Hi everyone, this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Diana Beaumont to the blog. She very kindly answers my questions on what she’s looking for in submissions, as well as what she’s up to in lockdown. Details of how to submit to her are at the bottom of the Q&A.
Over to you, Diana…
1) How did you first come to be involved in the industry? Did you plan to be a literary agent? Did you actually have any other career plans?
I didn’t have a clue to be honest. It was all quite organic. I studied English at university and tried out a couple of jobs – including working for an art charity – before I figured that my first love had always been books. I started working at an art publisher, Thames & Hudson, realised that I was better suited to a more general trade list and got a job at Hodder & Stoughton as an editorial assistant. When I started working the employment situation was more fluid than it is now, and internships/work placements weren’t so common. After Hodder I became a commisioning editor at Transworld then after about 8 years took a career break while I figured out what to do next and had my twin boys. In 2011 I started as a literary agent, working from home, and felt like I had found the right job for me not least because it allows you to be very autonomousbut also to work closely with authors both creatively and on the business side of things. I joined Marjacq in 2017 and it is a great fit – a boutique agency with supportive colleagues and no real hierarchy.
2) How did you find your 2012 experience of being shortlisted for The Rising Star by The Bookseller? How did it compare with the RNA shortlist in 2019?
When I was listed as a Rising Star [it wasn’t a shortlist] the year after I started as an agent it felt good, really encouraging especially as my career had taken a new direction, which was nerve-racking at times especially as I often had two crying babies in the background, even though I wasn’t new to the business. The RNA shortlist was very gratifying as a number of my clients write in this area so it felt like it celebrated them too.
3) What are you mostly attracted to in a submission? The character voice, the tone of the narrative or the freshness of a strong voice in an author?
It tends to be a blend of all of these things. The voice is the thing that ultimately lures me in – the plot/structure can all be worked on.
4) What are you currently looking for in submissions? From the sample writing, cover letter, or synopsis, what draws you in first?
My list is what I generally describe as smart commercial fiction and non fiction so anything in that area from social justice and lifestyle to crime novels and romantic comedies with a fresh, feminist take. I am also keen to read diverse voices that represent the world we live in. I do like a good, clear covering letter that describes what the book is, where is sits in the market and, preferably, has a good title and concept. Then, after that, it’s always down to the writing. A synopsis can be a helpful tool.
5) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author’? How do you feel when you offer representation?
It is exciting – I have even felt a kind of ‘tingle’ go through me when I read something where the writing really resonates with me. I think about how I would pitch and market the author, who I would, potentially send it to and how I could help in an editorial capacity. Then you hope, of course, that you both ‘click’ and that they would be happy to be represented by you – which can be nerve-wracking. You have to be able to work well together.
6) What are your views on the fiction market currently across the genres you represent? What would like to see more of, or what do you think hasn’t been done before?
We are all trying to make sense of what’s going on at the moment. People are tending to want absorbing reads that aren’t too challenging right now rather than super literary novels that experiment with language and form, books that take them away from the frustrations of the lockdown although people are certainly wanting thoughtful, investigative reads in non-fiction. We also need to see books that are representive of society as a whole, including voices from those who have been marginalised. I’m a proud feminist and that tends to be reflected in the books I take on. I think there will be an appetite for the gothic at the moment an crime continues to sell well if it has a strong hook and clever twists. Ebook sales have boomed recently but obviously print has been a bit trickier but I hope that will pick up soon as bookshops open again (hurrah!).
7) Can you name one fiction author that you like, and why you admire their style of writing?
Where do I begin? There are so many. I did love The Dry by Jane Harper and have eagerly read the two after that. The sense of place, in a small, remote community ravaged by drought, is so brilliantly alongside evoked alongside tight plotting and really accomplished writing.
8) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you finding that your reading habits are changing at all?
I usually read for pleasure and relaxation before bed. And in the bath. I have been reading a bit more than usual during the day during lockdown. My habits haven’t changed hugely but, perhaps, like many others my concentration isn’t always the best at the moment so it has to be gripping. I’ve just finished Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner, which is both entertaining, thoughtful and timely. I’m now reading You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a collection of her short stories and they are beautifully written: nuanced, thought-provoking and pull you right into the world she creates. I’ve had it sitting around for a while and so glad I picked it up. Next on the list is Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which is one of those modern classics that I have never read so it’s about time.
9) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are you finding that your habits are changing? Do you have a favourite drama that you enjoy religiously?
I have been watching a whole lot of series: Normal People (based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel) which I thought was stunning and very moving, Babylon Berlin, based on the German detective series set in the 1920s which was so rich and evocative, and more comfort tv than usual such as Father Ted (a go to for a much-needed laugh when things seem a bit much) and The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes which is amazing buildings in amazing locations, both of which we’ve watched together as a family – armchair travel at its best with adorable presenters. We also loved The Mandolorian – which took us to another galaxy!
10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?
Freddie Mercury all the way – I love the music, the passion, the drama, the outfitsand general fabulousness. Sorry Rod!
Thank you for visiting the blog today, Diana. It has been a pleasure to interview you!
Bio: Diana joined Marjacq in 2017. She started agenting with Rupert Heath Literary Agency in 2011 before moving to UTA. Before that she was senior commissioning editor at Transworld. Diana was chosen as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars of 2012. She was shortlisted for Agent of the Year 2019 by the RNA.
What she looks for in submissions: Diana represents adult fiction and non-fiction. She’s looking for upmarket women’s commercial fiction with depth and heart, accessible literary fiction, high-concept crime fiction and thrillers. On the non-fiction side Diana enjoys memoir, smart, funny feminists, lifestyle, cookery and is open to anything with a strong, original voice. She also wants to encourage submissions from writers who have been traditionally under-represented.
How to submit: Email the first three chapters along with a covering letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.