Meet the Agents: An Interview with Juliet PickeringHarry Bingham
This is an interview with literary agent, Juliet Pickering. Juliet joined Blake Friedmann in 2013 and her list includes Costa, Commonwealth, Orwell Prize, Sky Arts and Guardian First Book shortlisted authors. Her twitter page is here, the Blake Friedmann agency page is here and of course, her Agent Hunter page.
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.
I loved Maeve Binchy and Rosamund Pilcher when I was a teen and read my parents’ copies. If I had a bit more reading time (!) I think I’d re-read their books every few years.
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
Some of my favourite novels include Rohinton Mistry’s A FINE BALANCE, Daphne Du Maurier’s REBECCA, Miriam Toews ALL MY PUNY SORROWS, Kazuo Ishiguro’s THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. All of these books tell of human experiences in a real (for me!) way, whether that be love, death, war, age, humour, and much more. They capture a lot of what is wonderful and what is awful about living.
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
None of these genres are for me!
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’ve an open mind when it comes to non-fiction; it’s important that the author can write well, can build upon a point or an argument if their book is political, and that they might be able to prompt readers to think about the bigger picture via their own experience.
Q. And are there any areas of zero interest to you in non-fiction? What would you NOT want to see?
Three areas of zero interest: sport, diet, and gap year memoirs.
Q. What (very roughly) is the balance of your list between literary fiction / commercial fiction / non-fiction?
My list is fairly evenly split between fiction/non-fiction, but I’ve slightly more non-fiction.
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
I’d love to find a funny voice in fiction (it’s so subjective!), and more great, relatable and provocative fiction.
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
My biggest turn-off is a bad attitude. OR forgetting to tell me anything about the book because the writer is too busy telling me about themselves. The book is what I’m interested in first and foremost. Give me a clear idea of the content and the readership.
Q. How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?
Probably 400-500 a month. Of that annual total of approximately 5000, there’ll be a couple each year I love enough to represent – but that’s why we’ll read the other 4998 submissions too, in case one of them is that rare and incredible book. And many more of those submissions might come close, or will be taken on by another agent.
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
I’ll go and see if a writer that interests me is online to get an idea of them, yes. You can tell something about a person by what they say online – which is why I’d always recommend common sense when commenting publicly on social media platforms (i.e. don’t list every rejection, be bitter about the publishing industry, or be generally rude or obnoxious!).
If a writer has no social media and online presence at all, it’s not a problem. Publishers are often keen to see an author supporting their books in this way, especially around publication, but if the book is good then it will reach readers regardless (who will hopefully be chatting about it on Twitter even if you’re not!).
Q. When people are pitching the concept for a book to you, what do you find is the most common failing?
Being too long winded! A couple of sentences should suffice (I know it sounds impossible).