Doing deals, submission wants and Fifty Shades of Grey, we have literary agent Jo Unwin here with us for a Tuesday afternoon natter.
It wasn’t quite a decision. I had a very clear moment in my early 40s when I realised that I needed to be working with and around books. I went to work in a bookshop for a while and the bookshop owner introduced me to a literary agent. I had to acknowledge that not only do I love books, I also love business. A lot of people who want to work in the arts start off thinking business is a dirty word – I love doing deals!
What are you looking for in your submissions?
Something I’ve never seen before but that feels as though I’ve known it all my life. So not a tall order in any way.
Which book do you wish you had agented?
50 Shades of Grey because I’m saving up for a wood-burning stove. But I wouldn’t have spotted that, I suspect.
There are so many books I love for so many different reasons. The hardest thing is that surprisingly frequently I can be passionately behind a book, a publisher can buy it for a really decent sum, and something goes wrong, and it just doesn’t catch fire the way we all believe it should. And of course the opposite happens too: I think a book might be superb but a little quiet, but worth showing to a few select publishers and suddenly I’ve got a massive auction on my hands.
What is your approach to giving editorial input and career guidance to your clients?
It really depends what stage they’re at in their careers. For a first book I will do everything I can to make the book as good as it can possibly be. You’re only a debut author once. After that, things change a little. An author may have developed a very good editorial relationship with her/his editor, and may need me around less. Or they may feel that their first book didn’t get the attention it deserved, so may want more from me. And certainly there are authors who need a bit of help steering a path – a children’s author might try a different age group, a literary author might never have considered writing a thriller. But my main sense is that writing a book is a) incredibly hard work and b) a very delicate process. You have to be so careful not to be a bull in an author’s beautiful china shop.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of Jo Unwin?
There’s not typical day, but there is one constant: there is never enough time to read. I could be reading six novels a week and still be feeling guilty that I wasn’t getting to authors’ work quickly enough. So if you are looking for an agent do be patient.