Sallyanne Sweeney grew up in Dublin and studied English at Trinity College before completing an MPhil in American Literature at Queens' College, Cambridge. After graduating she joined Watson, Little Ltd, becoming a Literary Agent in 2008 and a Director of the company in 2011. She joined Mulcahy Associates in August 2013 and is building her list of fiction and non-fiction authors for children and adults.
I love that as an agent, every day is different, and one of the most exciting parts of my job continues to be the thrill of receiving a truly great submission. Like most agencies, we receive a very high volume of proposals every week, but most of my clients have come to me as unsolicited submissions and we consider everything we are sent carefully.
I’m one of two agents at Mulcahy Associates and between us we cover most genres of fiction and non-fiction. My focus is on fiction, both for children (picture books to YA) and adults, though I’m also interested in food writing and narrative non-fiction (particularly memoirs) and always enjoy the variety of books I’m working on at any given time. I’m also fortunate to represent a small but super-talented list of illustrators.
I work closely with my authors editorially, often over several drafts, to ensure their manuscript is in the best shape possible before submitting to publishers. I do need to see the potential in a manuscript, however, so I’d advise not submitting to agents until you’ve gone as far as you can with it. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good, clear cover letter – this is the first introduction to your book and you should put the same care into this as you did into your writing.
In terms of my manuscript wishlist, I’m open to everything and often don’t know what I’m looking for until I find it. I’m always looking for smart, emotionally resonant women’s fiction. I read everything Maggie O’Farrell, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Curtis Sittenfeld write, and adore Marian Keyes and Liane Moriarty for their ability to make readers laugh and cry. I’m always looking to be moved in some way by writing – whether that’s at the sheer brilliance of the prose, or in laughing out loud or nail-biting tension, and I love a good weepy!
I’m drawn to literary fiction with a broad commercial appeal and am looking for a combination of great characters, a distinct voice and captivating storytelling. Other authors I love include Jonathan Franzen, Colm Tóibín and Barbara Kingsolver. I like to learn something from a novel – whether about another culture, place or time period – and am always interested in a fresh take on a historical event. I thought Anna Hope’s Wake did this brilliantly with World War I, showing us the less-explored aftermath of war, and its effect on three women.
In children’s fiction, what I look for doesn’t change, though humour, big commercial concepts and books with crossover appeal will always grab my attention. I’m always looking for the perfect picture book text and particularly love that magic combination of heart and humour – I was lucky to find this in Simon Philip, whose debut picture book, I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat, is published by Simon & Schuster next year. I thought Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers was middle-grade fiction at its best, beautifully written and bursting with charm, and my client Jon Walter’s Close to the Wind, published by David Fickling Books, has that same classic appeal I love. I’m also a huge fan of Louis Sachar, Rebecca Stead and David Almond. In YA, I’m drawn to both the dark and light. E. Lockhart's We Were Liars kept me guessing throughout and was deliciously unputdownable, but I also love sweet and quirky romances – or a mixture of both, as in Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I’d love to find a foot-popping story of first love or a 500 Days of Summer for teens!
When you are looking at a large number of manuscripts every day, it’s wonderful to be surprised by a novel. I loved the sharp playfulness and innovative storytelling of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette and would be thrilled if writing like this crossed my desk. This, and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, were the books I pushed into the hands of all my friends and family last year, and I want to champion my authors in the same way.
Mostly, I’m looking for the book that only you can write, and look forward to hearing from you.
Sallyanne's submission details can be found here.