We are very lucky to have a huge number of industry professionals attending the RNA conference in Leeds this year – agents, publishers and editors – and over the coming weeks, we will be hearing from them about what they do and what they are looking for from their one-to-one sessions with RNA members over the weekend of the conference in July.
Today, we welcome literary agent, Juliet Pickering from Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. So over to you, Juliet.
1. Please could you start by telling us what your current role is and what it involves?
My current role is Agent, and Vice Head of Books, at Blake Friedmann Agency. That involves looking after my own list of fantastic fiction and non-fiction authors, and helping to run the Book Department here at the agency, including working with our five book agents, and two rights agents, contracts and royalties.
2. What type of submissions are you personally looking for at the moment?
I’d love to find an uplifting book club novel full of emotional heart, with a rich story and surprising characters. I’m less keen on predictable stories and characters – I like to be surprised! – and I love female voices that are smart, witty and sage.
3. Is there anything you wouldn’t accept right now?
I don’t consider historical, fantasy or YA fiction, and I’m not a fan of dystopias (too bleak and depressing, most of the time!).
4. RNA members are sending you only their first chapter and a synopsis. Can you give them any tips on how to grab your attention in such a short submission?
Avoid the clichés: overwriting your first chapter, spending too much time on description, telling not showing! I really respond to lean, to-the-point writing, with a balanced amount of dialogue, and something happening very soon into the opening chapter. There’s nothing worse than wondering when the exciting bit will finally arrive! It doesn’t need to be a big and dramatic event, but just something to pique our interest.
5. And what about the synopsis? Do you have any tips for writing a really good one?
Synopses should be succinct (250 words is ideal for me!), stick to the main narrative thread and main characters, and avoid unnecessary detail and sub-plots. What are the key events and who are they happening to? And please tell me what happens at the end of the novel.
6. What are you most looking forward to doing over the conference weekend aside from your one-to-one sessions?
I’m really looking forward to my talk with Sue Moorcroft, an author I hugely enjoy representing, whose work ethic is never less than deeply impressive! We’re going to talk about how her career has evolved and changed over the last few years, and how the support of a good team behind you can make all the difference to your success both in the UK and beyond.
7. Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
When thinking of a book I last enjoyed, I don’t think I’ve loved anything as much recently as any and all novels by Elizabeth Strout. She became a firm favourite after reading Olive Kitteridge, and I’d recommend Amy and Isabelle, and Abide By Me to everyone. She perfectly writes about small town life, involving multi-layered characters, with plenty of quiet and moving emotion – and wit. I’m obsessed!
Thanks so much, Juliet, for taking the time to answer these questions for us. Enjoy the conference!