This week’s Spotlight On comes from Hannah Todd of The Madeleine Milburn Agency. With an editorial background, Hannah has only just begun her new chapter as a Literary Agent and is actively looking to build her list.
Hannah also used to work at Jericho Writers way back when we were known as ‘Writer’s Workshop’ and there were only 3 members of staff! It seems we have both come a long way since. As well as discussing all-things-literary, I loved talking to Hannah about how things have changed and expanded in the company since she was with us!
We are very excited to announce that Hannah will be doing Agent 121s with Jericho Writers and her October slots are now available! You can find out more here.
This Spotlight On contains highlights from our interview with Hannah. To find out more about Hannah and how to wow her with your all-important submission, you can read the full piece on her AgentMatch profile.
‘In digital publishing, those first pages are so important. If someone is reading on their Kindle/E-Reading device, they’re going to get notifications popping up, so the first part needs to be super grabby and hooky. You’ve got to suck them in and not let them go!’
Q. Let’s get stuck in. What’s at the top of your literary wishlist?
My list is broadly across commercial literature and not literary. In terms of specific genres, I’m predominantly looking for crime, cosy crime, police procedurals, psychological thrillers, romance (contemporary, cosy romance or a community setting-based romance), accessible historical fiction (primarily WW2 based rather than anything literary or upmarket), women’s fiction, sagas and anything that is character driven with a relatable narrative.
Q. Are there any particular genres that you don’t want to receive?
I don’t accept non-fiction, poetry, fantasy or children’s/YA/MG submissions. I occasionally accept magical realism romance, such as The Time Traveller’s Wife, but the romance must still be the focal part of the novel rather than any supernatural element. I also don’t want any horror – it scares me!
Q. Do you have any examples of authors/books similar to those that you’d like to acquire?
Because of my editorial background, I look for submissions that are well-written but I’m also happy to do editorial work with the author if the idea is strong enough. I’m acquiring with a digital publishing focus. I’d love to find a cosy crime series – one of my favourites is the Murder on the Menu cosy crime series by Fiona Leitch, which is baking-themed! I also really enjoy reading Sandy Barker’s work as I love destination romances. Especially after being stuck inside for so long in lockdown, escapist reads like these are so important as they can whisk the reader away to a setting such as the Greek Islands or Paris with their descriptions of food and culture. It’s known as armchair travelling and these books are so transportive!
Q. What excites you on an opening page?
In digital publishing, those first pages are so important. If someone is reading on their Kindle/E-Reading device, they’re going to get notifications popping up, so the first part needs to be super grabby and hooky. You’ve got to suck them in and not let them go! Some things to think about are – where are you starting your book in the narrative? At the most interesting part or way in advance of that? Slow-build writing might not be the best digital prospect as it tends not to be so enticing, so if your book is a slow-burner then I probably won’t be the best agent for you as I am going to be predominantly working with digital-focused clients. I really want something that instantly hooks me, such as a character that I can see myself in or relate to in some way.
If the book opening isn’t interesting, the reader won’t be committed. As an author, you have to remember that you have to show the reader how good the book is going to be. There’s such a short window to do this when submitting to literary agents, so it has to be as punchy as possible!
Q. Following on from this, what do you like in a query letter? Are there any instant do’s or don’ts?
As I’ve only just started as a literary agent, I’ve been buried in submissions already – I received at least 60 in my first couple of days! This is to be expected at the start though, but I have been told this will be the usual! It’s quite rare for an agent to come in without a list and, as I came from editorial, I had no list to bring. I’m actively building so I want to start signing authors quickly!
At the top, I want to see a concise summary so that I know from first glance what I’m looking at – for example ‘I am submitting [Title], a novel of XXX words, XXX genre’. If someone has sent me a submission of a genre that I don’t accept, then they’re showing that they haven’t done their research and it’s a waste of both of our time! Our submission guidelines are really clear, so always take a look at those first.
Q. Are there any recent deals that have excited you or any authors that you’d love to acquire?
The Madeleine Milburn Agency has a lot of huge names and I really love that everybody is treated the same across the board, with the same level of attention and care. It means that I can focus on finding new and debut voices as well as authors with established sales histories who have self-published or don’t yet have representation. I’ve been approaching some authors without representation (details coming soon!) and I’ve signed a few which is exciting! I’ve also signed some authors who are earlier in their careers, and I can’t wait to work with them to build up their success.
Q. What is your favourite beach read?
At the moment, I’ve been listening to audio books as it’s much easier to switch off my ‘editing brain’ in that format! I’m not sure if it’s so much of a beach read, but I absolutely loved The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. It’s a masterclass on characterisation. I was listening to it whilst on a car journey with my boyfriend and I kept pausing just to praise the descriptions! I would recommend it to any author who wants to improve their craft – the twists and turns and having such strong voices like that of Joyce, the narrator. I had my suspicions she would turn out to be unreliable, but *spoiler alert* she really was just a lovely person and I was delighted to be wrong!
If you’re in need of some support and advice in regards to your query letter and synopsis, please do check out our resources on our website; we have lots of information to help guide you on your way. Or, if you’re a member with us, our lovely Writers Support team will be happy to offer you a free query letter review! Login to access the service here.