Romantic Novelists' Association

Ask An Industry Expert: Clare Wallace

15 November 2019

Today I’m delighted to welcome Clare Wallace, Literary Agent with Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency.

Hello and welcome, Clare. First of all, many congratulations that one of your authors was short-listed for the Romantic Comedy category in the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year Awards for 2019. Can I start by asking you what store you set by literary competitions. There seem to be a lot out there!

I think it varies from competition to competition. I’m always wary of competitions charging too much for entry but I think they can be a brilliant way to give aspiring authors a deadline to work towards, which is a good discipline, and it’s a lovely way to start taking yourself seriously as an author. I also think some competitions and awards can be a fantastic springboard for a career. As an agent, if an author has placed or won a competition I always pay attention to that in their covering letter, that being said if it’s not there I won’t notice.


I notice your agency deals with a range of literary genres. How important is Romance for your company?

Very important. We love romance. We’re very genre-driven and of course extremely commercial. Do send us your romance novels! Tanera Simons handles romantic (and all other types) of women’s fiction and if you’re writing YA romance I would LOVE to see it. A young adult romance that really reminds me what it feels like to fall in love for the first time is something I’m currently looking for.


The Darley Anderson slogan says The most commercially minded agency in London.

How do you go about judging the commercial viability of a new submission, in whatever category?

Character is all! That’s the motto. We are always looking for exceptional characters, who readers will root for and want to stay with. We would want the manuscript to move quickly, with a strong hook, and a plot that grips you and will not let you go. We want to find the characters and stories that make you miss your stop on the bus, keep you turning the pages long into the night – the ones where you just have to read one chapter more.


So what about that all important submission? What makes you sit up and take notice?

For me, voice is critical, which runs alongside character. I also want to feel things when I read—up the stakes—make me cry! I love an unusual premise or a hook I haven’t seen before. A fabulous ‘what would you do if?’ situation. Also an author who has obviously put a lot of thought into the submission, in that the covering letter is concise and well constructed, including the genre and age range/readership, a great pitch/blurb, and relevant information about the author. I always start with the covering letter and if it’s a good one I’m sitting up straighter and more excited to read the opening chapters.


And what about the synopsis? Do you have any tips for writing a really good one?

The synopsis is the very last part of a submission that I read. And honestly the only reason we ask for one is to get a sense of where the story goes and to check it doesn’t deviate wildly from the book we hoped we were getting. I know they can be agony for authors but really we just need to know what happens next. My tip would be not to worry about it too much, stick to a page if you can, spoil the twists and the ending (but check the agency’s website because not everyone likes this), and just get the story down. The writing is the most important part of any submission.


We often ask agents and publishers what they consider to be the next ‘big thing’. What themes are particularly popular at present in the teen/YA market and in adult romance, and what do you hope to see more of in 2020?

This such a tricky question because none of us really know, and what fun would it be if we did?! YA is having a hard time at the moment – it’s hard to get it into shops and occupying shelf-space, it’s hard to promote and hard to know how best to reach the intended readers. We’re having a very tough year for YA sales. But no one is giving up on it. Lots of editors and agents I speak to are also looking for an incredible YA love story, there is also a very welcome and long overdue market shift towards diversity (not a trend but a movement), sci-fi and fantasy are still in high demand, and there seems to be room for a little more horror in YA too. Karen McManus is the biggest selling YA author in the UK and so uniquely premised, contemporary, tightly-plotted, twisty thrillers with vividly drawn characters are also high on the industry’s wish list. Graphic novels are huge in the US and it would be fabulous to see more selling over here. In terms of adult romance, narratives which hinge on a moment in time, a twist of fate, are popular in premise, as well as nostalgic and escapist reads (probably due to the dark and uncertain political times we’re in).


Do you look for anything in an author apart from a brilliant book? (such as social media presence)

Absolutely—we only work with lovely people! It’s really important to like each other and get on well. It’s a relationship of trust and so it’s crucial that an author and agent feel like they’re on the same page (no pun intended) and that you both share the same vision for the author’s work and career development. Social media can be important, it’s helpful if authors have an online presence and are part of the writing community but it’s not essential and can be built on. Authors are now expected to do a lot of their own promotion and marketing, so it’s a bonus if there is an awareness of that and a willingness to be involved and to be creative with it.


What is your typical working day like?

I don’t think I have a typical working day. I often make a plan for my day which quickly needs to be adjusted due to something urgent or unexpected happening. This could range from an amazing drop-everything submission, an offer arriving, or something going awry with a cover design. But generally, I don’t get to do much reading at my desk, and my days are often filled with meetings/phone calls with authors or editors, or keeping on top of the daily administrative side of the job such as negotiations, contracts and payments.


What’s the best/worst part of your job/ the funniest/most embarrassing thing that’s happened at work?

Ooh great question. Where do I start? Without a doubt the very best part of my job is calling an author with good news – and that usually starts with that first offer which means that the manuscript the author has poured themselves into is going to be an actual published book – even better when this offer is the first of many or when the financials become significant enough to change a life. The funniest and most embarrassing thing that’s happened to me was at the end of Frankfurt Book Fair. I was hungover and incredibly tired – I was going the wrong way at the airport and so I tried to run up a down escalator (not thinking clearly) and fell over rather spectacularly in front of a bar full of publishing professionals. I cut my knee so badly I still have a scar and my kneecap has a permanent click.


Sounds like you needed to rest that leg up for a while and read a good book—speaking of which, can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?

I really enjoyed Birthday by Meredith Russo. There’s a gorgeous YA love story with high stakes and amazing characters—and it made me cry.


Many thanks for talking with us today, Clare. For more about her work and to contact her directly with those great submissions, see:

Twitter: @LitAgentClare

Instagram: @LitAgentClare

If any readers of this blog would like to submit to me directly my email address is


Clare was talking with Susan Leona Fisher: