An Interview With… David Headley

Hi everyone, and today, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent David Headley to the blog. Alongside the what he looks for in submission questions, David also answered my questions on what is he up to during lockdown.

Over to you, David…

1) Did you always want to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?

A short answer is no. I had no idea that a literary agent was even a job until I started working in my bookshop. I didn’t even want to be a bookseller but I have always loved reading. From as far back as I can remember, I was always reading. I was also a librarian in school. I had thoughts of being in the police and joining the RAF and was a cadet for a short time. It wasn’t until I had left school that I finally decided that I wanted to be a Catholic priest, though it took some time to come to that decision. It was the best thing that I ever did because it gave me an education that has massively helped me. I decided to become a literary agent 12 years ago and it has been the most rewarding career.

2) How are you drawn into a submission – is it the covering letter, synopsis or sample writing? What can an author do to leave you wanting more?

A covering letter can be intriguing. I find that the submissions that I am drawn to are the ones where the author is confident and they are clear about what they are writing. They have a skill to pull me in. The synopsis isn’t ever the thing that I judge the submission on. I always judge the submission on the writing. If I have reached the end of the three chapters and I desperately want to read more then I know I have something special.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript?

Usually it is in the first few pages. Sense of place and strong narrative voice will grab me and keep me.

4) What, currently, are you not looking for? Do you mind if an author blends genres in their writing?

I’m never really prescriptive because the books that I represent are often books that took me by surprise and ones that I would not normally have called for. If an author blends a genre that is fine if it done well. Genres have rules and as long as those rules are kept it will work. Often, those books that don’t meet the rules and are successful are because the writers know the rules well and know how to break them.

5) What would make you reject a manuscript, if you have asked to see the completed work?

If I can’t see how to fix the issues then I will reject a manuscript that I have called in. Sometimes, writers spend so much time perfecting their first three chapters for submission they forget that the rest of the book needs the same work. I will also reject a manuscript if the writing needs too much work and I feel the writer has been impatient in sending their submission too early. Publishing is a marathon not a sprint.

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

The crime and thriller genre is my favourite and I read a lot of crime and thriller books. I am a judge for a crime prize and so I read widely. I can’t think there is a sub-genre that is under represented, though there should be more diverse voices. That is without question.

7) Is there one book from your childhood that you still read now? If so, why are you still drawn to it? Mine is any of the Harry Potter series and the Horrid Henry books. I was a huge fan of the novels and my six year old self had nightmares about Voldermort.

I really wish I had time to revisit books from my childhood. I do, though, have a brilliant memory and I can recall a lot about the books that I have read. I read so many new books for the bookshop and as an agent that I just don’t have time to re-read books.

Life is too short and there are so many books. Also, I think reading a book at a certain time makes a difference to how you read it and what impact it will have on you.

8) What are your views on book to film or television adaptations? Do you prefer the book or the film versions?

As an agent, they are great, and can be very lucrative for authors. I think that you have to accept that both mediums are very different and there will always be differences that you will not like. I always explain to my clients that if they sell options to their work they might have to accept that there will be changes that they may not like.

9) During lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to favourite books or finding new ones? I’m a mix of both.

I am reading submissions and books coming out in the next six months. There are some really brilliant books coming soon, I have just finished reading Laura Shepherd Robinsons’s second novel, The Daughters of the Night which is fantastic. This is a follow-up to her brilliant debut, Blood and Sugar. I am also reading new manuscripts and editing books by my clients. It is business as normal in that respect for me.

10) During lockdown, what are you currently watching? Are your TV habits changing? I’m binging on Netflix in the daytime.

I have just finished watching Gangs of London and I am currently watching Hollywood. My TV habits haven’t changed because the weather has been so fantastic that I have spent a lot of time working in the garden.

Thank you so much for your time today, David. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio:

David Headley studied theology in London and Durham before co-founding and becoming the Managing Director of Goldsboro Books, a much admired, leading independent bookseller, based in central London.

David has spent the last 21 years establishing Goldsboro Books and building good relationships with editors within the UK’s major publishing houses. He has a good eye for what readers want to read and he has gained a reputation for championing debut authors. He created the UK’s largest collectors’ book club and is influential in selling large quantities of hardback fiction in the UK. David has won awards for bookselling and in 2015 he was included in the Top 100 most influential people in publishing by The Bookseller.

David is the managing director of the D H H Literary Agency which he founded in 2008 and represents an eclectic range of best-selling and award-winning authors.

Currently looking for:

David is actively seeking well written stories with strong characters and an original narrative voice across both general and genre fiction, and is specifically on the lookout for crime / thrillers with a twist and a beautifully told, scene-setting romance. David is not looking for non-fiction, books for children, young adult [YA], history, poetry, plays, screenplays & short stories / novellas.

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