Interview with literary agent Juliet Mushens of PFD

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.

18 thoughts on “Interview with literary agent Juliet Mushens of PFD

  1. She sounds great, really grounded. That was a really good read. I’ve read interviews with agents before, but you asked some really great questions, it was a nice balance of personal and industry chat : )

    • Thanks, Yasmin – Juliet really is lovely! Glad you enjoyed the interview.
      Vanessa x

  2. Really interesting! Juliet was actually one of the agents I thought of approaching – this could mean I don’t have to write a synopsis! (Joke!). I’d love to know if she would automatically dismiss books that are already self-published on Amazon KDP…… any ideas on that?

    • Hi Terry, thanks for visiting and glad you like the blog. No, Juliet wouldn’t automatically dismiss a self-published book – just let her know when you submit!
      Vanessa x

  3. As some of the Romaniacs might know, June Kearns and I were travelling down from Leicester to the RNA Party last week. We were exchanging views on how I should tackle the last four chapters of my contemporary romance in what we thought was a discreet whisper when the JULIET MUSHENS (we didn’t know who she was at that point) leaned across the aisle and asked us if we were going to the Summer Party. She then went on to say that she wouldn’t be able to make it this year and was disappointed, but might make the November party. After some general chat we discovered that she was Vanessa’s agent and the train pulled into the station. When we got to the party I mentioned our ‘brief encounter’ (on a train – how appropriate) to Vanessa but she already knew about it via twitter. I have since followed Juliet on Twitter, downloaded her profile and filed it away for the great day when I’m ready to start sending out my WIP. She seemed really friendly and business like and I think Vanessa must be thrilled to have such a lovely agent. It just goes to show where the RNA and a stage whisper will get you . . .

    • Hi Lizzie! How lovely you met Juliet on the train – I had no clue which RNA people she’d met when she tweeted me until I saw you at the party 🙂 She’s a lovely agent and has braved a few RNA parties before. Good luck with your submission to her!
      Vanessa x

      • Thanks Vanessa, it was just lovely that when she mentioned you were her client we were able to say that we “knew” you.

  4. Fabulous interview, Romaniacs, as always! And wonderful that Juliet shared the inner workings of her selection process… not least reading the synopsis! Wow! I’ve wondered and wondered whether agents and publishers actually bother with those. Who knows? Juliet offers some great and helpful advise to everyone approaching agents; I wish I’d known some of that when I was pounding on doors! I greatly enjoyed this interview and look forward to hearing more from Juliet some time soon.

  5. How lovely to “meet” an agent in the flesh and realise that they aren’t just the refusenik ogres we can sometimes think … Juliet sounds smashing. Thanks for this interview, it really was refreshing

    • Hi Vikki, I always love reading interviews with agents and editors so was thrilled when Juliet agreed to do this one. Keep an eye on the Romaniac blog… we may have more agents and publishers in the pipeline…
      Vanessa x

  6. That’s a really super interview, Vanessa. And thank you, Juliet for your open responses. I’ve bookmarked this page as it’s really useful for future reference!

    Your good mutual relationship is really evident. As a wannabe writer, we all long to find a contact with an agent, let alone have that sort of rapport! Hearing some of the tales about agents and the battle for submission, we elevate them to some sort of ‘God-like’ status. It’s therefore refreshing to hear Juliet’s open responses, and about Lizzie’s encounter with her on the train, and discover agents are human, just like the rest of us.


  7. Thanks for the interesting interview. It’s fascinating to know what agents are looking for and the best way to submit work.

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