Hi folks, I am so sorry for the delay in posting this interview. I have had a LOT to handle with regards to my Access Course. Assignments, more assignments and then some personal stuff.
Anyway, I am delighted to welcome literary agent Jemima Forrester to my blog. Here, she discusses her background to becoming a literary agent, her guilty pleasure genre and what she looks for in a submission package.
Over to you, Jemima.
1) Did you see yourself as a literary agent after you left school? Did you have any other career plans?
Not at all. I studied English at university, but until my second year I was set on doing the conversion course and going into law. Sadly the 2008 financial crash put paid to training contracts the year I was applying and I couldn’t afford to study it without financial help, so I thoughts I’d get a job and apply a few years later. I’ve always loved books and been a big reader so publishing seemed to be an obvious choice. I got my first job as an editorial assistant at Headline about eight years ago and I haven’t looked back!
2) How did you find your experience of being a senior commissioning editor at Orion Publishing?
I loved being an editor and commissioning gives you such a thrill. It’s the very front line of publishing and you’re involved in every stage of the process, from spotting the potential of a manuscript when it lands in your inbox, to negotiating a deal with the author and/or agent, helping to mould the text, working with Design and Production to get a beautiful looking book, and liaising with Sales, Marketing and Publicity to get that book into the hands of as many readers as possible. It’s a big job and a lot of responsibility, but when a book works and readers love it, you can feel very proud of your role in that.
3) How does it differ to your current role at David Higham?
There are a lot of similar elements to my role as an agent now. I still have to be able to spot manuscripts with the potential to be commercially successful published books, I work with authors to edit their novels and get them into the best shape possible before submitting, and I have to negotiate contracts – though this time from the other side of the fence! However, the biggest difference is probably having less control over the shaping of a book once it’s been acquired (writing copy, briefing the cover, devising marketing and publicity plans, etc). I have to let go and trust that the publishers to know what’s right for the book. The other big difference is my relationship with my authors. The agent/author relationship is much closer than agent and editor and I have to be there for my authors to offer them guidance, support and alleviate their worries. Authors don’t want to nag their editors or unburden their worries and fears onto them, but they know they can do it with me and that I’ll be there to help them as much as I can.
4) What do you look in a covering email by a submitting author?
The covering letter is probably the most important part of the submission package. When you think about how many submissions agents get every day, it’s important that your covering letter pitches your book in just the right way and sell you as a writer. By that I don’t mean it has to be a work of literary genius, but take the time to make sure everything is spelled correctly and in a format that looks smart and easy to read. Other than that, your covering letter should include a brief pitch of the book and where in the market it fits (comparison authors or titles are useful for this), some concise information about you and any book-related credentials you have and, to show you’ve done your homework, it’s good to include a line saying why you’ve selected the specific agent or agency you’re applying to. I want to know that you’ve picked me because you’ve looked at my bio or client list and felt like your book would fit well on my list. I hate to feel like an author has just printed off (or emailed over) 50 identical, impersonal emails to a random selection of agents. Letters or emails addressed to ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear agent’ or – the worst – ‘Dear sirs’ usually end up at the bottom of my to-read pile as I know they’re the least likely to be tailored to my personal tastes.
5) Is there something in the crime genre that you haven’t seen or read about previously that you think ‘I could see that in a book’?
That’s a tough one. Crime is one of those genres that is so well-represented it’s hard to think of something credible that hasn’t been done. Top of my wish list is a female-led thriller where the central female characters aren’t portrayed as unhinged, manipulative or straight-up victims. I’d love to find a fresh British crime series with a really nuanced female lead and a strong sense of place.
6) What is your guilty pleasure genre?
I feel no guilt about this, but I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books multiple times and listened to Stephen Fry’s audio editions more times than I’d probably admit.
7) What was the last book you read and did you enjoy it?
The last book I read was a non-fiction book: Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton. I adored it and it brought back many memories of my teenage years spent mainly on MSN Messenger (cringe). I’m not sure I learnt anything about love, to be honest, but it was a really beautifully written, funny, moving book about growing up, making mistakes and the enduring power of friendship.
8) Completely random – Do you like Rod Stewart and do you have a favourite song of his?
I love this question! Definitely the first time I’ve ever been asked this. I’m not a die-hard Rod Stewart fan (though my mother definitely is!), but I do love ‘Maggie May’ and ‘Handbags and Gladrags’.
Jemima joined David Higham in September 2016 having previously been senior commissioning editor at Orion Publishing Group. She is looking for commercial and upmarket fiction, including crime and thrillers, psychological suspense, accessible literary fiction, women’s fiction and speculative/high-concept novels.
Jemima loves distinctive narrative voices, well-paced, intriguing plots and characters that leap off the page. Her favourite books of recent years include Elizabeth is Missing, Disclaimer, Life After Life, The Night Circus, Me Before You and anything by Jo Nesbø, Margaret Atwood or Curtis Sittenfeld.
In non-fiction, she is looking for innovative cookery, popular-culture and lifestyle projects, unique personal stories and humour.