Juliet Pickering worked for Waterstones as a bookseller and fiction buyer before joining A P Watt in 2003, working up from combing the slush pile, franking mail and scanning royalty statements, to becoming an agent in 2007.
She moved to Blake Friedmann in London in 2013, and her authors have been shortlisted for Costa, Commonwealth and Guardian First Book Awards, and won the Whitbread and Green Carnation Prizes, and prestigious French literary award, Prix Femina.
Thank you, Juliet, for joining us here at WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books and taking the time to answer our readers’ questions. We’re very grateful and thrilled to have you.
ON THE LETTER –
How many queries do you get in a typical week?
I get 5-10 a day, so approx. 50 submissions a week.
What makes a query stand out to you?
A concise cover letter with a great pitch that fits my list!
Are there any aspects of a query (as opposed to the work itself) that are deal breakers for you or most agents? Things that get a query rejected on the letter alone?
Most commonly, it’s a writer sending me a type of book I don’t work with (e.g. fantasy, children’s fiction etc.).
What is the most important part of a query – the comp titles, the pitch, the author bio, or something else?
A great pitch and clear-sighted comparison titles, go a long way. A generally professional manner and the ability to be impressively succinct help!
Are there better or worse times of the year (or even of week or the day) to query?
The worst times are March and September, when we are gearing up for the big Book Fairs (London in April; Frankfurt in October), and during the Fairs themselves when we are away from our desks all week and then have a tremendous amount of follow-up work to do after we return. So, mid-September to nearly end October and mid-March to nearly end April, are our busiest times. The summer tends to be a bit quieter.
ON CLIENTS –
Do have a number of clients in mind that you’d like to acquire in any given year?
It’s impossible to be prescriptive about such things. If 5 amazing books arrived in my inbox in one week, I’d have to find a way to take them all on! Similarly, we might not find anything we love for 9+ months. What we’re able to take on really depends on our current authors and how active they are at any given tim
What percentage of your clients come from slush, social media forums (e.g., #pitmad), conferences or contests, and referral?
Oh god, now you’re asking! I represent around 36 authors, and approximately half of those write non-fiction, most of whom I will have approached and developed ideas with myself. Of my fiction writers, some came in on submission, some were students or mentees of my authors so came to me on their recommendation.
I honestly don’t really have enough time to comb social media (although I always enjoy ♯askagent on Twitter), and it’s great to meet writers at conferences but until I have some pages in front of me, I can’t know if I want to work with a writer or not – the proof is in the pudding!
How often do you respond to a manuscript you really want to take on with an R&R (revise and resubmit) first?
I work editorially with every single book and proposal I send out to publishers, so probably every manuscript I’ve first read, I’ve asked for revisions. Whether that means resubmitting really depends on the state of the book when I receive it, and what it is I suggest revising.
Would you represent clients who live in countries other than your own?
Yes, absolutely, and I do!
ON BEING AN AGENT –
How involved do you like to get in the early development of a client’s story?
For novels: we like the novel to be written and polished to best of a writer’s ability, before it is submitted. We’ll then get stuck in and redraft as much as necessary. For non-fiction, I often build the idea from the ground up.
In editing the completed manuscript?
See above! Completed manuscripts of non-fiction works are more commonly edited by the author’s publisher, as we’re able to sell a book on proposal only.
What is a good way for writers to learn agents’ niche interests?
Many of us try to be as open about our tastes as possible: we have agency websites where we each list our interests, and one of the best ways to learn about our tastes is to Google us and find interviews or posts we may have written, or simply eavesdrop on Twitter to see us talking about our books and – sometimes – our dream projects!
What impact, if any, is self-publishing having on the role of an agent?
The role of the agent remains the same, essentially, but self-publishing brings an interesting new concern for us, especially if considering a writer who has previously been successfully self-published.
How do you keep up with all the reading you have to do?
All our reading is done outside of work hours – in evenings and weekends – including reading our own authors’ work. It’s constantly a battle to keep up! There’s a lot of late nights, and a lot of snatched reads on buses and trains. You just have to fit it in somehow, and pray that all your authors don’t deliver in the same week (which happens so often, regardless!).
Wine or Cocktail?
Cocktail! With gin in, please.
Sports or Hobbies?
Baking and Reading – I consider these sports AND hobbies.
Autumn or Summer?
Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter for fun, Facebook for family.
Flowers or Chocolates?
Can I negotiate on getting a few of both?!
We can’t thank you enough, Juliet, for dropping in to share your wisdom and advice. Welcome to the WWWB family!
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES –
Juliet’s interests range from literary and well-written commercial fiction to mystery, crime and psychological suspense. She also represents many non-fiction writers across the board, including memoir, pop culture, social history, feminist and political commentary, cookery and food writing, and all sorts in between.
Please include your name and the title of your manuscript in the email subject line, and in both the titles and headings of all attachments (i.e. your synopsis and chapters).
To query Juliet email her at juliet[at]blakefriedmann[dot]co[dot]uk.
Your submission should consist of three parts: the covering letter (please make this the body of your email), a full synopsis of approx. 300 words, and your first three chapters/10,000 words. With regard to non-fiction, please include your proposal in place of the first three chapters. Further detail is available at http://blakefriedmann.co.uk/submissions/.
From the agency website – “Owing to the enormous and increasing volume of submissions that we receive daily and the administration involved, we cannot guarantee a reply. If you do not receive a response 8 weeks from the date of your submission, it can generally be assumed that we are not interested in taking matters further.”
You can also find Juliet on:
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a regular contributor WWWB as well as overseeing the Author and Literary Agent Interview segments. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the 2016 contest chair for the WFWA Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications.
When she isn’t editing her novel-in-progress, #LOVEIN140, she can be found cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), belting out Broadway tunes (badly and with the wrong words), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Say hi. http://www.mmfinck.com