Meet the agent: Lisa Fuller at Alex Adsett Literary

Meet the agent: Lisa Fuller at Alex Adsett Literary

20 March, 2024

Lisa Fuller is a Wuilli Wuilli woman from Eidsvold, Queensland, and is also descended from Gooreng Gooreng and Wakka Wakka peoples. Her debut YA novel Ghost Bird won numerous awards in Australia, and was acquired by Old Barn Books in the UK. She is also an editor. This year, Fuller received a grant to support her in being mentored on the business of being a literary agent with Alex Adsett Literary. 

You are the author of a YA novel, Ghost Bird, that has won and been nominated for multiple awards in Australia. Can you tell us about your experience of having international rights sold for this title? 

It was really interesting to be published in the UK. I had heard stories from other Blak writers about what publishing overseas was like for them and the edits publishers required, but it was an incredibly easy process for me. Old Barn Books, my UK publisher, essentially took it as is and the only change was the cover—removing the prizes and having it as matte with spot UV (yes total book nerd, but I love it). I don’t think it has sold as well as here in Australia sadly, but I also wonder if not having an author on hand to promote it contributed to that. I did have a number of website and podcast interviews with some lovely people, and recorded content for some conferences. The biggest issue I faced was having people understand what was and was not appropriate to say; for example, a lot of media still use ‘Aborigines’ over there, which was really confronting for me. But Old Barn Books were very open to my discussion of that. They asked for guidance on it and I was able to send them links, which they in turn shared with interviewers before they spoke with me. So overall it was a really positive experience.

How did you come to your role at Alex Adsett Literary, when did you start, and what has it involved so far? 

You can absolutely blame Alex for this one! She’d been hinting at me for a while now and offering training, but I’m pretty busy and I need to cover bills, so taking on agenting work, which is largely unpaid for swathes of time, especially when starting out, wasn’t an option for me. Last year, Alex sent me a link to the Elevate III grant and asked if maybe having some funds would free me up to take on less freelance work, and with my PhD finishing up I was looking to what is next for me career-wise. We had a long conversation about my concerns, and she is very persuasive. Luckily, I got an Elevate grant with a commitment to start the mentorship in March… but as soon as we got the green light, of course Alex and her team have already started training me, including me in virtual meetings and pitching sessions, reading submissions, discussing queries and the like. It’s been about seven or eight years since I left Aboriginal Studies Press and buried myself in a PhD, so it feels like coming back home in a way. It’s been a brilliant time.

What appeals to you about being an agent? And how has the reality of the role matched up with your expectations or ideas of working in rights? 

I’ve always made time as a former publisher and now writer to speak with other writers about their work and getting published. I also used to teach creative writing at the University of Canberra (before I had to focus on my PhD more), and I am passionate about author rights and representation, especially First Nations peoples’ rights and creating culturally safe spaces. I’m keen to see what advocating for my fellow writers will look like as an agent. We’re only just starting but it is feeling familiar, while also touching on areas of publishing that I have zero experience in, so it’s also new and exciting. So far, it’s been a lot of me asking questions of the team and sitting in on their meetings. They’re incredibly patient with me, and I get to talk about books with other book nerds, so what could be better?

What impressions have you gained in the role and through your own experience as an author about international interest in and understanding of First Nations fiction from this continent? 

Honestly, so far, not much. But we are only about six weeks in, and we’re about to do a training intensive as a team, so I’m really looking forward to learning! My experiences in-house feel quite dated now and were all nonfiction and academic texts. I still do some freelance work for publishers, namely sensitivity readings, editing and proofreading, but they’ve largely been in the nonfiction area. I’m keen to learn more about how fiction gets handled from the other side of the table. Alex has just returned from the Creative Australia delegation to New York, so has been sharing insights into the US market, where there is seeming interest in Australian First Nations stories.

You wrote a great piece for Kill Your Darlings about inappropriate descriptions such as ‘myths’ and ‘legends’ used by reviewers of Ghost Bird. Are you able to summarise your key point here for readers of this newsletter? Have you noticed any changes locally as a result of your piece and related discussion?  

Thank you, I’m really proud of that piece and the work I did with Jasmin McGaughey on developing it. It’s a bit difficult to summarise, as it follows our yarning style and wanders around a bit. But I guess the core idea is that engaging with a reading that is not from your own culture is difficult, and people need to be mindful of the differences, but also their inherent biases. The reality is structural racism bleeds through our language use, and as First Nations writers, we are undertaking the difficult task of translating our worldviews into fiction to be consumed by mostly non-Indigenous people. That translation process and the power dynamics of publishing can be problematic, even with the best of intentions. It’s an uncomfortable space to sit in, and the piece explores those ideas. This was one of the pieces that Old Barn Books shared with interviewers and it was really lovely to hear them speak about their learnings when reading it. I’ve also had some great feedback from colleagues.

Can you tell us about the children’s/YA list you are working on at Alex Adsett Literary? 

Not too sure I can at this moment, sorry, as a lot of it is from queries sent to Alex. I think after the training intensive, there’ll be more one-on-one meetings between myself, Alex and YA/children’s authors who are already part of AAL. And of course, once I feel I’m appropriately skilled up, I’ll open for submissions myself. I’m also hoping to attend some writer events this year, where I can meet people in person and have some good yarns.

Are you and Alex on the lookout for children’s and YA titles? What kind of stories appeal to you?

We definitely are open to new children’s and YA titles. I’m on board to start helping Alex with her list, and we have another two agents acquiring also. Right now my preferences are so broad I’m not sure how helpful it’ll be. I love Own Voices works, but I’ll read anything with adventure and heart. I do love a good character-driven story, and I am a huge genre fan. But my own picture book, which is about unconditional love and acceptance, is due out on 1 April, and it kind of meets none of those, so stories with heart is probably the best way to describe my interests.

Originally published by Books and Publishing (Read More)