What literary agents want


I could write a dozen posts on this topic, since what literary agencies want is such a mystery to most of us. No matter how clear agencies think they’re being (articles in “The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook” are about as helpful as we’re going to get), they still manage to be vague individually, and contradictory as a group.

I like to think that the collective noun for agents is a “barricade”.

Whilst searching for representation for my second novel “Cycles of Udaipur” (third, if you count “The Gun of Our Maker“), I came across an agency’s website that was actually helpful. Imagine my surprise!

Luigi Bonomi, the chief agent at his eponymously named Luigi Bonomi Associates Ltd, wrote the following very helpful piece on what agents are currently looking for. It’s snuck away on his profile page, which appears to have been updated sometime this year. Here is the relevant section, which I hope is useful for writers seeking representation.

It also illustrates the lamentable state of affairs that is the current publishing industry, but I may come to that in another post.

Increasingly publishers tell me that what they are after is a book that has a hook that makes it very easily pitched – not just internally to their colleagues but also to the wider public. So recent successes like Gone Girl, Girl on a Train and The Miniaturist are all very easily pitched. The phrase ‘a story about a husband and wife and their dysfunctional marriage’  is not a great pitch. ‘A story about a wife who sets out to entrap her husband so he is accused of her murder’ is much stronger. A clear strong, high-concept storyline that can intrigue people in one sentence is what everyone seems to want. This invariably means stories with strong plots, lots of secrets, many twists, and a fast pace. There is a huge appetite for crime and thrillers, for novels with unreliable narrators (despite the recent glut of these), for big sweeping family dramas, for novels with secrets.  There is also huge appetite, I think, for cross-genre novels – ‘crime meets paranormal’ being something that has been mentioned, but also other forms of cross-genre novels – as long as it is something that looks genuine, comes from the author’s own passion and is not forced.

So a strong pitch, a clever concept, a terrific plot with well-realised characters. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But I know it isn’t – it’s incredibly hard to get right. Yet I believe there are very many talented writers out there – all of whom just need a break.

It’s nice to see that Mister Bonomi actually seems so kind, as if he really does care about all the authors who are mercilessly (yet necessarily) turned away with little more than a rejection slip. It would be fantastic if sympathetic and thoughtful literary agents set up a regular blog so that folks like us could get some genuine, up-to-date insights. We might then see past the barricade and have some long-overdue good fortune!



Holy cows and swastikas – “Cycles of Udaipur”

199 Pichola Lake

In 2012-13 I was lucky enough to take some time to travel the world. My first stop was India, a country so crazy I don’t have the space to describe it properly here. India is a bizarro-England, in some familiar and in some the complete opposite. It is frantic, deliriously colourful, filthy yet pure, spiritual yet seemingly gods-forsaken. I loved it.

Despite the great times I had in subsequent countries – including the currently blighted Nepal (donate here) – I decided that my next novel would be set in India, which is in many ways unexplored by modern literature.

Contemporary novels set in India (at least, those written in English), are enamoured with the history and spirituality of the country, at the expense of reality. They acknowledge the issue of poverty and patriarchal social structure, but shirk its rapidly-growing modernity for a daydreamy post-Raj interpretation. They fail entirely to deal with the disillusionment of its modern youth, the outpacing of technology and wealth compared to the cultural maturity of its emerging middle class, and the much-underpublicised rise in sophisticated gang crime.

Cycles of Udaipur

I adored many of the cities I visited during my time in India, but my favourite was almost certainly Udaipur: beautiful, serene, artistic Udaipur, in deep Rajasthan.  There are two cities in the world that I felt a strong immediate bond with upon visiting (the second is Kathmandu, specifically Boudhanath). I set my novel, “Cycles of Udaipur”, in Rajasthan and set out to explore the new tribulations of India’s youth as described above.

The finished result is “Cycles of Udaipur”, which has been much changed and edited since I finished its first draft a long time ago. I’m now very excited to approach my first literary agency, which the is the first step on the long, steep, painful road towards traditional publication.

I’ll keep you posted – in the mean time, wish me luck!