I’m lucky to be blessed with the smartest, most tenacious and definitely best-dressed agent in the biz… the wonderful Juliet Mushens. She is the newest agent at PFD, one of the oldest literary agencies in London, and she reps a really eclectic and fun list (head over to the PFD website to find out more). Juliet has done a few interviews lately about being an agent, so I thought I’d ask a few different questions for my interview. Hope you enjoy!
Everyone knows roughly what editors are looking for: be it crime, women’s fiction, reading group fiction or YA. But above and beyond that there are so many permutations so I think it’s key to meet as many editors as possible. It’s just like with agents – everyone knows the rough genres I’m looking for but above and beyond that I have a passion for books with unreliable narrators, UST, and more than a smattering of black humour. It’s when you meet an editor and find out their favourite books, books they’ve commissioned recently, books they wish they had commissioned, that you get the best sense of where it should go. I knew when Lauren Buckland at RHCB said she had a passion for epic fantasy that she would be a good bet for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow.
What are some of the recent trends in YA literature/submissions you’ve seen?
I get sent a lot of dystopian fiction, and a lot of urban fantasy. It comes in waves: I used to get lots and lots of vampire novels, but that seems to have died down now.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of Juliet Mushens: Literary Agent?
Each day is totally different! I normally check my emails as soon as I wake up and deal with any urgent ones on my blackberry on my way into work. Once I’m in (and have a coffee) I spend a fair amount of time going through my emails and dealing with authors and editors. These can be things as simple as ‘when will my money come through?’ or as complex as ‘the legal read has flagged up ninety-seven problems with the manuscript and the book needs to go to print next week’. Sometimes my authors are stuck with a tricky plot point and want to talk it through; sometimes my ghost-writers just want to talk to an actual person. I normally have at least one manuscript open in the background of my computer and I try and dip in and out of edits as well, sometimes for a prospective client I’m meeting, or for one of my contracted authors. Some books can go through several drafts before they go out to a publisher, or a publisher can request changes before considering the manuscript again, or an author has delivered and I need to go through it and make my comments too. During the day my phone rings a lot. I hate getting phone-calls from people who have submitted: it puts me on the spot and it’s a real no-no for me. But I spend sometimes long periods of the day on the phone to authors, or editors, discussing various queries. I will normally also be working on at least one contract which requires complete quiet, so it can be difficult to get those done in the office! And then there’s the hours I set aside to make calls to publishers before submitting, chasing up foreign rights submissions, chasing up publicity or marketing queries. Oh, and trying to actually read new manuscripts! (Edited to add: Check out Laura Lam’s interview with Juliet for an even more in-depth ‘Day in the Life’)
One for all those aspiring authors out there… what makes a query letter stand out for you?
I think it’s my marketing background that makes me a sucker for a good or clever blurb. Cover letters should be like going into a bookshop and turning the book over – why would I read it? Make it simple and intriguing. Don’t tell me ‘and then… and then… and then…’ tell me that it’s shot through with black humour, rogues with hearts of gold, and a terrifying villain who’ll give me nightmares. That’ll make me read it quicker.
Another one for the newbies – what are a few different ways to meet an agent other than just cold-querying, and when is it definitely NOT okay to pitch an agent?
Workshops and conferences are great ways to meet agents and I’ll have my ‘agent-brain’ on so be much more approachable. I also don’t mind the occasional twitter-pitch if it’s smart and savvy. Things I hate: trapping me in a corner at a room, cold-calling me, trying to pitch at me at London Book Fair… etc. Just be nice, and normal, and friendly and I’m sure we’ll get on.
Any last words of wisdom or advice?
Agents are people too – sometimes we seem like terrifying gate-keepers to a publishing deal but all we’re looking for is that new book which makes us stay up all night. That’s what keeps us working hard!