Juliet and I thought it would be a cool idea to do an interview on my blog for other interested folks who are keen to know the how and why of agents. I’ve now been part of Team Mushens for just over a week and it still is pretty surreal – so my questions to Juliet are still very much focussed on stuff we spoke about when we met and some stuff others have asked me since I made my news known last week.
How has your role changed (if at all) since you started your own list at PFD?
Starting a list from scratch is both terrifying and exciting. When I started I had enough room to take on anything and everything I wanted. Now, I have to be a lot pickier as I have a list of established clients to look after. I’ve also had successes in areas I never expected to: I do a lot of commercial non-fiction and YA fiction now, whereas when I began I had planned to specialize in literary non-fiction and fiction!
When we met you showed me your shelves of authors you represent and they are very eclectic – what is it about taking on a new author that excites you?
There are just realms of possibilities about where their career could go… That chef could end up the new Jamie Oliver; that debut novel could win the Booker. And it’s exciting to form a relationship with a new person as well and get the fun of getting stuck into their manuscript editorially. I read very widely and I always have people telling me they’re surprised by how broad my list is… but I think that’s what makes my job so exciting. I can spend my morning going through spreads for a recipe book, my afternoon editing a YA manuscript, and then go and see a psychologist to plan their next title. It’s nice to have the variety.
Tied in with this question, are there every discussions within PFD when a decision is made to take on an author?
Rarely. If I want to take someone on then I don’t tend to discuss it with someone else. If I do discuss it, as I’m undecided, I normally take it as a sign that I shouldn’t offer representation.
As each author and creative person you represent is so different – how long does it usually take you to suss out how to handle them?
I think it becomes apparent quite quickly how much time and attention they want or need. Although, I would say that I tend to be exactly the same with all of my authors and clients in that I’m informal and very hands-on, eternally optimistic and full of bad jokes. Which maybe isn’t what all authors want, but I’m pleased to say that some of my authors have become very close friends! It’s why, for me, I don’t offer representation without a face-to-face meeting (unless you’re in another country…) as they need to suss me out and I need to suss them out too. I think the chemistry needs to be there, as otherwise it’ll be a fairly miserable relationship.
Questions from some friends I’ve spoken to who are aspiring writers here are some other more basic questions about agenting:
Trends: we are always told never to write to trend, which is sane, but do you sometimes see submissions come in and unexpectedly they are all about say…unicorns going on quests? Do you think agents can predict trends before publishers do?
I rarely see huge trends in my submissions, to be honest. After a big trend in publishing comes along, it’s definitely reflected in my submissions, but it seems to be quite reactive rather than the submissions defining the next big thing.
If you take on a new writer, how important is it for that writer to already have a platform i.e. be online, have a website etc?
Really not a big deal for me at all. I sign someone because I love their book, not for who they are. It’s always a plus, though.
What attracts you in a story, what makes you reach for your BB or iPad to email that person to say: come in and meet me so we can talk?
It’s absolutely impossible to say, unfortunately: it’s such an indefinable thing. I always claim that I know I want it if my knees tingle… I’m looking for a fresh voice, an exciting concept and a good hook. But then sometimes I’ve ended up falling for things that are totally unexpected. I know I want it if I feel excited but also a bit sick in case someone else gets there first.
I know when we met you said how important a cover letter is – what do you want to see in that covering letter to you?
I want it to be punchy and to the point: brief blurb about the book (blurb, not synopsis) and a few lines about you. Make me desperate to turn to the sample chapters and get reading. If it takes you five paragraphs to explain the plot, you’re probably doing it wrong… I used to work in marketing so I am an absolute sucker for punchy copy presented in an original way.
What is on your wish-list at the moment to see come in on your slushpile?
I would like: a literary historical fiction novel, a middle-grade adventure story for girls, a psychological thriller, historical crime, non-fantasy YA that involves a realistic depiction of bullying among girls, and an original epic fantasy book. Please.
On the non-fiction side: I’m a sucker for anything Louis Theroux-esque looking at something like the beauty industry, or cults, or gangs. And I love inspirational memoirs that make me cry.
Do you ever have “down-time”? My personal impression is that people in the industry that I’ve met through blogging and going to events, don’t seem to have personal or down time – they are always attending talks and events, reading manuscripts after hours and emailing potential clients (grin) on Saturday mornings. Do you ever stop being Agent Juliet Mushens?
Agent Juliet Mushens is exactly the same as just Juliet Mushens… I have always been a massive bookworm and I struggle with the concept of work/life balance. Plus our job really does require us to go out there and support our existing client and hunt for new ones, and I’d NEVER get my reading done if I only did it during work hours. When friends in other jobs talk about ‘time in lieu’ I laugh in their faces. (Hollowly. Bitterly.)
However… if I’m not reading, editing, or meeting potential new clients you can typically find me volunteering at my local charity shop, warbling away at karaoke (I’m great at epic numbers from musicals but equally at rapping), or flirting with the waiters at our local cocktail bar. Oh, and I also have killer trivia retention if you want me on a pub quiz team…
What are you reading – for fun – at the moment? Do you have the chance to read for fun?!
I INSIST on reading for fun, it’s deeply important in our job, as how else do you know what’s doing well out there? Currently I am reading the following (and this probably illustrates why my client list is so eclectic given my reading tastes):
Once More With Feeling: How we tried to make the greatest porn film ever by Victoria Coren and Charlie Skelton
The Underground Man by Mick Jackson
The Embarrassment of Riches: An interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age by Simon Schama
Follow Juliet on Twitter @mushenska (at your peril!) and check out PFD’s website for more info about the agency in general. Also, I’m pretty sure if more questions are asked below, I can convince Juliet to answer them at a later stage!