Meet the Agents: An Interview with Julie CrispHarry Bingham
This is an interview with literary agent, Julie Crisp. Julie was a Former Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan publishing Peter F. Hamilton, China Miéville et al. Now she’s a literary agent at her own Literary agency and a freelance editor and script doctor with the Writers’ Workshop. You can see Julie’s Agency website here, her twitter feed just here and of course, her Agent Hunter profile here!
What books/authors do you love in commercial fiction? (Crime, women’s) Give us some examples and say why you liked these books/authors.
I have quite an eclectic taste, everything from speculative fiction through to crime, through to historical and all the way to literary. I tend to think that anything that has heart, great characters and a brilliant storyline is ‘commercial’ in the sense that it will attract a wider readership. So in crime for example, I love Ann Cleeves’ work – her sense of place is just as important to the story as her characters and tight plotting are. I also really love the grittier side of crime and have read pretty much everything by Tess Gerritsen, Val McDermid, Mo Hayder and Karin Slaughter. For women’s fiction I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not really one for the chick-lit side of things. It’s just not my thing. But women in peril stories, the more psychological end of things, period pieces – anything like that I do adore. I want originality, something different, strong storylines and fabulous characters, aspects of writing that authors like Gillian Flynn, Kate Morton and Audrey Niffenegger do so well!
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
Well books that tie all three of those aspects are always nice! So some of my personal favourites would be The Miniturist by Jessie Burton, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracey Chevalier, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant – that’s keeping it short. There are lots more I could mention. But then I also love historical novels in the vein of Conn Iggulden, Robyn Young and Bernard Cornwall. I also grew up reading a lot of Georgette Heyer, Arabella is still one of my all-time comfort reads, and she led me to Philippa Greggory and a period of history and characters that I was always fascinated by.
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
I love the way the way that SFF, YA dystopian and erotica get put together here like it’s the area in which we’re slightly embarrassed to admit reading. J Well I LOVE reading speculative genre. Oh yes, huge fan. I started reading genre at age ten and ended up working on some of the biggest names in the industry when running the Tor UK imprint. So I’m passionate about this area and will read pretty much anything in it. I will say I’m not really into the paranormal romance – or indeed erotica – for the same reason I’m not keen on chick-lit. The whole romance side of things in novels, unless it’s a bit of a sub-plot does tend to leave me yawning even if you throw in some BDSM to liven things up. It’s just not for me. I figure I’ve got a varied enough taste that I’m allowed to not love something . . . oh and some urban fantasy. It’s tricky – some I’ll adore. Others tend to fall more on the paranormal romance side and then it’s lost me.
Authors in these areas I love – phew, where to start? Any epic fantasy author – pretty much all of them, yep, even David Eddings. In SF, I tend to prefer either the more literary side or space opera. Not a huge fan of military SF where there tends to be a lot of blowing things up. I know it’s a generalisation. All the YA dystopian, Hunger Games, Maze Runner etc. I know it’s probably had its day but I do still enjoy reading it.
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 haven’t really looked at loads of non-fiction. I’m tending to concentrate on fiction more at the moment just because that’s the area I read for pleasure myself. And, as there’s only me, I have to narrow my criteria for submissions somehow!
What (very roughly) is the balance of your list between literary fiction / commercial fiction / non-fiction? At the moment I have mainly speculative fiction. So I’d really like to get some more crime and thrillers in. And some of those nice literary/historical/book group fiction we mentioned earlier please.
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
How about the new Gillian Flynn or the new Jessie Burton, that would be good! Seriously though? Anything that’s original, well-written, that’s page-turning and got heart. That’s what I want to be seeing. No matter what the genre.
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
I really hate being called ‘Dear agent’ or ‘Dear editor’. It’s then clear that this is a stock letter and tends to get treated as spam rather than an actual submission. I figure if the time can’t be taken to check out who I am and what I’m looking for – why should I read it when so many other people have made an effort.
Q. Do you have any unpredictable loves?
Well I used to hate ampersands. Then China Miéville wrote a whole book filled with them and I fell in love with them. It was fun, experimental and added to the narrative drive. That’s not to say I want to see a book filled with ampersands! But I love it when something surprises me in a book.
Q. Would you take on an author who had self-published? What kind of self-pub sales would make you sit up?
Well I took on Amanda Hocking when I was working for Tor UK and her self-publishing sales were HUGE. So yes, not at all averse to taking on a self-published author. However, while sales are a reasonable indicator of commercial possibility, at the end of the day it’s not the sales that would (sorry!) ‘sell’ it to me, but the writing and the story. If I don’t love it then it wouldn’t matter how many millions it had sold, it wouldn’t be fair to the author if I took it on.
Q. What single piece of advice would you most want to give writers?
Don’t think that because your friends and family love your writing that others will. On the other hand, don’t give up if turned down by an agent or publisher. Taking on an author is a very personal thing, just because one person isn’t simpatico with your writing, doesn’t mean another won’t be. Just remember how many times J K Rowling got turned down . . .
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
In this day and age where publishers have less and less resource to spend on marketing, having an on-line presence is almost essential for an author. So yes, I would definitely be interested to see what platforms they were using – and how.
Q. What character (from any book) would you be and why?
Oooh tricky, see there were several. When I was younger I loved Velvet from the Mallorean series by David Eddings. She was a bit-part character but I loved that she was feisty, a trained killer and didn’t take any nonsense from anyone. And then there was Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird who I thought was fair, full of grit and determination and always courageous. But I think my all-time favourite character growing-up was Alanna from Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. Again, she was no-nonsense, feisty, made sure she was always treated as an equal and broke down gender barriers with pretty much every choice she made. I’m suddenly sensing a trend here – this explains a lot of things about the sort of person I am today.
Q: Which 3 famous people (alive or deceased) would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Now this could be fun!
1: Cleopatra. The language barrier may be a problem but the women ruled one of the most powerful countries on her own for decades. And until that asp (yes I’m talking about Marc Antony) came along, she did it well. She was intelligent, supposedly charming and manipulative and politically manouvered herself into a relative place of stability in a time when Rome had conquered pretty much everywhere else. I bet she’d have some stories to tell!
2: Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of my all-time favourite books. It’s one of the most impactful and influential reads in existence and if you’ve never read it – seriously, go get a copy now! This was one incredibly talented woman, not only was she an author, poet, singer, dancer and actress, she worked with Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcom X, she was part of the civil rights movement – she made her voice heard and made a difference. I was hugely saddened by her death last year.
3: Well just to lighten things up number three would have to be a tie between Benedict Cumberbatch and Douglas Adams. Benedict because he’s intelligent, charming and am sure he’d make a very peasant dinner guest – besides, Cleo would probably totally go for him. And Douglas, because Hitchhiker’s Guide is still the funniest and most original book I’ve ever read. The man was a complete genius.