Ask An Industry Expert: Susan Yearwood
24 July 2020
Today I’m delighted to welcome Susan Yearwood of the Susan Yearwood Literary Agency.
Hello and welcome, Susan. It’s almost a year since we first talked at the 2019 RNA Conference and how strange life has been since.
Thank you. I really enjoyed attending conference, although I managed to miss the drinks evening on the first night – an event I will set a phone reminder for in future—sadly not this year, though! Another high spot of that conference was meeting Suzanne Snow, since when I’ve been really proud to secure her a three-book deal with Canelo. I always want to find the best possible publisher for a writer and I feel that I have done just that. Canelo’s collegiate team are extremely professional and Suzanne’s editor, Emily Bedford, has made Suzanne’s initial experience of publishing a pleasant one.
I believe it’s well over ten years now since you set up your own agency, after several years working for some quite large publishing houses. How’s your working life changed in that period?
The most significant change has been in making major decisions that will affect the efficacy of my agency. A recent shift to commercial fiction with a focus on book club, women’s fiction and genre, particularly romance, saga and crime/thriller writing, means that I will be able to grow my agency in a way I hadn’t thought possible previously. Starting my own company and making these types of decisions feels quite different to when I worked for Penguin Books, though, of course, I hope to use all that I learned there and in publishing generally to further encourage debut writers in their craft and onto bestseller lists.
It’s great to hear how you encourage debut writers and we’re glad the RNA Conference has been one way you’ve met them. How else do you discover new talent?
I have a submissions list (email@example.com) that I read regularly and I take part in pitching events, the most recent being with the Professional Writing Academy (for children’s fiction writers) and Faber Academy (adult and children’s fiction). I also attend literary festivals where I take part in panels and pitching sessions. I find taking part in these events invaluable and enjoy meeting authors and talking about their WIP.
Glancing through some of your clients’ titles over that decade, I notice they have covered a wide range of cultural settings. Diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda for the RNA, as for many other organisations. How important is it to you to foster that range of diversity?
I remember years ago reading Heinemann and Longman fiction books that included a range of culturally diverse characters and settings, and how these books opened up new worlds to me. There is a sense that readers are eager to read more about contemporary cultural settings in different parts of the world, with characters who resonate with them. Although the books I sold previously were literary, the writers were well received and have had relatively long writing careers because of this.
I notice your agency deals with a wide range of literary genres. How important is Romance for your company?
In the past, I represented a number of quite literary writers, including Kerry Young and Prajwal Parajuly, who both were shortlisted for major prizes. I am currently eager to find more romance and saga as well as women’s fiction to continue to build a commercial list. Finding promising debut and previously published romance writers has helped me to secure that three-book deal I mentioned for one of my authors and I am looking for more writers keen on pursuing a writing career.
Good news for RNA members! Are there any particular types of romance submissions you’d like to see land in your in-tray at the moment?
I would love to find a feel good rom-com from a UK or US writer that is light-hearted and funny with love as the complication. I represent Rosa Temple who in the past has written funny, upmarket romance novels for HQ Digital as well as self-published in romance and chick lit. I would love to represent more writers who write for this market as well as generally in romance and chick lit. I am currently reading Josie Silver’s The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and think Josie has written with a light touch that is heart-rending from the beginning.
Your submission guidelines ask for a covering email, the first thirty pages of the manuscript and a synopsis. Do you tackle these in a particular order? What makes you sit up and take notice?
I read the covering email first and this is quite an important part of the submission process, as it provides me with an insight into a writer’s book and future writing ambitions. Particularly important is that the writer describes their book in detail in brief and is enthusiastic about their writing; this encourages me to read the synopsis and the sample pages.
We often ask agents and publishers what they consider to be the next ‘big thing’. What do you hope to see more of in 2021?
I think the current resurgence in feel good romance will encourage light-hearted themes in women’s fiction generally as well as general fiction and book club.
Do you look for anything in an author apart from a brilliant book? (such as social media presence)
I review authors’ social media presence and have at times found aspiring writers to represent through their blogs or websites. Certainly, for a number of publishers, a very good social media presence can be important in deciding whether to take on a title, particularly in non-fiction.
Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
I recently read A Country Escape by Katie Fforde before buying A Springtime Affair (tbr after Josie’s book). I find Katie’s sense of place and setting wonderfully evocative and the depiction of her neighbour as a strong man to lean on is inspiring – you’ll have to read this book to see what happens to the characters.
Thank you so much for taking part in the RNA blog at this challenging time. Perhaps I could finish by asking how you think the publishing industry is being or will be affected by the restrictions we have been living under in terms of normal routines of social contact and shopping?
From my point of view, publishing has remained eager to continue with new deals and the process of publishing. In terms of social contact, I hope to start meetings in September and I am optimistic that we will be back to normal by then.
For more on Susan’s agency see:
Susan was talking with Susan Leona Fisher: (Website: http://www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)