Meet the Agents: An Interview with Rebecca RitchieHarry Bingham
This is an interview with literary agent Rebecca Ritchie. Rebecca joined A.M. Heath in 2017 after 6 years at Curtis Brown, bringing with her a list of commercial authors. In fiction, she’s on the lookout for debut and established authors of contemporary women’s fiction, reading group, historical and suspense. Confident storytelling, compelling characters and original concepts will always catch her eye. In non-fiction, she’s particularly interested in cookery, travel, health and wellbeing. You can see the A.M. Heath Agency page here and of course, Rebecca’s Agent Hunter page 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.
Commercial fiction is the heartland of my list – it’s where I generally read for pleasure and my tastes are very broad; I love any novel that elicits an emotional response. Commercial fiction tends to be very character-driven, and I love a protagonist I can either get behind and root for or one that I can love to hate. So with that in mind, authors I love in this area include Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moyes, Clare Mackintosh, Marian Keyes. Novels about families and relationships will always pull me in; I’ve recently been introduced to Elizabeth Jane Howard and am currently racing through the Cazalet Chronicles – they’re sheer joy. I love a novel you want to press into the hands of all of your friends, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman was one of those books for me. It’s a sweet, heartbreaking, quirky, funny and moving novel and I could go on and on about it. I love thrillers too, and (like everyone else it seems) still can’t get enough of psychological suspense. It’s a crowded market out there and for me, Gone Girl is still the go-to novel for how to pull off the big reveal – nothing in the psychological suspense arena has quite surpassed it for me.
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
I’m not really into swords and swashbuckling, but I love historical fiction which focuses in on the human emotion involved in a historic event, such as Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, or novels that put a magnifying glass up to a little-known aspect of well-known history, which is what Anthony Doerr did in All the Light We Cannot See to World War II. In terms of book group fiction, stories that uncover long-held secrets and family quarrels will always have me hooked, a la Kate Morton or Lucy Foley.
I don’t look after much in the way of literary fiction: I read it and am awed by it, but I feel I’m much better equipped to give commercial/book club fiction authors editorial feedback (which is increasingly part of an agent’s job).
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
Sci-fi, horror and fantasy aren’t really my bag, but I definitely have a penchant for dystopian YA, although sadly publishers seem to think this has had its day…
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
Non-fiction is an area I’m keen to build, and my focus will be cookery, travel, health and wellbeing. In terms books I loved: I found Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air incredibly moving, and Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is one of the most perfect books: small but incredibly powerful.
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
A big love story. If you can make me cry, all the better. The world has gone a bit mad over the last couple of years and I want to read something escapist and uplifting.
I’d also like to take on some Irish and Scottish voices.
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
Sloppy spelling and grammar, and someone who quite clearly hasn’t done their research. An author who really knows their book and is able to pitch it effectively in their covering letter will always stand out. You should be able to tell me in no more than a couple of sentences “This is a novel about a man/woman who…”. No waffling!
Q. Would you take on an author who had self-published? What kind of self-pub sales would make you sit up?
Absolutely, but paramount is the writing and whether I love what they’re writing next.
Q. What single piece of advice would you most want to give writers?
Keep going! And sometimes it’s ok to put that novel in your bottom drawer and start afresh. Lots of bestselling writers out there have a manuscript that never saw the light of day – the more you write, the more you hone your craft, and your first attempt is not necessarily the first manuscript you should submit to agents.
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
To be honest I think Twitter can be both a blessing and a curse. For some authors, if it’s medium that comes naturally to them, it can be an incredibly effective tool and a brilliant way to reach their readers and interact with them (Agent caveat: as long as it doesn’t take them away from writing their next book too much!). Other authors find it difficult to find an authentic voice, so I’d say to any budding writing trying to use Twitter and struggling with it not to worry about it; after all, it can be something of an echo chamber.
Q. How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?
I receive several thousand submissions a year, and as I’m actively looking for new authors I also regularly attend Creative Writing school events and readings. I’ve taken on quite a few authors who have either made unsolicited submissions to me or who I’ve met at events, and several now have book deals. So satisfying!