© Andrew Hayes-Watkins.
Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Marina De Pass. Marina is a literary agent at the Soho Agency in London and very kindly answered my questions on her journey to becoming a literary agent, what she looks for in submissions and the all important advice for authors wanting to submit.
Over to you, Marina…
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 actually wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do when I left university, but fortuitously found a month-long work experience placement in children’s publishing, which opened my eyes to the world of books. I completely adored my time there and thought that meant I wanted to become an editor.
After various other editorial placements and internships, working across a real variety of genres and books, I ended up working in adult editorial at two of the big UK publishing houses – Little, Brown and HarperCollins. I learned so much about the editorial process and how publishing worked as a business, but even though I had a very covetable job (I think about 500 people applied to take over when I left!), something didn’t feel quite right. I was always instinctively on the author’s side of the argument; I loved the human side of the job. When I made the jump to agenting, everything clicked into place.
2) Can you describe your day-to-day job role as an agent?
One of the things I love about this job is that no day is the same. I do try and start each day reading submissions with my morning brain, but anything could happen.
A call with an author, a meeting with an editor, editing or pitching a new project, negotiating deal terms, drafting contracts, talking to our translation rights colleagues or a US agent… The list goes on, but there is never a boring day.
3) Do you have any advice for the unpublished author wanting to submit to you? What stands out to you in a covering email?
If I can see that a writer has looked me up online and tailored their cover email so that it speaks to me and the genres I work across, it makes a huge difference. It is worth taking the time to do this.
4) What is it in a submission that you are drawn to? Is it the character, plot, pace or theme? How do you know when you have connected with a submission?
In the end, it comes down to gut feeling. One of the agency’s directors once described it to me as ‘the shimmer’. This captures it brilliantly – when I’m reading something I connect with and want to work on, the words literally shimmer on the page.
The feeling is a bit like butterflies. But this could come from any number of things – an affinity for an author’s writing style, an unforgettable setting, a connection with a character, or scintillating chemistry between the main characters. It’s thrilling when it happens and is the signal I need to know that I have to talk to the author ASAP.
5) How do you feel when you email an author to request the rest of their manuscript? How do you feel when you offer representation and think ‘I really want to represent this writer!’
6) Do you have a view on the crime/thriller market at the moment? What would you love to see in a crime submission in particular?
I adore crime and thrillers, and it is an area of the market that continues to do really well around the world and has a huge readership. However, is also true that it can be difficult to make a submission stand out.
I am very much on the lookout for writers to represent in this area: literary and upmarket mysteries and thrillers are top of my wish list. Among other things, I am looking for unique hooks, great writing, characters who are not what they seem, gothic undertones, twisty plots and original settings. And even better if the book has an unusual structure. I recently loved Joseph Knox’s True Crime Story, for example, which is very original; I also loved the structure of Alex Pavesi’s Eight Detectives.
7) What do you look for in a character that leaps off the page? When do they start to become real for you?
I am always looking for three-dimensional characters in fiction. I don’t want them to be model citizens; for me, real characters, like real people, are flawed. They have shades of light and dark; they don’t always make the best choices or say the right thing. But if they are well drawn, we will root for them even if they are avatars or from another century.
8) When you sign an author, what happens next? How does the process evolve once you have accepted their manuscript?
This depends on the project, but my editorial background means I tend to work with my authors to get their manuscripts into the strongest possible place before I go out on submission. Editors receive lots of submissions and I think it worth doing everything we can to really make a book stand out.
I normally have a good idea of which editors would love the chance to consider a book when I first read it, so I start working on my list early on in the background and also start writing my pitch letter…
9) How do you navigate pitching to publishers? Do you ever get nervous? How do you feel when you let the author know that their book is going to be published?
I’m more excited than nervous, but I sign authors whose books I adore, so I am certainly emotionally invested. I genuinely want to match authors with the right editors and help them build long an exciting writing careers. Telling an author their book is going to be published is truly a magical part of this job.
10) What is a typical weekend for you, and what do you enjoy doing away from work?
Weekends are for family and friends – and reading submissions!
Thank you for your time today Marina, it has been a pleasure to interview you.
Bio: Marina has been at The Soho Agency for over five years, after previously working in editorial at Little, Brown and HarperCollins. She adores great storytelling in all its forms and is building a list of upmarket commercial, reading group and accessible literary fiction – and is actively looking to take on clients in this area. Marina especially loves launching debuts – the last three she has sold have been bought by UK publishers as lead titles – and enjoys working editorially with her authors. Marina is a trained copyeditor and proofreader and, in addition to her agenting work, she has a rare insight into the publishing industry as a published author and graduate of the Faber Academy’s creative writing course.