I’m pleased to welcome onto the blog today my agent, the lovely Juliet Mushens of PFD. It was around this time last year that I travelled to London to meet Juliet for the first time, walking into PFD’s Covent Garden offices, hands shaking and knees definitely knocking. But I needn’t have been nervous – Juliet greeted me with cupcakes and enthusiasm and amazing editorial advice.
Before becoming a literary agent at Peters Fraser & Dunlop, Juliet worked in fiction marketing and editorial at HarperCollins. I managed to catch her with a (very rare) spare moment and she very kindly agreed to answer some questions from the Romaniacs.
What are you looking for at the moment?
I am looking for lots of things: fiction with a historical setting, a YA love story, a women’s fiction book that properly makes me laugh and a blood-spattered serial killer thriller.
How important is the covering letter and what should it include?
SO important! Treat it like the cover letter for a job – make it 1 page, give me a brief pitch of your book, why you’ve sent it to me, and a couple of lines about yourself. Proof-read it then proof-read it again. Make it punchy, intriguing and exciting. Think of what you see on book blurbs and apply that to your book.
Do you find most of your clients from the ‘slush pile’ or through other means?
My authors are a real mix but the vast majority of my fiction clients came from the slush. It can be a real goldmine.
It’s very tempting as a writer to send agents sparkly cupcakes. What’s the strangest ‘extra’ you’ve had with a manuscript?
Someone sent me a picture they’d drawn of me before. It was creepy. And wildly inaccurate.
If a writer had been rejected, is it acceptable to send their next MS to you for consideration?
Absolutely! Especially if I wrote you a personal note with the previous one. But even if not, it shows you’re tenacious – and maybe this book will be the one.
How do you recognise a well written piece from a short extract? How much of a writer’s three chapters do you read before deciding if you want to see more?
I reckon I can tell within 10 pages if I want to read the rest.
Do you read the synopsis before or after the three chapters?
Confession time here: I never read it. I will just read the cover letter and sample chapters.
From start to finish, of what does your working day consist?
Emailing; phone-calls; meetings; ideas; editing; more meetings; more ideas; contracts; negotiations; collaboration agreements; publicity plans; marketing strategies; submitting; chasing up submissions; more editing; dealing with cover woes, editorial problems, structural edits, legal reads, serialization, film rights, foreign rights queries…
Which is why submissions can sometimes take a while to be answered.
What’s the worst thing a new writer can do that will instantly upset a prospective agent?
Please don’t call me. I’m very busy and it will be an uncomfortable experience for both of us. I will read your manuscript and get back to you, but if you’re already being high-maintenance and I don’t even represent you, warning bells will ring.
What’s the best thing a new writer can do to get the agent onside?
1) be a great writer and 2) be a nice person.
How important is it that the writer and the agent get on?
Everyone has different opinions on this but for me it’s crucial that we have a good personal relationship. We need to like each other and feel that we’re working as a team.
What are the highs and lows of being an agent?
Sometimes being the middle-man is difficult, and it’s heartbreaking when you can’t sell a book. But nothing beats the moment when you call an author and say ‘I’ve had an offer for your novel…’. Absolutely nothing.