Book Broker – An interview with Broo Doherty
Agent: Broo Doherty
"She handles all genres, excluding children’s books, screenplays and sci-fi, but particularly enjoys crime, women's commercial fiction, literary fiction and quirky non-fiction." (DHH Literary agent profile)
1) What stands out in a good submission?
What I always look for is honesty. It is reassuring if I feel that someone has done their research and looked into why they have chosen to submit a book to me. It is much appreciated if potential authors say they have read one of my other authors, or they feel they are writing in the same way as one of my authors. And I like it when authors mention things that are relevant to their writing – writing courses, short story competitions, their whole writing experiences.
It is also useful if authors identify the type of book they feel they are writing; I know this sounds daft, but occasionally authors will compare their books with every book on the bestseller list, I imagine in the hopes that I will respond positively. It is much better if authors keep it simple and state what precisely they are writing – a crime novel, a woman’s commercial novel, a novel for young adults. If the author is clear, it makes my life much easier – and given we, as an agency, receive about 5,000 submissions a year, we need as much of a steer as possible.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
Query letters should be clear and direct, identifying what your book is about, and why it might stand out in the marketplace. It doesn’t have to be overly long or complicated, but it helps if you have come up with a pitch for the book before you send it in. I know there are websites that help you write a query letter. I loathe jokes in a submission – and another great bugbear is telling me what I am going to think. I’d like to judge a submission on its own merits, rather than being told this is the greatest masterpiece ever to cross my desk.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
I find it quite challenging when an author sends in a typescript with random chapters, saying that these are the best and I should be judging their writing from these chapters. Another thing is if the typescript is littered with typos, unfinished sentences, and characters whose names change from page to page. Sounds unbelievable, but I promise, it has happened!
4) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Keep things simple and to the point. Authors are trying to attract my attention, so a simple, straight-forward email is the best way to approach me. I don’t need bells and whistles, just simple prose with a well-considered email and a well-presented synopsis and opening three chapters.
5) Are there any recent changes or trends in the publishing industry that you think authors should know about?
I think trying to follow trends is very difficult – there is only one JK Rowling, and only one Eleanor Oliphant. And by the time your book is published, the trend will have moved on, so the best thing to do is write what you want to write with as much passion and engagement as possible. The old adage write what you know is there for a reason.
6) You've just decided to represent an author and the contract is signed. What steps do you take to prep the manuscript for submission to publishers?
Having worked as an editor in the past, I will always edit a typescript before it is set out on submission in order to send out the book in the best possible shape. This can take a couple of rewrites, at least, but I think it pays off in the long run. You only have one shot with a publisher so it has to have reached the stage when both the author and I are confident in the book – and that takes as long as it takes.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
It has to be Vox by Christina Dalcher, which won the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award recently. It is a disturbing dystopian novel, a genre I don’t usually read, but I was blown away by the authenticity of the setting, the sheer horror of the basic setup, and the power of the writing to transport me into this horrifying world. It is superb.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Now that’s a really difficult question for any agent. And to try and pick one of my clients is impossible. I’m working with such great writers – Georgia Kaufman is bringing out her debut novel, The Dressmaker of Paris next year; I’m working with Kate Kingham on her contemporary romance, The Keeper of Songs, set up at Chatsworth; Amanda Jennings goes from strength to strength, and her new book, The Riptide, is a wonderful study of a controlling relationship; Jules Wake and her alter ego Julie Caplin are both busy writing their next romances, Notting Hill in the Snow and Peony Place, while Phillipa Ashley’s new series set in Cornwall, A Prefect Cornish Summer, illustrates just how much she is developing as an author. And Anna Jacobs is an example to everyone as she writes three books a year. But it’s unfair for me to pick out of these authors specifically because everyone I work with is exciting and I hope to be working with them all for years to come.