Welcome to the first in our series of agent Q&As!
Every few weeks we’ll be speaking to a different agent about their job, giving an insight into what it’s like on the other side of the computer screen. If you have any questions, please get in touch by DMing @aishabushby on Twitter, and we’ll do our best to add it to the next Q&A.
This week, we’ve been chatting to Ludo Cinelli at Eve White Literary Agency about rejection, submissions, and wish lists.
1) How would you describe a typical day at Eve White Literary Agency?
I should say that no two days are the same here. We’re a boutique agency, the only full-time staff are Eve and I, and we handle the vast majority of the work in house – whether that’s accounting, editing, reading submissions, computer troubleshooting, occasional cleaning – just anything that may need doing on a particular day.
However, the structure of a day tends to be the following. We come in at 9AM and work on emptying our inboxes from any emails we didn’t get to the night before.
Then we’ll have a list of individual tasks that we’ll each work through. These are included but not limited to chasing publishers on queries about our clients’ books, posting on our website, reading the Bookseller (the industry magazine) and noting news about book deals and publishers, reading submissions, logging income and expenditure, checking book sales, paying clients and deducting commission.
Once we’ve done those, there are shared tasks that Eve and I do together – that might be discussing new submissions, checking royalty statements, discussing ongoing long-term strategies about particular clients or the agency, or checking in on the payments due in to the agency.
Peppered throughout the week we’ll have meetings with publishers over coffee or lunch, meetings with current clients and prospective clients, and events during the evenings – things like book launches, Creative Writing MA or other writers’ organisation showcases, or awards ceremonies.
If I’m lucky and get through the to-do list, I’ll have a little time to get through my reading list, which will otherwise have to wait until the weekends, or an occasional work-from-home reading day.
2) Can you tell us about a time you were rejected by a prospective client?
There was a wonderful literary novel that came into our submissions inbox last summer. Our fiction reader passed it on, and I loved it so much that I was the first agent to get back to the author to ask for the full manuscript. We had a chat on the phone and, once Eve and I had both read the manuscript, we met him to offer representation. In the meantime, a few more agents had asked for the manuscript. We had a great meeting and did everything we could to convince him to sign with us, but he ultimately decided to go with another agency.
I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be working on this wonderful novel, but I also felt that we’d done all we could. We offered a comprehensive plan on how to handle this author’s novel and his career to the best of our abilities, we were always the first to get back to him and we made our passion for the novel as clear as we could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough!
As agents, we have to move on from these occasions in the knowledge that the systems we’ve developed to find clients will work, and another exciting new talent will come along. Indeed, since this summer, someone has – someone whose debut novel I’m extremely excited to send out. Just like an author submitting to agents who faces rejection, all you can do is try your absolute hardest – work on learning from any mistakes you’ve made, identify where your weaknesses are and try and improve in those areas.
3) What three things makes a submission stand out to you?
The most fundamental thing is the writing – the prose itself. No matter where the novel sits, whether it’s funny middle-grade, sweeping, romantic YA, serious nonfiction or quirky commercial fiction, the words on the page have to keep me reading. If the sentences string together satisfyingly, if they are inviting me to read on, I’ll definitely be interested. It’s rare to find writing that reads effortlessly, so it really stands out when it happens.
In a strong covering letter, I’m looking for confidence without a hard sell. Don’t tell me that your book is brilliant – it’s my job to read it and to make up my own mind about it. But if you can know it’s brilliant and show that to me, I’ll know that the submission is from someone who is passionate about their work.
Finally, I really want to see something about the characters, plot or themes handled differently to the competition. You can tell when a writer is an avid reader in their field; it almost always makes a submission better, because they can easily and effectively point out where their work fits on the bookshelves, and how their work will be a valuable contribution to that market.
4) What is one thing that will make you reject a submission?
This is a really hard question to answer – the most common reason that we reject a submission is that things are just not right for our tastes. There’s no explaining that with any semblance of objectivity.
So I’ll focus on something that might seem petty but is always telling. I’ll turn down any submission addressed “Dear Sirs”. It just shows you haven’t even looked at our “About” page before submitting to us. This doesn’t happen very often at all (especially not in children’s submissions) but it’s a major pet peeve of mine!
5) What’s on your agent wish list at the moment? What submissions would you love to see in you inbox?
I’d love to find some really irreverent middle-grade, that can make both children and adults laugh their heads off. We’ve had a few submissions about mental health in young people (for any age group) and nothing has been quite right, but I’d definitely like to see more there. Finally, anything with an environmental or strong political theme would be really interesting to see.
All that said, you never know what the next great thing is until you read it and it hits you – so writers should always write what they’re passionate about and not feel constrained by briefs or trends. These two things are for agents and publishers to worry about.
Ludo will join Aisha for her Writing Weekend in Crawley on 1-2nd February 2020.
Ludo Cinelli joined Eve White Literary Agency in 2017, after various internships in the publishing industry. He assists Eve White on her list of clients as well as building and maintaining his own. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. Regardless of their genre, the books he loves shine a light on unfamiliar people, places and things.
For details on how to submit to Eve White Literary agency, click here.