Tag Archives: literary agent

21 days ’til Christmas: The Literary Agency Advent Calendar

In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.


Nuala Casey 1

My earliest Christmas memory is of being five years old and curling up on the sofa to watch the latest screen version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. I was delighted and terrified in equal measure as the story unfolded and for a moment the only world that existed was the London in front of me on the screen: a mystical place where ghosts roam the streets, gnarled candles burn dimly in the windows of counting houses and fog rises from the river.

But there was a line that stayed with me long after the film had ended; that remained in my subconscious as I grew up and took my first tentative steps to becoming a writer. It comes when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his childhood and he fails to notice the resemblance between his dead sister and his nephew: her son. The Ghost chastises Scrooge, telling him: ‘I’m beginning to think you have gone through life with your eyes closed, Ebenezer.’

And I remember thinking that no matter what life had in store for me I would go through it with my eyes open; wide open to the world and its wonders. All these years later I am still an avid people watcher. Real lives, the lives of ordinary men and women going about their business, are always extraordinary to me, for it is here that the great dreams, the highs and lows, the tragedies, the love affairs are played out every day, without fanfare. The streets of Soho and the men and women who live and work in this unique part of London went on to inspire my debut novel Soho, 4am, which, with its twenty-four hour time-scale and a cameo appearance from Marley’s ghost, is also my own little nod to A Christmas Carol.

So my writing tip for Christmas 2013 would be to step away from your desk and get out there; out onto the street where lives and stories in all their complexity are being played out in real time. Watch the mannerisms, the quirks and stolen glances; listen to the turns of phrase, the forced laughter, the warm words disguised by a gruff facade, the sorrows hidden behind a thousand smiles. And when it’s time to return to your desk and the half-finished manuscript flashing on and off on your computer screen you will find that those characters you were having trouble fleshing out will suddenly spring to life. You will feel as if you have know them all your life and, in a way, you have; for the dramas and plots and tragedies, the high-intensity love affairs and heart-stopping adventures we all like to read about in books have always been there, right under your nose all this time, hidden beneath layers of stiff upper lips and polite hellos; waiting for you to notice; waiting for you to open your eyes.

Merry Christmas!

Nuala Casey‘s debut novel SOHO, 4AM published by Quercus is out now. 

Soho 4AM by Nuala Casey


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Things I’m often asked as a Literary Agent: Q & A session with a leading London Literary Agency

What kind of books are you looking for?

Question 1

In short, everything! I’m looking for all types of accessible literary and commercial fiction, crime and thrillers, young adult, children’s, and popular non-fiction. When I read a submission it’s usually very clear within the first few pages whether the voice and concept are strong enough. No matter what the genre, if I’m instantly drawn into the writing or hooked by the characters, it’s usually a good sign!

What can I do to make my submission more attractive?

What can I do to make my submission more attractive to a literary agent?

Submission letters that are professional and concise really capture my attention. I receive over 50 submissions a day by email so I simply don’t have time to read anything that’s not relevant to the book being submitted.  If I love the manuscript, I will be interested in the writer behind the work, but initially I am looking for an excellent pitch that compels me to open the chapters and start reading.  I can usually determine how serious the writer is about becoming a successful author from their introductory email / covering letter.   In fact, with all of the authors I have taken on from the submissions pool, I have known instantly from their covering letter that I’ve wanted to offer them representation.

Can I submit you a proposal or a half-finished manuscript?

submitting a manuscript on proposal to a literary agent

If you are submitting a work of fiction you should have completed the manuscript before approaching an agent – I  need to know that you are capable of finishing a book.  So many books can fall flat halfway through, so I need to know that it sustains my attention right to the end.  If I love the first few chapters, I will ask for the rest of the manuscript immediately, so it can be frustrating if it is unfinished and is going to take another few months to receive. My attention might be on something else at that point.  For non-fiction, there are very different rules as I can submit work to publishers on proposal.

How much money will my book make if you take it on?

How much money will I make as an author with a literary agent?

