An Interview With… Juliet Mushens

Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Juliet Mushens. Juliet is a literary agent at Mushens Entertainment, and kindly accommodated some time to talk about what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you, Juliet…

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

I studied History at University and had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. A friend said to me, ‘you read faster than anyone I know, what about publishing?’ I googled the industry and found a paid summer internship at HarperCollins.

I applied to work in their children’s marketing team as the summer intern and didn’t get the job, but they passed my CV to the fiction marketing team who took me on. It was a two-hour commute for me each way (Essex to Hammersmith!) but because it was paid I could afford to do it, and I absolutely loved the job. At the end of the internship, their assistant was leaving, and they offered me her fulltime role.

I took on a dual marketing/editorial position, and whilst I enjoyed it, as I started to come into contact with agents and understand more about their role, I realised that that was what I wanted to do. As an agent you can work across fiction and non-fiction, and that appealed to my broad reading tastes!

I applied to be an assistant at an agency and I worked my way up from there. I have now been a literary agent fulltime for ten years.

2) How did it feel being shortlisted for Literary Agent of the Year?

It was extremely exciting to be shortlisted! I was 27 at the time so it was early in my career, and it felt like a wonderful boost of confidence around the authors I was signing and selling.

3) What attracts you to a submission? Is it the cover letter, the synopsis or the sample writing? How does an author leave you wanting more?

I’m a sucker for a high-concept hook! I’m drawn to plotty novels, with pace and suspense, but I also want to see characters I believe and invest in, and quality writing. I’d say a cover letter should focus on the hook or pitch of the novel, to intrigue me and make me want to read on. The writing needs to establish character and suspense – whether that’s ‘will she get back with her boyfriend?’ or ‘what is she running from?’

4) If you have asked to see a full manuscript, what would make you ultimately reject it? Would you offer editorial feedback at all?

My most common reason to pass on a full manuscript is that the plot didn’t feel ‘big’ enough. I don’t mean by that that every novel needs to be about saving the world, or stopping a killer – but each novel needs to set up questions which will be answered by the end of the book, to keep us reading on.

I want to feel as if I have gone on a journey with the characters, and that they have been changed by the events of the novel. I do offer editorial feedback if I pass on a full manuscript.

5) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author’? How do you feel when you offer representation?

I feel very excited when I think I want to represent something. It’s a heart response first, an ‘oh I love this, I’m so gripped, I can’t put it down!’ then it’s a head response of ‘do I know how to sell this? Does it need edits? Can I fix it?’ But heart is crucial: I’m really passionate about the novels I take on. It’s nerve-wracking to offer representation, especially if they have other offers from agents, but it feels amazing when someone says yes. Then, of course, the hard work begins.

6) Do you have a view of the crime/thriller market at the moment? Is there anything that you haven’t seen in a book before?

Two of my crime/thriller authors are topping the charts at the moment: Richard Osman’s THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB is the number one Sunday Times bestseller and GIRL A by Abigail Dean is the number two Sunday Times bestseller this week. They’re both very different takes on the genre. THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB is very much a golden age murder mystery.

GIRL A has a very interesting structure: you know they escaped from page one, but it’s more about the psychological ramifications after a crime rather than the crime itself. So, in short, the genre is thriving, but I think authors are developing very different takes on it.

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

I love working out and I usually do an hour of weights on a Friday as a way to switch off from work. I then cook dinner and we always play a board game or watch a film afterwards. I’m a big fan of games like Splendor and King Domino. Before the pandemic I could normally be found at a jazz club on a Friday night, swinging out (I’ve been dancing lindy-hop for around ten years), or karaoke with friends. I also, unsurprisingly, read a lot of novels.

8) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

I’m currently reading ‘These Women’ by Ivy Pochoda, which is a literary thriller told from the perspective of the women impacted by a series of murders in their neighbourhood. I’ve recently set up a book group with a friend which means I’m reading books I would never have picked up: which I love.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I watch a lot of TV! Currently I’m watching The West Wing and we recently finished The Americans, which is now my favourite drama series of all time. I also loved Selling Sunset, Last Kingdom, The X Files (which I’d never seen before!), Queen’s Gambit… okay, maybe I watch too much TV.

10) What music do you like to listen to? Have you missed live music in lockdown?

I love 1950s RnB, jazz, swing and soul. Little Willie John, Django Reinhardt, Fluffy Hunter, Amos Milburn…. I hugely miss live music and especially dancing to live music. I can’t wait until it’s safe to do so again!

Thank you so much for your time Juliet. It was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Juliet Mushens started her publishing career in 2008 at HarperCollins, and became an agent in 2011. She has been shortlisted for Literary Agent of the Year four times and is currently the number 1 ranked UK dealmaker on Publishers’ Marketplace.

She represents a bestselling and critically acclaimed list, including million-copy no. 1 bestseller Jessie Burton, multi-million copy NY Times bestseller Taran Matharu, record-breaking no. 1 bestseller Richard Osman, and Sunday Times bestsellers Ali Land, Claire Douglas, Debbie Howells, Stacey Halls, Laura Lam and James Oswald.

Her guide to YA creative writing was published by Hodder in 2015. You can find her on twitter as @mushenska.

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