The View From Here Interview:
Juliet Pickering from AP Watt
Interview by Mike
For part 1 of this interview click here.
Founded in 1875, A P Watt is the longest-established literary agency in the world. It's clients include a Nobel Prize winner, four Booker Prize winners, three Orange Prize winners, several Whitbread Prize winners, and the first Children’s Laureate.
Juliet Pickering joined A P Watt in September 2003, and became an Associate Agent in 2007. Prior to joining the company, she studied English Literature at the University of Surrey before becoming a fiction buyer for Waterstones. In 2004, Juliet began to work with Derek Johns and his client list, and now handles all audio and journalism rights in their titles.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to submit their work to you and what kind of thing causes that surge of excitement and passion in you as you read it?
I cannot stress enough, the importance of the introductory letter and a strong synopsis. Because we don’t take ‘unsolicited’ submissions here at A P Watt, we ask that an approach be made by way of introductory letter only. Make this clear, concise and keep it to the point; address it to the agent you think your book would most appeal to. If you can write a good letter, you could write a good book; if you write a bad letter, we won’t pursue it further. And keep your synopsis succinct. I was once told by an aspiring author that her synopsis was 29 pages long... that’s a book in itself and utterly redundant! Think of the typical blurb on the back of a book jacket – what would yours say?
As for “that surge of excitement”: when I do find something to get enthusiastic about it’s usually because the material displays particularly fluid, natural writing, or an original hook to the story. It’s not necessarily a quality I can pin-point, it’s something you discover.
Can you tell me about some of the more bizarre submissions you have received?
You get all kinds of things – from someone re-writing the bible and claiming it’s all about UFOs, to a million Harry Potter and Dan Brown copycats. And, of course, there are the deluded many who are convinced they are undiscovered geniuses. It’s a bit like The X Factor auditions on paper sometimes: painful, embarrassing, and very wrong.
Do you think an author’s chances of success differ depending on which country they are in, or has the industry become global in its nature?
The industry is undoubtedly global in its nature. As a rule, an author’s location would have very little bearing on their chances of success.
What advice would you give to writers trying to get their book into print? There seem to be a lot of scams and people willing to exploit writers.
Firstly, get a reputable agent (of course!). The Writers Handbook and The Writers and Artists Yearbook provide inexhaustible lists of UK agencies and the genres they handle (it is always worth then checking out an agency’s website to see if your writing would fit their lists, and which agent to send it to). We act as a filter for publishers, and in turn they know they are being submitted something worth consideration when we approach them on the author’s behalf.
I don’t come across too many scams myself but I know there are some amoral parties out there. The standard literary agent earns their money from your book by commission only. Any ‘agent’ asking for money for any other reason, is to be treated extremely warily. (NB: Excepting the odd far-flung writer, I would always meet a new client face-to-face before taking them on.)
What is your view on self-publishing - should it be a last route through, or is it better for a writer to move on and write another book and develop their talent?
The question of self-publishing is a tricky one. I’m not very familiar with ‘self-publishers’ and wouldn’t like to venture too strong an opinion on being self-published. I think you should determine what your reasons for self-publishing are: to get into print at any cost, or to get a personal sense of completion after putting so much work into your magnus opus in the first place. What I would advise, is approaching agents to consider your book before you go down the self-publishing route. It does tend to be viewed as a last resort. And there’s no harm in moving on to another book after the lessons you’ve learnt through writing the first, and perhaps coming back to it later.
Often authors are typecast into a particular genre following their first book. How easy is it for you as an agent to pitch to a publisher that your author's second book is different to their first?
I don’t think this is an issue at all. It’s a given that if a publisher is willing to invest in an author it is largely because of the quality of their writing, not just their first book idea, and each book will be judged on its own merits.
Is there a greater pressure these days for an author’s debut novel to succeed?
That largely depends on their advance! Publishers are cautious about signing up debut authors, but at the same time always looking for ‘the next big thing’. It’s certainly harder to sell a second book if the first has struggled.
Finally can you give me one of your success stories?
Well, I am relatively new to agenting independently so I shall fall back on the success of my employers: Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith and Yann Martel, need I say more?
Thanks Juliet good luck with building your own list.
For AP Watt's site click here.