An Interview With… Ariella Feiner

Hi everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Ariella Feiner to the blog. Ariella is a literary agent at United Agents, and before that she worked for PFD Literary Agency. Read on to find out what she looks for in that all important submission, alongside what she gets up to on a weekend.

Over to you, Ariella…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I didn’t know that literary agents existed until I was at university, so it never occurred to me as a career option at school. Most people still don’t know what we do – it’s a fairly hidden profession and I’m constantly asked if I teach people literacy! I instinctively wanted to work with books and assumed that that meant becoming an editor. It was only once I applied for various work experience schemes at publishing houses that I heard of this as a job. I was fortunate enough to gain a placement on the work experience scheme at PFD and everything immediately slotted into place at that point. There are so many different, interesting and crucial jobs in publishing which don’t fit into the immediately obvious ‘editor’ bracket, and we should be better at explaining them to people.

2) How did you find the move from PFD to United Agents?

It was incredibly challenging, but also uniquely empowering. It brought the team together in a way that only a big shock to the system can do and also threw up all sorts of challenges and learning opportunities which I would never have had otherwise. I think it’s fair to say that we all grew a lot in that time.

3) What draws you to issue-led novels?

One of my favourite things about books is that they can not only transport you to a different place, but into the head of a completely different person. I want to feel myself grow a little as that character grows, to be carried along on their emotional journey just as much as they are. One of my favourite novels is My Sister’s Keeper. By the end of that book I completely connected with and understood how five separate individuals responded to one singular issue and it was an immensely humbling and powerful reading experience.

4) What do you consider a standout query letter? On the other hand, what wouldn’t attract you to a submission?

Tell me about your book in the first sentence – what makes it stand out, where do you see it in the market, why are you passionate about it? If you are able to write a wonderful novel you can definitely write an intriguing submission letter and it is important. I read everything which comes in, but I can easily receive at least ten submissions a day, so make your email count.

5) How did you find being nominated for The Rising Star by The Bookseller?

That was a very lovely moment and The Bookseller made it such a joyous occasion. We all had a tea together and celebrated and it felt like a good time to just take stock and enjoy it all.

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? In your view, is there a sub genre you think is in need of more representation?

I adore my crime and thriller books. People often think that it’s easy to write them because they are ‘commercial’, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

It’s an interesting question. For an extremely long time the psychological thriller was all-powerful, and now we are moving very much away from that to other genres, such as uplit, reading group novels and so on. I hope we see more of a resurgence of brilliant crime books in general and whilst the genre does very much have its challenges, and it can be hard to sell new books to editors if they don’t have that killer elevator pitch, people will always want brilliantly written, twisty books which surprise and enthral them. It’s also deeply comforting to discover a new author with a wonderful backlist you can rely on to keep you going. I’m planning on using this awful time with the Coronavirus to get through as much of Elly Griffiths’ backlist as I can!

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

I have to read every night before I go to bed. I tend to read a novel and then go to a non-fiction book, and then back to fiction. I think that, overall, non-fiction is the strongest it’s ever been which is partly why people are turning to it more and more, but I couldn’t cope without my novels at the same time.

I don’t read any sci-fi, but otherwise dip into lots of different areas of the market. I love crime and thrillers, as well as uplit and reading group books, but then I’ve also read most of the professional memoirs out there and books such as Wild or Educated, about one person’s life experience, have stayed with me for years after I have read them.

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

I’ve just finished The Silent Patient, which I hugely enjoyed. It’s so cleverly constructed and an extremely original idea, which is no mean feat. I’m just about to start War Doctor and then I’ll move on to Heatstroke. I like to plan ahead!

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

The best thing on a Friday is to just spend some quality time with my kids and on a Friday night I often love nothing more than to turn my phone off and curl up in my armchair with a glass of wine and a good book. When you’re a full-time working mum with two little boys, that’s pretty blissful!

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would you choose and why?

It has to be Freddie, for me. The over-the-top drama of it all is fantastic. Having said all of that, nothing makes me happier music-wise than a bit of old school R ‘n’ B.

Bio: I started working at PFD in 2006 before moving to United Agents and I now represent many bestselling, critically-acclaimed, and award-winning authors across fiction and non-fiction, including Sunday Times bestselling books, Richard and Judy bookclub picks, million-copy selling authors and #1 New York Times bestselling books. In 2017, The Bookseller named me as a Rising Star.

One of the joys of being a literary agent is the range of books I can work on. I adore the rush of being the first to discover exciting new voices and the strategy of working with authors to shape their careers in the long term. I want manuscripts which make me sit up and take notice of them, whether it be through beautiful prose, a hugely original idea or, at their best, stories which make me sob.

I am always open to submissions and have discovered many of my most exciting authors that way. In fiction do send me crime and thrillers, issue-led books, character-driven stories, reading group books, high-concept tales, a great elevator pitch, novels with strong female characters, historical fiction with a twist, and anything like Room, The Help or The Time Traveller’s Wife, which breaks the mould. Recent fiction I’ve adored includes The LidoEleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThe FamiliarsThe Rumour, and Queenie.

On the non-fiction front, do be in touch with exciting non-fiction such as topics which feel untouched before now or are inspiring, expert-led ideas, mouth-watering cook books and empowering female tales. Non-fiction which has moved me enormously or made me laugh includes This is Going to Hurt, Wild, Educated, and Everything I Know About Love.

How to submit: For submissions please email a synopsis together with either the first three chapters of a novel or a proposal for a non-fiction book directly to me at afeiner@unitedagents.co.uk.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Ariella. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

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