An interview with literary agent Jaime Collins of The Nash Agency, by Shelley Carter née Timms
Firstly, introduce yourself! How did you find yourself in the Publishing industry?
Funnily enough, I started as a writer! After having my first baby, I figured I finally had time whilst on maternity leave to write a book. I threw myself into that one pretty hard, and [since] I didn’t know a thing about publishing or how to get published, I researched as much as I could about the industry. I made a lot of writer friends online, and some of those friends went on to become quite successful, which was really encouraging.
I met Haylee Nash years ago when I submitted my manuscript to Harlequin. Haylee ended up acquiring the Aus/NZ rights from the small American press I was with at the time, and although she ended up leaving HQN, we kept in touch. When my contract ended I followed Haylee to Pan Macmillan. Their digital imprint, Momentum, published my novel and, not long after that, Haylee ended up going out on her own to start The Nash Agency. I was so excited for her and I wanted to support her in any way I could considering she’d done so much for me with my writing, so I used her editorial services for another novel I was writing. It was great to work with her again, and to watch her agency grow.
Last year I started my graduate degree in Laws and Legal Practice, and one of my lecturers pointed out how difficult it is to start out as a lawyer in a law firm. She recommended we try to get a job in a field we absolutely love and use our legal qualifications as a bonus (what sort of business doesn’t need a lawyer?!). It was a really timely discussion because I’d just seen Haylee advertising for an intern, and the publishing industry is a field I truly feel passionate about. So I caught up with her while she was over from Sydney and it all just fell into place. Our tastes are almost identical and we share the same views, business-wise. She was happy for me to continue with my degree, as it will always be an advantage to both myself and to the business, so it couldn’t have been more perfect for me. Six months later she appointed me as a Junior Agent and I’m loving every minute of it!
What does a typical work day look like for you as an agent?
A typical day for me involves reading a bazillion emails, reading partial manuscript submissions, requesting full manuscripts, reading full manuscripts, reading publishing deal updates, researching editors, and conversing with authors and editors via email or phone. Not in that order, and sometimes at 2 A.M., but that’s the beauty of working from home in a global industry! Next year I’ll be aiming to go to conferences and meet more authors, and of course we’ve got our writers’ retreat in February (tickets still available via our website!), so I’m really excited about that!
It mentions on The Nash Agency website that prospective authors must email the first three chapters of their book for consideration by an agent – is there any advice you could give to a first-timer to make their chapters stand out to you?
[It’s] difficult to get those first chapters right, but this is where critique partners, or an editor, can really help elevate your story. I see a lot of submissions from authors where the beginning of their story actually starts in chapter three. If I can delete the first two chapters without affecting the story, then the story isn’t polished, and it makes me wonder just how much more work needs to be done on that manuscript.
What I’m looking for in the first three chapters is either an event, or the very noticeable calm before the storm. Ultimately, it’ll be the writing that shines, though. If your writing is natural and engaging, and the dialogue flows effortlessly, then you’ll grab my attention.
Have you noticed any common mistakes that authors make when pitching a manuscript?
A lot of writers start off with self-deprecating comments, which is sad. It’s like starting off a job interview by saying, “I’ve completed my degree, but I wasn’t the best in the class by a longshot, so you probably won’t hire me.” Agents don’t need to know you’ve never written a book before this one, or that you feel you have no idea what you’re doing. That might come up in conversation later, but it’s not something that needs to be focused on when trying to get an agent’s attention. All you need to do is follow guidelines, introduce yourself, stick to the details of your book, and you’ll do just fine.
As a published author yourself, what have you learned from your own personal experiences in terms of being published? Has it given you a different perspective, now that you work in the publishing industry?
I have learned a LOT as an author, but I still have a lot to learn! My biggest lesson, I think, was that I should believe in myself and my writing more, and that’s probably my biggest advice to writers now. Don’t jump at the first opportunity that comes knocking because you think you won’t get a better offer. I’ve heard so many horror stories, and recently I’ve seen a couple of people posting on Twitter asking whether they should accept a specific offer, and the replies stating, “It’s an offer! What is there to think about?! Take it!” That’s the WORST advice I’ve ever heard.
I’m not saying don’t accept offers from small presses—there are some great ones out there—you just really need to do your research and seek legal advice before accepting anything. If it’s not where you imagined your book would end up, then there’s no harm whatsoever in turning down the offer and holding off for a better one. Trends change, and next year your manuscript could be in demand!
In terms of perspective, I guess the only thing that stands out so far is that as a writer, it feels like forever when you’re waiting for an answer from an agent, but, as an agent, time goes by waaaaaaay too fast. That manuscript you requested last week? Well, it wasn’t last week—it was actually 5 weeks ago now, and there are still 9 manuscripts to read before you get to that one. So, yes, time moves differently on this side of the fence! As a writer, you just send your one baby off and count the minutes until you learn its fate. As an agent, I have around 158 babies waiting in my inbox for my attention this week.
You mention that you are particularly interested in Thrillers (as well as Middle Grade and YA) – what do you think makes a good thriller?
For me, a good thriller is one that pushes the boundaries. “The good guy always wins” isn’t always true, so I want a book that really leaves me guessing. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me, or whether it’s because I was brought up on Murder, She Wrote and LA Law, but I can usually see where a story is going! I don’t want cliché; I want to be blindsided.
Given your law background, do you have any pet peeves when it comes to reading crime/thriller books? In what ways could authors be more aware of plot construction regarding the law?
Actually, it’s more my medical background that makes me question a story! Law is tricky; every state/country is different, and you have a lot more wiggle room with fiction when it comes to the law. However, our bodies never change, and if you stab your villain 27 times and then throw him off a 100-foot high bridge into muddy rapids, only to have him come back days later (with bandages made out of dirty leaves) and attack you in the last chapter, I’m going to seriously cross-examine you. (This has never happened in a manuscript I’ve read, but you get the picture!)
Lastly, we ask each interviewee for book recommendations!
WELL. This is probably the hardest question! I guess my go-to recommendations are:
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
The Delirium series by Lauren Oliver
I’ve just finished reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey and really enjoyed it
Right now I’m reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and I’m loving it.