is your favorite type of sports book to represent and why?
Books by guys like Bob McKenzie and James Duthie (TSN hockey personality) because they work so hard on their proposals. Really all I have to do is, once they’re finished, I just take them to the marketplace. I would include Al Strachan (former Hockey Night In Canada TV personality) in that group too. I love working with those 3 guys because they’re such professionals.
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Besides “good writing” and “voice,” what are you currently looking for and not receiving? What’s on your wish list and why?
What I am looking for is professional, polished proposals that the editors I work with will want. For instance, you know I have a website (which states my submission guidelines), because people send in so much garbage, I end up having to turn down 99 percent of it. By garbage I mean, getting my name wrong. One guy wanted to talk about the 2006 Berlin Olympics which I’m pretty sure never happened. I think he’s got the year and city wrong. So, I guess what I’m looking for is polished, professional proposals by people who know what they’re doing. As for a wish list, I wish that Terrell Owens (former NFL star) would call me, so I can do his book.
Since you’re a Canadian agent, do you prefer receiving queries within your country or are you also open to ones outside?
All I’m looking for is polished, professional proposals. I frankly don’t care where they’re from. If it’s something I think I can sell, I’ll start to work on it immediately.
For new nonfiction writers submitting book ideas, what do they need to impress you?
Platform and subject matter. The more of that they can bring me, the better. Say your name is John Smith and you’re working on a book on hockey all-star, Sidney Crosby. Make sure the Crosby family is on board with your project and they know who you are. Make sure you’ve got a column in The Hockey News or that you’re on TSN or Sportsnet or you’re somewhere where people can easily find you with your own blog or your own sports thing. You kinda need to have your own thing going on before you even contact me. Beyond that, this you already know, I’m looking for polished proposals that have had some thought go into them.
Regarding a writer’s platform, is there a set number of Twitter followers one must have to motivate you to give his book a chance?
If you’re somebody with 100,000 Twitter followers, you’ll probably get looked at much more quickly than somebody who has 345. Platform, unfortunately, is probably too important, but that’s just the way it is. If you check out my site, you will probably notice the Down Goes Brown book. That guy created his own platform from thin air and he’s basically turned himself into a minor little industry all in his own time. So, it can be done. I was able to sell his book easily.
What things should writers avoid when sending you submissions?
They really should read the submission guidelines thoroughly because I have to turn down so many people just because they haven’t read them. I would also encourage people to double and triple check their work because I get sent some real trash. I spend a good part of my week saying no because people just don’t pay attention.
Will you be at any upcoming writer’s conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
Nothing at this time.
Is there something personal about you writers would be surprised to know?
I have my own book coming out this fall. It’s a book of poems called Winter Walk. Every Canadian publisher I sent it to turned it down, but a small one in the U.S. said yes. I called the publisher and I said, “Hi, I’m an agent in Canada. Look, can I send you 3 of my best poems and if you like them, you can check the rest.” He goes, “Well, go ahead and send them, but I turn down 95 percent of what people send me.” I said, “I understand that. I can live with that.” Luckily enough, he wrote me in a week and said, “I want to be your publisher.” I said, “You got a deal.”
That was a happy, happy day.
Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
I would tell anyone reading this, before they look around for an agent, to make sure they’re contacting the right agent. I know it sounds obvious, but that’s the best advice I can give because otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Your Book’s First Lines Are So Important. Nail Them!
- NEW Agent Seeking Fiction Writers: Margaret Bail of Andrea Hurst Literary.
- The Importance of Being (Slightly) Arrogant — It Makes You a Better Writer.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Interview With Bruce Cameron, Creator of 8 SIMPLE RULES…
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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