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Changing Lives – One Writer at a Time

May 13, 2013

In a wide-ranging discussion with Bathurst Muses, Sam Hiyate, Principal Agent for The Rights Factory, distilled his advice for publishing success: good prose, a good story, and an empathetic – not necessarily sympathetic – character. Within that framework, what constitutes a “good story”? “Take a universal relationship. Father-son. Mother-daughter. Lovers. Add a thematic, cultural, and preferably humorous context. Et voilà!”

It took a few years to perfect this formula. Since then, Sam has signed up numerous emerging writers, including Governor General Award winner, David Gilmour (The Film Club, 2005) and recent NYT bestselling author, Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dresses, 2011).

Here is how Sam describes his modus operandi. As an indication of a writer’s commitment to the craft, all literary agents look for credentials such as an MFA or Continuing Education in Creative Writing. Most wait for writers to establish a publishing presence before agreeing to represent. Sam, on the other hand, likes finding a nugget in the seams. He cites the example of David Gilmour’s initial memoir. At first edit, it was pared down to 30 pages, and Gilmour was asked to expand upon those pages. The second time, he got back 60 pages. Eventually, Gilmour got to the core of an eventual GG award winner, and Sam sold his book on a sentence. For this reason, Sam’s writers often arc a trajectory to publishing fame, and Sam can claim to have changed yet another life, which is what he loves about his work.

This year so far, Sam has sold two magic realism novels and a gay coming of age picture book.

The Muses took away their own nuggets, including Sam’s advice about getting acquainted with e-publishing and self-publishing. With the increasing merger activity among the large publishers, Sam sees domination by 3 large publishers (which, incidentally, will be extremely counterproductive for him and writers generally). The future of short stories is in “e-singles”. Every writer should explore “Wattpad” (http://www.wattpad.com/) where the writer holds copyright, and reads of 1million+ are possible. That’s when a large publisher will swoop in to sign up the writer’s next three books.

“The difference is, as an agent I would negotiate each separately, and then negotiate the film rights,” says Sam. That’s how lives change.

An Evening with Sam Hiyate

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Valerie McDonald permalink
    May 14, 2013 8:41 am

    Sounds like an interesting evening. Thanks for illuminating the role of a literary agent!

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