Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Rachel Mills to the blog. Rachel founded RM Literary Agency in 2019, and she kindly answers my questions on what she looks for in submissions.
Over to you, Rachel…
1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?
After my A-Levels I went to dancing school! I loved dancing as much as books… but after a year realised I just didn’t have that total focus and commitment to dance above all else which you need. So then I went to my other love of books and studied English – and got my first job in publishing as a part-time job at Transworld, while I was doing my degree.
2) How are you drawn into a submission? Is it the covering letter, the proposal of the novel or the sample writing? What leaves you wanting more?
It depends on the kind of book; if it is a book where the writing is the most important thing, a literary memoir for example, the sample writing is most important as it really is your voice and use of language which will resonate, and that is a very personal thing. If it is a platform or expertise-led book intended to be ghostwritten, the author’s biography and forthcoming activities might be more important. If you can summarise your book simply and elegantly in a paragraph in the cover email, it’s going to stand out.
3) How do you know when you have connected with a manuscript? Can you describe that feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author?’
I love that feeling! It’s when you get shivers down your spine and cannot WAIT to tell everyone about it, and you can immediately think of all the editors who will love it.
4) Why did you choose non fiction work as your specialisation? What is it that attracts you to it?
I represent authors, not books – as in, it’s about the people. I love the huge variety of people from all walks of life you get to become involved with, I find it so creative and exciting to be able to bring their world together with the publishing world. I love fiction too, and of course novelists are wonderful and interesting people too, but there’s something about being able to read about someone in the news who is doing something incredible, and being able to call them and see if they’d like to do a book, which I really enjoy.
5) If you have asked to see a complete manuscript, what would make you reject the work and say it isn’t for you?
In non-fiction I very rarely do this, it’s more normal to sell on proposal.
6) Can you name one non fiction author you admire, that isn’t one of your clients, and say why you like their style of writing?
I loved Educated by Tara Westover as it was such a brilliant example of what you can do with memoir, her writing is incredible and the story so inspiring, gripping and moving.
7) Do you have one book that reminds you of your childhood? If so, which one and why?
Martha Graham’s autobiography Blood Memory. I think that’s what sent me to dancing school…
8) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are your habits changing? Mine are refusing to – I’m sticking to the crime dramas that I very much love and know.
I’m rewatching The West Wing and trying to imagine it’s the current White House! I loved the adaptation of Normal People aswell.
9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to your favourite novels or finding new ones?
Both! Just reread The Debt to Pleasure which is an old favourite, and I’ve been enjoying travel writing in the absence of being able to travel – Chris Stewart, Laurie Lee. And nature writing – just read Wilding by Isabella Tree. I am loving my overflowing cookbook shelves, and in having to cook three meals a day at home, getting through so many interesting recipes and reconnecting with old favourites like Macella Hassan and Madhur Jaffrey, aswell as newer books by Diana Henry and Ottolenghi. I think I might have a classics phase next and read some Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen…
10) If you had a choice between Rod Stewart or Freddie Mercury, who would you choose and why?
Freddie Mercury, just love him. Imagine how great working with him on his autobiography would have been… very sad he didn’t have the opportunity (or desire!) to do one.
Thank you for visiting the blog today, Rachel. It has been a pleasure to interview you.
RML was founded in 2019 by Rachel Mills. Rachel previously worked as Literary Agent at Furniss Lawton agency, within the James Grant Talent Group, and before that as Agent and International Business Director for Peters Fraser and Dunlop agency, where she was a member of the Executive Board. Prior to that she worked in publishing at Penguin and Random House. In the 16 years she has worked in the industry, Rachel has secured major publishing deals for a diverse range of authors including Jamie Oliver, Jeanette Winterson, Bear Grylls, Dr Steve Peters, Fearne Cotton, Bosh!, Catherine Gray, Alice Vincent, Marianne Power, Twisted, Dr Dani.
In 2015 she was awarded The Bookseller Rights Professional of the Year Award and in 2011 was nominated a ‘Rising Star’ by The Bookseller magazine.