An Interview With… Max Edwards

Hi everyone, and this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Max Edwards to the blog. Max is an agent at Aevitas Creative, based in London and he was kind enough to answer a few questions on what he has been up to in lockdown, how he first got involved in the industry and what he looks for in submissions.

Details on what Max is looking for, and how to submit are below.

Over to you, Max…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I went to university to do English because I loved reading, and stories, before anything else – as such I realised quite early on in my uni career I wanted be in publishing of some kind. University in London helped that enormously – I made an effort to go to events, particularly in the Science Fiction/fantasy world (my first love!), which would happen at the old Blackwells on Charing Cross, or the old Foyles building, or elsewhere. And it was a lovely, tight knit community (I have loads of friends and colleagues I first met there), with authors, fans, and, importantly, editors and agents who would all attend each others’ launches or talks. I ended up chatting with Anne Perry, then a new editor at Hodder, who kindly arranged some work experience. I also had a friend at FSG in New York who helped me get a week at Tor/Macmillan here. So with those two under my belt, and the advantage of being in London, I looked for more work experience/internships, one of which was at Sheil Land Literary Agency and another at Blake Friedmann Literary Agency – I fell in love with that side, having fingers in every part of the publishing pie, from the editorial to the contractual to the financial and the closeness of relationship with authors.

2) You studied English at university. What was your experience like of the course and how has it helped you in your current role?

Honestly, I’d recommend not doing an English degree to get into publishing. I didn’t really enjoy being told what to read, within a certain scope. Yes, of course it gives a theoretical grounding in literature, but really I wanted to read what I loved. It killed that sense of wonder and exploration from a good book for me for a bit. I actually got in to a history course originally, before rejecting it in favour of English – and regretted it. Publishing takes all sorts – its not a career that needs a certain course to study, and thinking outside the box (and having a different experience) can be a massive boon. I have a friend who runs an imprint at a major independent who did a degree in evolutionary biology, and I think it helps make her taste and experiences broader and more interesting.

3) What would you say defines a high concept thriller? What, currently, are you looking for in submissions?

I work across both fiction and non-fiction, with non-fiction being the predominant element of my list. As a result, I take on quite a small number of novels and novelists, and there has to be a real ‘wow’ moment for whatever reason. Key to that is plot, and hook – a great high concept has the clue in the name: high concept. I have recently sold an incredible book that I pitched as THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE meets WESTWORLD with a dash of BLACK MIRROR – which tells you neatly that it’s a complex murder mystery with AI and neat examinations of technology. This, to me, was nectar. A great high concept is a twist on one element of the world – be it reliving your life, with all you memories intact (THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST), the world’s rotation stopping and that fallout (THE LAST DAY by Andrew Hunter Murray) or four mysterious plane crashes with three child survivors, all somehow linked (Sarah Lotz’s THE THREE), it take an event, a twist on our world, and plays with the consequences. Give me that sweet sweet hook, and I’m all over it.

4) Where do you start with the submission package? The cover letter, the synopsis or sample writing? What would make you want to request the full manuscript?

When I look at a submission, I work in a rule of three: Three paragraphs of the cover letter (can they write, have they spelt my name right, do they comp well); three paragraphs of the MS (is the sentence-by-sentence good enough, do I care, does it start waking up in bed [booo!]), three pages, then three chapters. You have to grip me at every stage, make me care enough to get to the end of your 7,500 or so words, and if you’re doing that, I want to see the rest. I hate synopses. I never read them.

5) Can you describe the first initial phone call with a client? How do you feel when you offer representation?

If, after reading an author’s words, I think three things – is it good enough, can I sell it (not always the same – one has to consider the commerciality of a project) and am I adding value –  its time to try and woo them. I’ll chat to an author to sound them out, what they want from the book, what they’re thoights are with regard an editorial process, what they know or otherwise about the publishing process, how I would work with them (I’m quite ‘hands-on’, I like to edit quite hard), what their timeline is like, are they, and this is vital, a dick (I haven’t met any yet – but I want to at the very least like and respect my clients!! And you can’t do that if they’re a bit of a dick.) With luck, you end that call offering representation – you have a plan, you know how you’ll work together, where you’re both going with the project, what they want and you fell you have a realistic chance of meeting those expectations.

It is the absolute best thing when you offer representation, and a client says yes! You go into it feeling nervous, selling yourself, what you can do with the book, asking an author to trust you with something precious, and then they do – its amazing, and a real honour. Of course, I’d always recommend authors go with their gut – this book is one of the most important things in your life, from a time, emotion and reputation basis, and you should only ever sign with someone you believe in as much as we believe in you.