This varies so much depending on the manuscript and the marketplace at the time of submission.  It depends whether there is a lot of competition from publishers for the rights and whether I can take the book to auction in different territories.  If you don’t get a high advance, you are very likely to earn out your advance in royalties, so you have to think long-term.  I do everything I can to get as much income as possible for my authors though – I like to create income streams from all over the world by negotiating US and translation rights deals separately with each publisher for different rights.  Some of my authors are published in over twenty languages, and each deal has been negotiated with a separate advance against royalties.  Every deal is important to me.

 Do you work editorially with your authors?

Do literary agents work editorially with their authors?

Yes, I make sure that the manuscript is in its very best state before submitting to publishers to make sure we can generate as much interest as possible in the UK and negotiate excellent deals around the world.  Nowadays, editors simply don’t have the time to work extensively on a debut, so they expect a really strong standard from new writers.  If it is needed I’ll do a structural and character edit, and also have an extensive in-house edit before submitting any work to publishers.

How is your agency different to other London agencies?

No.1 literary agency in the UK

We are a boutique literary agency working directly with publishers around the world.  Before setting up my own agency, I was the Rights Director for one of the most commercial literary agencies in London where I built up an extensive list of international contacts. Here, I sell all the rights to my authors’ work myself – I do not pass them on to a rights agency or department to handle because I believe that, as their primary agent, I can pitch my authors’ books more passionately than anyone else. With rights it also means I can keep submitting my authors’ backlist to publishers year on year.  It also means that I only take on books that I love and believe in, enabling me to give all of my authors a lot more individual attention.

 Should I submit to you exclusively?

Exclusive submissions at your literary agency

You shouldn’t submit to any agent exclusively, even if they recommend that you do!  If you have written a strong covering letter and your chapters are compelling, your submission will be given my full attention.  There is no point in waiting for months for a response from one agent – give yourself a better chance by submitting to a handful that you would like to work with.

 What are the next steps after being offered representation?

representation by a literary agent

I like to meet each writer I offer representation, or at least have a long chat on the phone to make sure  we are on the same wavelength.  I need my clients to be as ambitious as me and also have a similar editorial and international vision. Once the writer has accepted the offer, the book will be edited and I will devise a tailored-made submission strategy before pitching to publishers.  For instance, I might decide to submit to American publishers first, or I might submit simultaneously to UK and US publishers before submitting to foreign publishers.  I might even try to option the Film rights ahead of submitting to publishers. There are so many different tactics to ensure the best possible deals depending on the type of book being submitted and the marketplace at the time.  When an offer is accepted from a publisher, I work to promote your interests through the entire publishing process and make sure your voice is heard.

 Can I resubmit to you in the future?

Does your literary agency accept submissions?

Yes, of course.  Timing is everything in this business – genres go in and out of fashion.  You may not be successful with your manuscript if you are submitting at the end of a trend as publishers’ lists are saturated with that particular genre.  However, a few years later, that trend might come back into fashion.  And just because your first book wasn’t quite right for my list, your second one may well be!

 What should I expect from the agent-author relationship?

The relationship between an author and literary agent

A great business partner who will sell as many rights as possible in your work.

Guidance, editorial help, support, and someone digitally savvy who is going to exploit the way books are sold today.  Someone to offer publicity advice, help with online promotion, push the publisher to work hard on every publication, pitch your books day in day out to publishers all around the world and for translation, American, audio, Film & TV and even merchandising rights.

 How often will you be in contact with me?

Contact with a literary agent

We will have a lot of contact when you deliver a manuscript (whether this is your first or subsequent books), during the editorial process when we are preparing it for submission, and at the time of the book’s publication.  I am constantly working on my authors’ behalf and informing them of new deals.  The majority of my work has to be proactive – submitting to editors, pushing publishers to do more, trying to get Film & TV, and translation rights deals –  so I won’t be in contact daily throughout the year. But as your agent, I am always here when you need me.

Do you read all submissions in the slush pile?

The author slushpile and literary agents

Yes, I personally look at everything that comes in. I’ve found 90% of my authors in the slush pile/ submissions pool.  I love talent spotting, so this is one of my favourite aspects of being a literary agent.

 How useful do you think writer conferences are? Should I attend them?

literary agents and writing conferences  literary agents and writing courses  literary agents and children's writing conferences literary agents romantic novelists association

I think they give you a much better understanding of the book market and what publishers are currently looking for.  It’s a rare occasion to be able to meet people in the industry and discuss your work face-to-face.  It also provides an opportunity to meet with other budding authors, to share tips and experiences (and check out the competition!)  However, there is a lot of information online now so it just depends on what you’d find most helpful.

