This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Juliet Pickering has been building a list of authors for eight years, first at A P Watt and now at Blake Friedmann Agency. Representing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, her authors include acclaimed Scottish writer Janice Galloway, debut successes Kerry Hudson and Anneliese Mackintosh, columnists Laurie Penny and Lucy Mangan, and The Women's Institute.
Over the last few years I've balanced out my list so it's roughly half and half fiction and non-fiction authors, and I am ALWAYS looking for more of both, but particularly on the fiction side. There's nothing like the excitement of reading a great submission; one which you know instantly you can pitch passionately, and which deserves to be read by millions! They don't come along often, but we read every submission that comes in (I read them myself) in the hope that today will be the day the exciting submission rises to the top of the pile. I work hard editorially on my books and proposals, and will help an author polish their book to the best it can be, before I submit to editors.
It's hard to define what I love, exactly, and sometimes I find it easier to say what I don't like: I'm afraid I've never enjoyed dystopias, futures, supernatural, horror, speculative or science fiction. I'm drawn to stories in more contemporary and recognisable settings, with human relationships at their core. Historical fiction can be wonderful, but – if I'm completely honest – I struggle with anything set pre-1900. I love books that surprise me, and make me think. I really want to find stories and voices that aren't published enough and are unrepresented in publishing, whether that's the incredible voice of a young Scottish girl fighting for survival on a succession of council estates and refuges – as with Kerry Hudson's sparky, glorious heroine Janie Ryan in Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My MA – or a test pilot recruited to be one of the first men flown into space whilst overcoming huge personal loss – as in stunning debut The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock. Both books have broad, less-told settings and intricately-sketched characters, and the authors carry the gravitas of their situations lightly and with huge skill. At no point am I being preached to, or 'taught' something; instead, I'm absorbed into these lives and everything around them.
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Relatedly, I have been looking for a while for some smart, fresh and utterly modern commercial women's fiction. Something that is funny, too. I don't want predictable romances or 90s 'chick lit', I want edgy, enthralling lives and relationships – but with a healthy dose of humour. Mhairi McFarlane does it excellently well.
The submissions pile over the last 18 months has been groaning with psychological suspense… everything is the next Gone Girl or, now, or The Girl on the Train. I'd love to find a novel that is dark, bold and surprising – unfortunately most of what I've read so far has been striving to emulate other bestsellers, or has stories that are gratuitously violent/far too predictable. If I could find something unexpected in this area, I'd be all over it! Two of my favourite books are Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle; the continual creepiness and hints of something disastrous to come, are so cleverly spun over the whole novel. You know what's coming, yet it's no less devastating when it arrives. This is what I'm trying to find elsewhere, and for every page to build up to that awful, thrilling end.
And, finally, I would be delighted to discover some new, original crime writing. Something well-written with a strong sense of place and a convincing, consistently-unique central character (i.e. please not another alcoholic, middle-aged male detective!). My colleague Isobel represents a book called Recipes for Love and Murder, about a cookery columnist who finds herself unravelling a crime. The pages are full of life, and South Africa, intrigue and delicious food (I love food!) – as well as Tannie Maria, a fantastic central character. More of that, please!
To submit to Juliet please send a cover letter, synopsis and first three chapters to firstname.lastname@example.org, or head over to the Blake Friedman website at blakefriedmann.co.uk. Juliet is also on Twitter @julietpickering.