To start the new year, we’re chatting to Lucy Irvine at PFD. Lucy was kind enough to join me in November for a Q&A as part of my Preparing for Submission online course. She will be back in 2020, when the course runs again for 6 weeks, starting January. If you’re interested in signing up, click here for more details.
Lucy Irvine is an Associate Agent, working with Silvia Molteni on PFD’s children’s list. After graduating from University College London with an MA in Issues in Modern Culture in 2017, she interned at Agora Books, PFD’s publishing arm, before becoming assistant to CEO Caroline Michel. She began her new role in June 2019.
- Can you describe a typical day at work?
I know this is a cliché way to answer this question, but no two days are the same! I am a newly promoted associate agent, which means I work alongside our senior children’s agent, Silvia Molteni, and provide support to her alongside building my own list. This means that my weekly to do list very much varies depending on both mine and Silvia’s ongoing projects and current work loads. Generally, my time is split between editing author manuscripts, reading and discussing any ongoing submissions, chasing any ongoing queries or overdue payments, negotiating and logging contracts, and researching new potential clients. I will generally have a few meetings per week too, either with editors, my authors, or perspective clients. And if I’m going out with a new book, then a lot of my time will be spent prepping for submission and pitching to editors.
- How do you approach submissions/how do they fit in with the rest of your schedule?
I generally try to read a few submissions every day and incorporate this into my working hours. Sometimes this just isn’t possible though, particularly during our busy times of year, so weekend and evening reading is very much an expected part of an agent’s job. If I’ve requested a full manuscript then I will usually read this out of working hours, particularly if it’s a story that’s really gripped me!
- What’s been the best bit about the job so far? What’s been the biggest challenge?
The best bit is absolutely getting to work so closely with my authors. I am very hands on editorially, and for me there’s no better feeling than talking through a plot hole or character issue and coming to a solution together. The biggest challenge for me so far has been going out with a book that I truly believe is brilliant, and it not selling. This is an inevitable part of our job as agents, as the market is incredibly competitive and you’re never going to sell everything first time, but I hadn’t quite anticipated how invested I would feel in my author’s works. So much of this industry is about resilience though, and I have full faith that we’ll find the perfect home for this book in 2020!
- What three things make a submission stand out to you?
This is hard to answer because it really is so subjective, and a lot of the time the thing that really makes a submission stand out is something you didn’t even know you were looking for!
In general terms, three submission essentials for me are voice, character, and story. Fundamentally, the writing and narrative voice has to grip me and make me want to keep reading. You could have written the most original story in the world, but if the writing isn’t up to scratch then it won’t stand out amongst the many other submissions its competing against. In children’s fiction particularly I think including characters that the reader instantly connects with and roots for is essential. And story wise, your plot needs to be that little bit different to other books in your genre. The children’s market is producing so many really fantastic books at the moment, so your story needs to feel fresh and original!
- What is one thing that will make you reject a submission?
Again, this is so hard to answer, because so much of this industry is purely down to taste, and sometimes I just don’t fall in love with a submission to the extend I’d need to be able to sell it effectively. Some general advice when submitting to agents though is to always personalise your letter! Nothing puts me off a submission more than a “Dear Sirs” (particularly as our children’s department is currently all female)!
- Can you tell us a bit about the process of signing a new client at your agency?
Generally the signing process at PFD is pretty routine. An agent reads your sample and requests the full manuscript, and then we will organise either a meeting or a call to discuss your manuscript and a strategy plan, and offer representation if this discussion goes well.
I always prefer to meet my clients in person before I offer representation, but sometimes this isn’t possible for travel accessibility reasons. During this meeting or phone call, I will give prospective clients specific feedback on their work, and highlight any big changes that I’d like them to implement if we decide to work together. Sometimes my vision for a client’s work doesn’t match their vision, so I think it’s important to be upfront about editorial work. I also generally talk through the support we offer as an agency, and all our different departments. When I offer representation I always advise potential clients to go away and think about it for a few days – signing with an agent is a big decision, and hopefully the beginning of a long partnership, so is not a decision to be made lightly!
- What’s on your agent wish list at the moment? What submissions would you love to see in your inbox?
In general terms, I would love to see more middle grade submissions, and fiction aimed at 5-8 year olds. The majority of my submissions are either YA and picture books, and while these are two markets that I’m very passionate about I would love more of a variety! More specifically, I am always on the lookout for commercial stories with queer protagonists, and stories that are inclusive of diverse and minority voices without this necessarily being the focus of the book (particularly in more traditionally conservative genres like fantasy). That said, I am really hungry for new submissions at the moment, and I would always advise to write what you’re passionate about, and not be tied down by trends or briefs!
For details on how to submit your manuscript to Lucy, click here.
You can also sign up to Aisha and Lucy’s Preparing for Submission course here, which starts Monday 13th January.