How does someone with a long-established career in international business switch to running a literary agency? I asked Michael about this, as well as what he has learnt in the book business, how New Authors Collective has grown, and more.
Can you please tell us a bit about your life pre-NAC?
My career started in London as a credit insurance broker with CIA (Credit Insurance Association). After I moved to Australia, I re-joined the group in Sydney. Later, I set up my own insurance brokerage, which became a significant player in the Asia Pacific region. Over the years, I have run businesses in insurance, research, debt recovery, credit management and recruitment, each in part with an international focus.
What led you to start a literary agency?
I was on a putting green in Western Australia, when a chap approached me to discuss his novel. He’d written a film script, which hadn’t sold, so he rewrote it as a book. That didn’t sell either, so he asked me to represent him. Before I knew it, he’d appointed me his agent and sent me his manuscript.
What exactly is a literary agency?
A literary agency represents authors to secure publishing deals. Agents are not paid directly by authors, they are paid a percentage of any publishing income. While some publishers accept submissions directly from authors, others don’t. Having an agent gives authors a stamp of credibility.
How were your business skills relevant to this new business?
I was always driven by the concept that if you deliver unequalled services to your stakeholders, you will establish a good business. The skills I developed in relationship building and the complexities of international business have also been key in establishing New Authors Collective.
How did NAC get started?
From the outset, we defined our mission as: helping deserving authors fulfil their dream. The ‘deserving’ part was, and still is, critical. Are they absolutely committed to developing their skills? Will they work hard to act on editorial guidance?
As New Authors Collective suggests, I initially focussed on emerging authors. Their problems seemed to be: how to know if their book has commercial potential? How to get their work – which might be a good story, but poorly polished – to shine? I was confident I could establish commercial potential, but I needed editorial support to help polish the manuscripts.
By chance, I bumped into an old friend, Denise Harris. Recently retired as Head of the English Department at one of Sydney’s top girls’ schools, Denise was looking for an intellectual challenge. To my immense gratitude, she joined me as our Head of Editorial. Denise has since moved on, and now Sue Anderson and Andrea Barton run NAC Editorial. They work with our authors to polish and refine their books before submission to publishers.
On the sales side of the business, I needed to get in front of the decision makers at publishers. Through networking and research, I established connections, so now NAC can submit directly to the publisher or acquisitions editor rather than the manuscript landing somewhere in the slush pile.
From day one I realised the importance of exposing authors to the widest possible market. So, I built strong connections across the English-speaking world. An endless task of course, but today NAC has acquisitions contacts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, NZ, UK and USA.
How did your selection of authors evolve?
In early days, I did a 50 to 100-page read and, if I liked the author and enjoyed the read, that would suffice to start moving to representation.
Later, under pressure from our better authors and our editorial team, we became more discriminating. Our authors stepped up a level and we attracted the attention of better publishers and signed our first serious deal. Since then, we have negotiated publishing contracts in the UK, USA, and Australia. Exciting times!
Now, our selection criteria are tighter, and our editorial team has more input in assessing submissions. We have attracted several previously published authors and our more experienced authors have moved beyond the stage of ‘new authors’.
How did you refine your list of publishers?
We have worked hard to differentiate between publishers – traditional, full service, POD (print on demand) and vanity presses.
Traditional publishers pay all the costs of publishing: editing, book cover design, type setting, printing, uploading to digital stores and distribution. Some pay an advance to the author. If the author earns back their advance through sales, they get royalties on future earnings. Others just pay royalties.
Vanity publishers charge the author for some or all of the upfront costs. Earnings are split between the publisher and author, with the author receiving a higher royalty than for traditional publishing deals.
Increasingly, publishers, even some of the majors, are moving into non-traditional contracts and digital-only imprints and POD. And of course, authors always have the option to self-publish.
What is the NAC panel review process?
NAC has a bank of beta-readers – people who read a manuscript and provide feedback as a lay-person, not an editor. For each NAC manuscript, we select a panel of readers whose interests match the book’s genre, and they critically appraise the work. In discussions with NAC Editorial, the author takes this feedback into account and agrees on any further edits. I am told the combination of NAC Editorial and the panel process is unique to NAC.
Do you have a preference for the genre of works you represent?
I accept work in a wide range of genres, but my reading preference is for crime, spy thrillers, and commercial fiction in general. I’m a Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Jo Nesbo and James Mitchener fan. I enjoy their complex plots and strong protagonists – the Jack Reacher types, who appear in a series. I want to be entertained. Within 30-50 pages, I’m either hooked, or I’m not.
But NAC Editorial have a huge say, and they each have widespread preferences, so NAC is represented in many genres of fiction and select areas of nonfiction.
Do you have any tips for authors looking to be published?
When you’ve finished your MS, think very carefully about getting it edited, because every great author pays tribute to their relationship with their editor. Many such relationships are of greater duration than authors’ own marriages. So, if well-established authors see such huge value in collaboration with their editors, why wouldn’t an emerging author have the same view?
I’d like to see NAC’s editorial team grow larger in the next 18 months.
I’m keen to find the right person to unlock our value in terms of film, as around 20% of our works have been assessed as having significant film, TV and other streamed content potential.
Above all, my ambition is for more of the ‘Top five’ publishers to take up NAC authors’ manuscripts. I’m optimistic given our recent successes.
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Next time: an interview with Lisa Beazley, From New York to Singapore, PR to Author about her novel Keep Me Posted.
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