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SPOTLIGHT FEATURE: Florence Rees from AM Heath

Good morning, everyone! 


Today’s feature includes an interview with the wonderful Florence Rees! 


Florence is a literary agent with AM Heath. She discovered her passion for agenting after a series of internships with several leading UK publishers and agencies, and has been building her client list since 2021. She represents a range of fiction and non-fiction genres with a particular interest in high-end commercial fiction and memoirs. 


Recent works by authors represented by Florence Rees include Rachel Thompson’s Rough (August 2021), Jaspreet Kaur’s Brown Girl Like Me (February 2022), Angelica Malin’s Unattached: Empowering Essays on Singlehood (February 2022). Florence also represents two authors debuting this month (June 2022): Salma El-Wardany’s These Impossible Things, and Annie Lord’s Notes on Heartbreak


Florence has an active Twitter account which she often uses to discover new authors. She also does Agent One-to-One sessions with Jericho Writers, so why not book a session and get her feedback? Sessions can be purchased here


Check out some highlights from our interview with Florence below.


 



image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=714&dpx=1&t=1654595319Florence Rees

“I always feel honoured when an author trusts me with something so momentous – it’s a huge moment in their career and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.” 



Hello Florence, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today! We would love to know more about how you became an agent, what your role entails, what you’re looking for in submissions, and advice for querying authors. 


Q. What brought you to agenting? 


I did the rounds on work experience and interning when I was starting out – at Orion, Short Books, PFD, and then my last one was at Greene & Heaton where I was an intern for four months. I enjoyed the close relationships that agents have with authors, I enjoyed the fact you can curate your list based on your tastes, and how the job was about connections and relationships as well as the books.  


When I was working at Greene & Heaton, an assistant job came up at AM Heath and I jumped at the opportunity! I worked as an assistant for two and a half years and the more I did there, the more I enjoyed it. It became clear to me quite quickly that this was a part of the industry that I really liked working in and that suited my strengths as well. When I started out, I thought editorial was where I wanted to be – but actually, I don’t think it would have suited me at all! 



Q. What’s at the top of your non-fiction wish-list? 


I love memoir – I think people really connect to it and enjoy hearing about other people’s lives. So yes, I’d say that’s high up on my wish list.


I also love books that can make a difference in the world. For example, two books I feel very proud to have worked on are Rough by Rachel Thompson and Brown Girl Like Me by Jaspreet Kaur. Non-fiction that engages with social commentary is really interesting and important to me! 


I also like books that are one of a kind – take Annie Lord’s Notes on Heartbreak, for example. There’s nothing else quite like it, I think. 


Q. What’s at the top of your fiction wish-list?  


I think my reading taste has changed quite a bit over the pandemic, and I’m enjoying commercial fiction more than ever. Think along the lines of Marian Keyes and Bella Mackie, and Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta’s The View Was Exhausting. The higher-end of commercial, I would say – though I do think we can get trapped talking about reading tastes in terms of key words. 


In general, I love anything that’s fun or that makes me think. Characterisation is very important for me; the characters don’t always need to be likeable, but I need to understand their motivations. A good plot and characters that feel real are the two criteria that I apply to a lot of different types of fiction. 



Q. Is there any genre you’d rather not receive? 


I don’t tend to work on anything that’s highly literary, as it’s not really my cup of tea. I don’t work on sci-fi either, or fantasy. I enjoy reading fantasy but I don’t think I have the skillset to work on it. Fiction in general requires a lot of work and fantasy is even harder. 


I don’t represent crime unless it were something genre-defying like Bella Mackie’s How to Kill Your Family. I’ve got a book coming out next year that has an element of crime in it, but it’s a rom-com first and foremost. 


Q: What is a day in the life of an agent like for you? 


It’s a tricky question because it really does depend on the time of year – for example, around the book fairs some days are very meeting-heavy whereas over the summer I get more reading done. One of the great things about agenting is that no two days are totally the same, but there are always common factors.  


There are always lots of emails and checking contracts and offer letters – it’s an admin-heavy role. There’s also always reading to do, whether from my authors or submissions that come in. Most weeks, I’ll have a couple of calls or meetings a week with editors to catch up with them and what they’re looking for. 


I check in on my authors regularly, especially closer to the publication date of their books as there’s always a lot to discuss. For example, I’ve got two authors with books coming out this June so I’m talking with them quite a lot, but another of my authors is delivering in November so with her it’s more about checking how the writing is going. Depending on where an author is in the process, I might catch up with them one-on-one, or if the book has sold, I might also talk with editors and the wider publishing team.  


Q. What do you want to see in a query letter? And what do you hate? 


It’s quite clear to me when someone has looked at my list, who I am and who I represent. Any query letters that reference what I’m looking for or similar authors I represent is a real green flag to me. Any submission that comes in like that will have my attention much more than the ones that come in addressed to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. 


Q. Same question when it comes to the synopsis. What should writers do? What should they avoid? 


I like to see that the person really knows what the book they’re writing is about. I find really long synopses quite off-putting. You don’t need to cover every plot point; I like to see things summarised in a paragraph or so, where the author clearly knows the essence of the book. That’s another green flag. 


Q. What are you looking for in the opening pages of a novel? What really excites you? 


It’s very personal so it’s hard to describe. Sometimes I read something and think: “It’s good but it’s not for me,” and sometimes the opening few pages draw me in and make me want to read on.  


I don’t necessarily need to go straight into the action in the opening pages, but I like to be clearly situated. I want to read the first page and have an idea about what’s going on thanks to a good combination of exposition and an interesting set-up. It really helps if I have clear sense of where the book is going, what the book is trying to do, or who some of the characters are. 


Q. What makes for a successful author-agent relationship? How can both parties get the most out of the relationship? 


Good, healthy communication. I’d say that builds up over time and is essential to a functioning relationship. Trust as well is really important – it’s about being open with someone. For example, if I understood an author’s idea but didn’t think it was something I could sell, having that trust means the author understands that I’m telling the truth, not trying to crush their dreams! 


Having life experience and cultural touchstones in common helps to a certain extent. Also just getting along – you spend a lot of time talking things over and it becomes a lot harder when you don’t have that rapport. 


Q. What’s your favourite thing about being an agent? 


Undoubtedly, it’s when I get to tell an author that a publisher likes their book and wants to make an offer. It’s such a wonderful feeling and there’s something really special about sharing that moment with the author. I always feel honoured when an author trusts me with something so momentous – it’s a huge moment in their career and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. 


Q. Tell us about a recent deal (or three) that really delighted you.  


I announced one a couple of months ago called Love & Other Scams by P J Ellis and it’s a really fun debut novel that’s sold in the UK and US. Probably sometime in August, we’ll be announcing another memoir by a young writer who worked in Westminster, and I think that’ll be a special book as well. Those are two that I’ve been particularly excited about this year. 


Q. Any final words of advice for authors in the querying process? 


My advice would be to do your research. There are lots of agents out there and you only have one chance to make a first impression. The more time you spend figuring out the right people to submit to and how you want to introduce yourself and your book, the better. Think of it as an investment in your career. 


Finally, it’s an unfortunate truth that agents get a lot of submissions. If you do get that email back saying: “Thank you, but no thank you,” try not to take it too personally. There are lots of agents out there and it’s just a case of finding the right one! 


The full interview can be found on Florence’s AgentMatch profile.


 



In the meantime, if you’re struggling with your query letter and synopsis, do check out our free resources on our website. We have lots of info to help you on your way. Or, better still, if you’re a member with us, our lovely Writers Support team will be happy to offer you a free query letter review


 

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