 Should I do a creative writing course before writing my novel?

Creative writing courses and literary agents

This is a very subjective issue; some writers find the courses really useful as they force you to set aside time to write.  They can also help you make contacts in the industry, and meet with published authors.  I am a great believer that writing is a trade, and as with any trade, the more you write the better you get.  I don’t believe that it is essential to do a course, though you may find feedback from a group helpful.  There are actually a lot of online creative writing courses and people can actually find it easier to be more honest if they are not sitting in front of you! When a submission comes in to my inbox, regardless of what process has been undertaken to write it, the writing will speak for itself.

How important is it for me to blog/ self-publicise?

Twitter and literary agents  writers and blogging writers and social networking  authors and publicity

This is really important in the run up to publication and when you are eventually published.  I’m really only interested in your profile if I’m looking at non-fiction.  For fiction, though, the main thing to concentrate on is writing a great book!

If you would like more questions answered, please tweet me your question @agentmilburn and, once I have ten or more questions, I will follow-up with a new post.  Remember to use the #askagent as other writers might be interested in your questions too.

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Help for writers

Psychologies As an agent, I’m often involved in a lot of events aimed at helping writers hone their craft.  I thought it would be useful to mention some of the organisations I’ve been involved with recently.  Last month, I spoke at a two-day event co-hosted by Psychologies Magazine and Writers & Artists in their Bloomsbury offices.  This consisted of workshops, Q&A sessions and one-to-one appointments.  Writers & Artists regularly host events like this, offering a great introduction to the book trade.  They also have a wealth of information online which is regularly updated.

More recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the Creative Writing Diploma Students at Oxford University, giving a presentation about how to pitch a book and find an agent.  I love talking to aspiring authors and finding new talent, and I think it’s so important for them to have a real insight into the industry before submitting their work – writers need to have a strong impression of the agent they want to work with as it’s such a crucial and long-term relationship.  Creative writing courses also have the advantage of group discussions which is important for the editorial process as books are so subjective.

Guardian Masterclass

The Guardian also runs specialist classes.  Along with bestselling author, Rowan Coleman, I last spoke at a Guardian Masterclass focussing on the synopsis and the pitch.  There’s a clear distinction between the two but so many submissions I receive mix them up.  The synopsis ‘tells’ the story whilst the pitch ‘sells’ the story.  I love talking about pitches and how important it is to get to the core of a story in order to get people interested.  Word of mouth is the biggest publicity tool for books so a good pitch goes a long way.

My next event is in Winchester on the 14th May where I’ll be giving a talk described as “Why do I need a Literary Agent in the Digital Age?”  I think it’s important to address the benefits of having an agent in this time of technological change as there are many more platforms to launch a book and more opportunities for rights to be sold to other media.  I’ll also be leading a number of workshops and panel events over the summer, with these topics in mind, at festivals such as the Winchester Writers’ Conference and the Festival of Writing at York University.  Winchester Writing Conference

There are some popular London-based writing organisations that I’ve talked at, for instance the London Writers Café, a lively community that supports new writers that I spoke at earlier this year.  They have more than 2,000 members now and, as well as critique evenings, they also host publishing talks, workshops and social events.   I like them because they don’t charge a membership fee – you only pay for the events you attend.

There is loads of help for aspiring authors on the web, too.  Philippa Donovan, founder of a successful literary consultancy, Smart Quill Editorial, even offers online tutorials on specific aspects of writing.  Here is her latest tutorial on narrative:

At Smart Quill, Philippa does all the reading and reporting herself and offers editorial, publishing and digital guidance to writers.

The more organisations I get involved with, the more I can see that there is plenty of help out there for writers.  It’s just a question of exploring them.

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Templar launch ‘STINKY & JINKS’







Congratulations to Dave Lowe for the fabulous publication of his first novel for kids, MY HAMSTER IS A GENIUS.  This is the first in the ‘Stinky & Jinks’ series about Benjamin Jinks and his genius pet hamster, Jasper Stinkybottom.  These stories will literally have you and your children in stitches.

