An Interview With… Laetitia Rutherford

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Laetitia Rutherford to the blog. Here, she discusses what she looks for in submissions, what her ideal query letter is and most importantly, what she does away from the office.

Thanks Laetitia for giving up your time, and over to you with your answers…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?
In another life, I’d be a chef, a dancer or a yoga teacher, or maybe a therapist. But I kept on finding a pile of books in the way…

I didn’t have much awareness of the role before I joined a publisher and learned of the lines between author, agent and publisher. Agents are relatively hidden compared to other roles in the book business. Back when the Writers & Artists’ Handbook was the bible, agents may have seemed invisible or faceless and unreachable. Now with the internet and social media, even though a lot of the work is behind the scenes, it’s good that what we do is more transparent and accessible.

2) I read on your website that you represent authors across both fiction and non fiction. Do you have anything specific that you are looking for at the moment? 

We’re living in such turbulent times at the moment, the upside is this is an opportunity to bring challenging, timely ideas to the fore. Previously, climate change was seen as a negative subject, and people were afraid to address the state of our mental health. Now these are big on the agenda – but I would say that a solutions-oriented message helps. So I am looking for timely books in Non-Fiction, from expert or well-placed authors and often in the how-to-live arena, and I love a good memoir. In Fiction, be timeliness is part of it, but less so. I am also looking for timeless beauty, in addition to the crime genre, great emotional storytelling, and stories that reassure and charm. 

3) First and foremost, what do you look for in query letters? 

A headline encapsulating what the book is draws the eye. Then, a brief and cogent description of the book, and where it might fit in the world (though as agent, I would contribute to that side of it). Finally, a little about the author, touching on why they in particular match the work they have chosen to write. Also, it can be good to know why the writer has come to me: a well-thought out connection suggesting why we would work well together is a great starting point, though with fiction (especially outside genre) that may not always be possible to define.

4) On the other hand, what is your pet peeve about query letters? 

I suppose the scattergun approach is the least inspiring, where the writer seems to be sending out masses of queries without much targeting. Also, word count matters. A novel above 100,000 words presents challenges. Sticking to the rough word count of the form may sound workmanlike, but I think this is part of the discipline, the art and achievement of it, and the work’s commercial viability. 

5) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? Do you feel that there is a sub genre in need of more representation?
The market is exciting at the moment as it is searching and shifting away from the recent huge trend in psychological suspense, and towards more stand-out hooks in this space, and other blends of crime genres. There’s a latitude in the genre giving a good writer a lot of freedom, and editors are welcoming unusual concepts. 
I would like to see more diverse casts of characters in the genre, and unusual settings. I recently sold 2 books launching a sleuthing Welsh social worker (the first, Allegation by RG Adams comes out next summer). It was great to find how warmly people responded to this character. Also next summer, I’m looking forward to The Waiter coming out by my author Ajay Chowdhury, about a formerly Kolkata-based detective now working as a waiter on Brick Lane who becomes embroiled in a London murder. 
I’d like to see more richly drawn, compromised, women characters in positions of power, for example as barristers, or CEOs, as this would show real everyday problems projected on to the big workings of the world. Or unusual careers like the social worker or probation officer; or voices less heard from like the PA or bouncer. New takes on classic locked room and whodunnit would also be great to see a new writer run with.

6) What is your guilty pleasure genre, if you have one? 

Pleasure is central to reading so I don’t attach guilt to reading any genre of book! 

7) Is there a genre of book that you would never read? 

Never say never, but Sci Fi generally doesn’t appeal to me, nor full-on romance.  

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and did you enjoy it?

I’m reading Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi, an elegant high-concept murder mystery represented by my colleague James Wills, coming out from Penguin next year, and a delight. I adored Lanny by Max Porter; it’s like a crime novel wrapped in a state-of-the-nation piece wrapped in a poem. Amazing, and very efficiently done in about 200 pages.

9) Once you leave your desk for the day, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening, what do you do to relax?  

Go and give my children a cuddle, and our cat. Catch up with my husband on our day, and decide what’s for dinner. That if I haven’t already decided what’s for dinner.

10) Apologies for the sidetrack – Do you like Rod Stewart, and if so, do you have a favourite song of his?

If you had an 80s childhood like me, you can’t not like Rod Stewart! The voice, the hair, the activism, and he was a working class Londoner who made it big. It’s not my favourite music, but what a guy. 

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