6) What are your views on the fiction and nonfiction market currently? Across both genres, what would you like to see more of that hasn’t been submitted before to you?

I think lockdown/covid has hurt the midlist – books I’d have expected to have sold nine months ago have struggled, particularly in fiction. Publishers are snapping up ‘surefire’ hits – celebrity, memoir with an edge, big commercial novels – but are taking less risks, obviously to secure their bottom line against what will be, without a doubt, the worst year economically on record for the vast majority of publishers. I’d love, however, to keep working on the books I love – in fiction, I want fresh, hooky novels that straddle the speculative and the commercial (or are just straight hooky commercial), or are on the literary end of straight reading group in fiction, a mega epic fantasy with a new approach; in non-fiction, a new history of something with a great angle (I really want a big history of Persia!), an investigative book about a big cultural subject (I’m on the hunt for a book on gambling, for eg), memoir with punch, from the ‘professional confessional’ like my clients Nick Pettigrew, whose Anti-Social explored his life as an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer, or Dr Dominic Pimenta, who is writing as a doctor on the frontlines of Covid in Duty of Care, to the more interior, like Charlie Gilmour’s wonderful Featherhood, recently released, or Kerry Hudson’s magnificentLowborn; and above all, more books by female non-fiction writers, who are underrepresented across all non fiction genres.

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

I’m a massive football fan, and my masochistic hobby is that I referee at a decent standard. SO normally I’ll have a game on Saturday afternoonand Sunday morning, and will watch the Premier League around that. I also, obviously, read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, am into my computer games and love to go and visit the cinema, or theatre, or whatnot with my girlfriend (I went out for an actual cultural event last week, for the first time since February. Long may it continue!). It can be quite hectic, but it takes my mind to different places and weirdly focuses me better on my work.

8) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

A lot of easy watches! I’ve just fiished bingeing Selling Sunset, which is ridiculous but fun, and before that watched all of No Offence, which is a darkly funny female-fronted police procedural on Channel 4 by the guy who did Shameless. I love cops, wise guys/gals, big ticket drama and silly, meta comedies.

9) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found that your habits have changed?

It took me until the end of April to actually get through a non-work book after lockdown. I needed to ease myself back in through simpler reads – Pratchett was the first, and I’ve got massively into a YA author, MA Bennett, with whom I’m can just immerse myself. But recently I’m getting back to relative normality – I just finished The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova, about her journey through poker and an exploration of luck, and listened to my favourite crime writer, Joy Ellis’, new book They Disappeared on Audible.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

That’s bloody difficult. I love all three – I’ve seen both Rod and AC/DC in concert, so I guess I’d go for Freddie and Queen – if only because I can belt out Don’t Stop Me Now one minute, and Killer Queen the next, but take a ballad-y break with Somebody to Love or The Show Must Go On…

Thank you for your time today, Max. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Max graduated from Kings College, London with a degree in English language. He worked as a bookseller at Blackwell’s in Oxford and for Sports Interactive, developers of the computer game Football Manager, before moving into publishing. He worked at a number of literary agencies including United Agents and Rogers, Coleridge and White, and set-up Apple Tree Literary in 2019 before joining ACM UK.

What I’m Looking For: Max Edwards represents both non-fiction, working with a number of journalists, thinkers and academics writing for a trade audience, and adult fiction, predominantly commercial, SFF and crime novelists. Non-fiction he represents include Sunday Times Middle East Correspondent Louise Callaghan for Father of Lions; Suzanne Wrack, The Guardian’s Women’s Football Correspondent for A Woman’s Game: The History of Women’s Football; palaeontologist Dr David Hone for The Modern Age of Dinosaurs; and Jay Owen’s Planet of Dust: How We Live in a Changing World. Fiction includes Aliya Whiteley’s Clarke Award shortlisted The Loosening Skin, crime novels from Guy Morpuss and fantasy from Juliet E. McKenna.

In fiction, Max is looking for commercial and genre novels, and is a massive fan of novels that mix genres in a unique way. He’s a sucker for high concepts, smart plots and unique characters – twists and turns, good (and bad) guys with depth and life. Max is also looking for great stories that can be told through non-fiction; either unique or surprising takes on a subject, or something wildly original. He’d love to hear from academics mixing the arts and science in a new way, journalists wanting to take their writing beyond the article, sports writers with a new way of exploring what we play (particularly football/soccer), or writers with an untold history to tell.

How to submit: Please send a cover letter, a synopsis and the first twenty pages of your manuscript.

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