Templar Publishing will publish two books a year in the series.  The first one has just been released in the UK and Hachette Children’s Books will soon release it in Dave’s home town in Australia.  Dave will be on tour in the UK this September to promote MY HAMSTER IS A GENIUS.  He will be appearing  at book festivals including The Bath Festival of Children’s Literature.

Here’s an extract from MY HAMSTER IS A GENIUS:

‘”You’re looking twitchy,” I said.

“I’m a hamster,” he said.  “We’re twitchy.  That’s what we do.”

“Twitchier than usual, I mean.  You must be nervous about tomorrow.”

“Nervous?” he said.  “Me? Whatever for? Being jiggled up and down in a lunchbox all day? Or being surrounded by hundreds of giant kids?”

He was pretty sarcastic, for a hamster.

But when I thought about what Stinky was going to do for me, I was really grateful for the little ball of fluff.  He’d helped me so much, and so I made a big decision, even if it did mean my homework would go back to being rubbish.  Giving Stinky his freedom seemed like the only way to repay him for all his help. 

“It isn’t fair that you’re stuck in that cage, Stinky,” I told him now.  “So, after tomorrow I’m going to let you go free.  Outside.  Forever.  I’ll miss you, Stinky, and my homework won’t be…”

“ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY INSANE?” he spluttered.  “Have you lost your mind?  Are you completely bananas?”  He jabbed one tiny paw towards the window.  “Why would I want to go out there?”…   Continue this story

Take a look at the dedicated ‘Stinky and Jinks’ blog, Notes from the Hamster Wheel 

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The new bestselling saga

Congratulations to Lynda Page on the paperback publication of her 27th novel, THE PRICE TO PAY, an outstanding achievement for any writer.

Headline has been publishing Lynda’s books since the beginning of her writing career, and she is one of their most successful saga writers to date.

THE PRICE TO PAY is a riveting, heart-rending tale of betrayal and revenge.  As Martina Cole puts it: “If you want an enthralling saga, read Lynda Page

To buy copies, and for details of all Lynda’s bestselling sagas, click here.

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DIVA is out!

Congratulations to Carrie Duffy on the publication of her second novel DIVA.  HarperCollins publish in paperback today, 19th July, following a thousand sales in ebook.  Her début fiction, IDOL, was published last year to rave reviews.

Following the lives of Dionne, Alyson and CeCe – three young women trying to make it in the fashion world – it’s glamorous, sexy and packed full of drama.  Buy your copy here.

Praise for IDOL:

This compulsive read will keep you turning the pages’– Closer magazine, 4 stars

‘A perfect, scandalous read about fame, glamour and the realities of showbusiness… If you’re a fan of glamour-filled bonkbusters, you’re bound to love this one’ – Trashionista, 5 stars

For more about the author, look at her website, and for for the hot and sexy prequel to DIVA, read the short story VIP.

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Character or Plot?

I attended the first in a new series of literary events at the Bloomsbury Institute last night, focused on how to plot the perfect murder mystery.  Speakers included James Runcie, Anne Zouroudi and Claire McGowan.

Interestingly, the talk evolved into a popular debate about Plot vs. Character.  I am constantly telling new writers that a clever plot is not enough.  Character is so important.  We need to relate to and empathise with your characters in order to invest our time in your stories.

The impact of the crime on the characters is as strong as the plot.  If you look at the popularity of the Danish TV series, THE KILLING, it’s because we were so invested in the characters’ lives that we wanted to spend hours and hours in front of it.  THE KILLING, SERIES 2 didn’t do as well because it was more plot-led rather than character-led.

Morality and the impact of the crime are just as important as plot.  James Runcie made the clever point that ‘Whydunit?’ counts just as much as ‘whodunit?’  The plot is the framework but when people think about their favourite books they think about the characters, for instance Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Jack Reacher.  Lee Child has always emphasised the importance of character: “You say Agatha Christie, and people remember Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple.  Almost every book is remembered for character.”

When I sold Lee Child’s translation rights for his thrillers, everyone talked about his protagonist Jack Reacher.  They loved Jack Reacher and they wanted to read the next book because of him: ‘women want him, men want to be him.’

Character is so important.  I want to see rich, believable and likeable characters.  I want to get to know them.  I want to read your books because of your characters as they connect me to the plot.


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