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Agent Symposium Series -- International Writers

Question: is frequently used by international writers looking for literary representation. However, our AQ database mostly includes US agents selling to US publishers. Are you open to receiving queries from Canadian, British, Australian, and other international authors (writing in English) who would like to sell to the US market? Are there special considerations and challenges that international writers face when querying US literary agents? Would you encourage international writers to first find representation in their own country, or does a great book have no geographic boundaries?

* agents' responses are listed in the order that they were received

LITERARY AGENT: Jenny Bent - Trident Media Group, LLC
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You know, I get this question quite frequently, and I have always been baffled by it. A good book is a good book. As long as it’s written in English, I don’t care where the author lives. I have sold books by authors writing from London and Canada, and it just hasn’t even remotely been an issue.

One sort of aside, however. In terms of prescriptive non-fiction, authors should understand that it means absolutely nothing to me or a publisher if you have a large platform in say, Australia, and your book sold very well there. This will not help you get published in America unless you also have a very large platform here. So I guess what I’m saying above mostly applies to fiction and memoir, NOT prescriptive non-fiction.

LITERARY AGENT: Miriam Kriss - Irene Goodman Literary Agency
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A great book is a great book. There are of course things that are going to play bigger in some cultures than in others, but if you have something North American audiences will respond to, we don't care where you live, we want to see it. One of my biggest clients, Keri Arthur, is actually Australian, and her books are set in her home city of Melbourne. But they're fantastically dark and sexy reads and the setting only adds to their flavor. Being an international author can be an asset in many cases.

I think the biggest challenge international authors looking for representation face over domestic ones is simply postage and mailing times. Since many agents accept email queries that isn't an issue for them, and some agents who normally don't accept email queries may be willing to make an exception for overseas authors (I often do). After you're published being on another continent may make some forms of publicity more challenging, but that's not a reason to avoid seeking representation here if you've got a story to sell.

LITERARY AGENT: Lucienne Diver - Spectrum Literary Agency
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All I ask of any novelist is that he or she blow me away and not in such a way as to get anyone incarcerated. I actually try to forget what I might know about a novelist -- whether they've been previously published, what kind of forum they have -- so that I can read the material unbiased and fall in love or not on the merits of the narrative. If I'm on the fence, I might reread the author's background and allow it to sway me to one side or the other, but, generally, if I'm not so excited I pole-vault the fence, my mind has already been made up.

I do think there are some special considerations, primarily when it comes to withholding taxes and paperwork. Also, more expenses are incurred on both sides in terms of postage (we don't accept electronic submissions, so we're talking mailing and international response coupons for querying) and telephone calls. However, I'm willing to go the extra mile for anything that energizes me like a fantastic new novel will.

LITERARY AGENT: Kristin Nelson - Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
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I am open to receiving queries from all over the world. Good writing really has no boundary. The writer must be writing in English though. I’ll often get queries in French and Spanish. French I can answer (but I wouldn’t want to read a full manuscript in it!). For queries in Spanish, I sometimes have a friend translate and then write a note in Spanish outlining that submissions need to be in English. Or, I’ll just reply in English and hope there is someone on the other end to translate.

And there are special considerations and challenges—but none that are insurmountable. For example, I have a New Zealand author who currently lives in Australia Cheryl Sawyer, author of SIREN, THE CHASE, and CODE OF LOVE/Penguin Group). In order for her to be paid by her U.S. publisher, she had to complete an ITIN (International Tax Identification Number) form with the U.S. IRS (which is no fun and a long process). You also have to look up the U.S. tax treaty with whichever foreign country the writer resides in (which takes a little research because the IRS doesn’t make it simple). Then a W8-BEN form needs to be completed so her American publisher can withhold only 5% for taxes rather than the standard 30% if none of these forms are completed.

I wire her any payments and I do so in U.S. Dollars. She has a special account to receive those monies in U.S. currency (and she has it so it’s easier on me).

The only other drawback is that most of our communication is really done by email. If there is a bigger issue, it’s hard to just pick up the phone and call (with time differences etc.). Obviously that wouldn’t be as a big a deal if a writer was Canadian. It’s easy to call north of the border.

Would I encourage International writers to find representation in their own country first? If you are British, I think you should attempt to find a UK agent first. If that doesn’t happen, it’s okay to expand the pool because there are a lot more agents here in the U.S.

And just to be clear, I don’t handle works in translation (as in a work was published in the author’s native language in his or her country and now the author wants to have an English translation done for U.S. publishers). I only look at projects that were written in English—regardless of the author’s nationality.