Welcome to Agent Wishlist Week! Every day at different times, we’ll be publishing the wishlists of leading literary agents – details of the manuscripts they’re hoping to stumble across in their slush piles, plus information on how to submit. Be sure to check back often as we’ll occasonally be posting more than one wishlist a day.
Today we’re kicking things off with Kate Burke’s manuscript wants. Kate is a literary agent at Diane Banks Associates, a hugely successful agency which handles book, TV and film rights for fiction and non-fiction clients. Kate’s primary focus is to build up the fiction side of the agency. She is actively taking on new writers and has recently sold two debut novelists in multi-publisher auctions, to major publishers in the UK (Penguin and HarperCollins) as well as abroad for six-figure deals. Over to you, Kate!
Psychological suspense: My top priority in 2014 is to find and take on new suspense writers, particularly female writers with female protagonists, but I really don’t mean to discriminate so male writers are welcome too! I adore this genre – contemporary suspense novels which have a crime element, but are not necessarily a detective-chasing-a-killer story (though the presence of a detective is fine!). They often have a female character at their core and the story centres around a crime, which they are either involved in or which affects their life. These novels are often about an ordinary woman with an ordinary life when something dark, unexpected and unsettling happens out of the blue. It could be a stalker, an affair that goes wrong, a missing child, a spouse who disappears – I really don’t mind as long as there’s some sort of unexpected crime event, which turns her life upside down. There has to be a strong sense of pace, suspense and atmosphere, and what’s absolutely key is that it has that gripping, keep-the-reader-guessing quality and that it delivers a strong twist. I’m looking for novels, which will sit on the shelf alongside SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty and The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.
Crime: I’m really looking for a detective series that offers something new and original to the genre. It could be an unusual location – ie not the UK or perhaps somewhere remote – or an interesting pair of detective characters or even an interesting time period (could be historical crime). What matters to me in a crime novel is strong characters, a great plot with lots of twists and turns, and, above all, a novel that’s forensically accurate for its period and well-researched. The crime genre is very competitive and crime fans know their stuff – authors have to deliver well-researched, procedural detail so I’m looking for authors who either have a connection to the police force or who have methodically researched their novel with the help of someone in the police.
Historical fiction: I adore historical fiction and I think there’s definitely space in that Philippa Gregory area of the market for a new author who can tell exciting stories about kings/queens/princesses. I’m open to all periods of history, but ideally I’d like them to be set from the 16th century onwards. What’s key, for me, is that central female historical character – a strong, feisty heroine of history who isn’t hugely well-known but has an interesting story. The Tudors, for instance, have been done to death, so I’m looking for a lesser-known queen or princess than, say, Anne Boleyn – a strong, royal character who triumphed in the face of adversity. These novels must be historically accurate and well-researched, pacy, full of scheming and suspense, and/or should have a love story at their core.
Aside from this kings and queens area of the market, I’m also really looking for novels set in either the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s, all of which were exciting and interesting times, not just for the political backdrop, but also for the role of women in society. I would love a novel about young women, perhaps career women, in the 1950s or 60s. Also, I don’t mind if the novel straddles two or more time periods (I recently sold, at auction, a novel set in the 1930s and 1890s which six publishers went wild for as it successfully juggled two main characters in two very different time periods). In fact, I love this kind of novel. Something that’s a little bit Mad Men-esque or a bit like BBC’s The Hour would be fantastic.
Mature women’s fiction: I represent a lot of women’s fiction, for readers of all ages, but I’m particularly on the hunt for novels with central characters aged 40 and upwards. I know that sounds really prescriptive, but I’m interested in believable, warm and emotional stories about women approaching middle age, facing new challenges such as children growing up and leaving home, the menopause, second marriages, affairs, divorce, becoming a grandparent, starting your life again etc. A good example of this is Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park – a novel about a sixty-year-old grandmother whose marriage crumbles after thirty years. That said, I’m not looking for doom and gloom! What’s wonderful about Hilary Boyd’s books (and Maeve Binchy and Elizabeth Buchan’s) is their warm, engaging style and their positive outlook on situations that might, at first, seem catastrophic. I’m looking for warm, relatable female characters – everyday women with ordinary lives – whose relationships/marriages take an unexpected turn. In essence, these are family dramas with heart and optimism, for a mature female audience.
Think you've got something suitable? You can find the agency’s submission guidelines here. Kate will aim to respond to your submission within two weeks.