Meet the Agents: An Interview with Alice LutyensHarry Bingham
This is an interview with literary agent, Alice Lutyens. Alice has worked at Curtis Brown since 2003, fresh from completing her English degree at Edinburgh University. She is the Audio Manager responsible for handling all the sales of their titles to independent audio publishers. She also has her own list of authors, varying from zesty commercial women’s fiction to surreal fantasy fiction to handbooks on how to survive in a war zone! She is always on the look-out for new fiction with an edge, whether it be commercial or offbeat. Alice’s Twitter feed is here, her Agent Hunter Page is here and last but not least Curtis Brown’s Agency page is here!
Q. What books/authors do you love in commercial fiction? (Crime, women’s) Give us some examples and say why you liked these books/authors.
Rosamund Lupton is a favourite of mine in the thriller/women’s category. I’ve just been reading her new one THE QUALITY OF SILENCE, due out later this year, and it is so intensely powerful. The thriller element is in the darkness and taut writing, rather than in any sort of BOO! way. I actually represent an author who has written this exact sort of thrilling novel, due out this year as well. Sadie Jones is completely fantastic, so evocative. Rose Tremain…Marian Keyes… sorry, too many to count!
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
I love historical fiction such as Sarah Waters – and I have to say that Philippa Gregory is my guilty pleasure! I am currently editing the most amazing historical manuscript, set during the English Civil War, and am swept up into the times. Ken Follett – he is the epitome of historical saga. Again a slightly guilty pleasure but hey, that is what reading is all about!
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
Oooh. Martyn Bedford is great, he does ‘paranormal but seems normal’ – the characters all have these everyday lives, with one weird thing that happens and bang, normal life is over. Rather than freaky spectres everywhere. I have a major fondness for horror, The Woman in Black is a perfect example. Do I need to explain why? I think not!
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
I am not hugely into non-fiction from an agent perspective.
Q. And are there any areas of zero interest to you in non-fiction? What would you NOT want to see?
How to Clean Your Loo Till it Looks New
Q. What (very roughly) is the balance of your list between literary fiction / commercial fiction / non-fiction?
50/50 literary/commercial. I don’t think literary and commercial should even be separated actually. Literary IS commercial if it is so good everyone wants to read it. What about GOLDFINCH – are you saying it isn’t commercial because it is literary?
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
Historical and crime and thriller. Not crime as in Swedish murder type, but subtler than that. Crimes within families, smaller scale crime. I loved The Missing on BBC recently. That would make a brilliant book.
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
Stupidity and laziness. Such as spelling my name wrong, or speling anyfing wrong rilly. False flattery. Saying “I am the next J K Rowling (or similar)”. I would hope to see a clever and interesting sum up of the book, and I look for well written cover letters. For me, it reflects the writing I can expect to see in the book.
Q. What are your biggest peeves in an opening page or opening chapter? And what do you love to see?
I love to start with a bit of a cliffhanger – you know, a heart stopping scene with no answers, then ‘7 years later…’ and you have to read the WHOLE BOOK to find out the meaning of the opening!
Q. Do you have any unpredictable loves?
It is not particularly ‘unpredictable’ but I love families, sisters especially. I find the bond fascinating, maybe because I have 2 sisters. I love but hate fiction about children missing or in horrible situations because I am a mother of young children – I feel as though reading it will ensure it doesn’t happen to me. The familiar “it won’t happen to me/us” refrain.
Q. Would you take on an author who had self-published? What kind of self-pub sales would make you sit up?
Yes. And it would be the writing, not the sales.
Q. What single piece of advice would you most want to give writers?
Be sure you really can write before you give up months or years of your life. Get an opinion on your writing as early as possible, and take all the advice you can.
Q. How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?
I see vast amounts annually. And a very very very small %.
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
I don’t care before I take it on, I care once we need to drum up as much publicity as possible for the book. Social media is weirdly powerful.
Q. When people are pitching the concept for a book to you, what do you find is the most common failing?
Dreariness in the tone.
Q: What character (from any book) would you be and why?
I am happy being myself, thank you.
Q: Which 3 famous people (alive or deceased) would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Paul a Young (famous chocolatier, very alive, and because I ADORE proper real chocolate)
King Henry VIII so I could 1. Gawp at how much he eats, and 2. Cross-examine him on why and how he lost the plot so completely. Obviously he would have to be a ghost as I couldn’t have him chopping my head off if he didn’t like my steak and frites.