Book Broker – an interview with Caroline Hardman
Agent: Caroline Hardman
Preferred genres: Fiction: literary and commercial / book club fiction, historical fiction, crime, thrillers, and suspense. Non-fiction: popular science in the fields of human biology, medicine, psychology; philosophy; current affairs; feminism; narrative non-fiction and memoir; expert health and wellness.
Bio: Caroline is an agent at Hardman & Swainson, which she co-founded with Joanna Swainson in 2012. Before starting her own agency, Caroline was an agent at the Christopher Little Literary Agency and The Marsh Agency. She represents a growing list of critically praised, up-and-coming and bestselling authors, including (in fiction) twice Richard & Judy book club pick Dinah Jefferies and (in non-fiction) Royal Society Science Book Prize Shortlisted Daniel M Davis. Caroline grew up in south Manchester and has a 1st class BA and an MA with distinction in English Literature from the University of Leeds. She lives in London with her husband and two boys.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
The first thing I judge is the introductory / query email. If the writer sounds professional and intelligent, and can present themselves and their work succinctly and articulately, then I’m predisposed to want the material to be good. Then the idea itself needs to interest me and sound commercially viable.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
In fiction, if the novel isn’t finished – it’s always better to finish the work and edit / polish it. If it’s a complete manuscript, but it’s riddled with typos and errors, it looks slapdash which indicates the writer hasn’t spent time editing and polishing.
3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Read as much as you can. Edit, edit, edit. Have other people read your novel. Think about what makes your novel stand out: How would you pitch it? What will make people want to pay to read it? Approach the submissions process like you would approach applying for a job – be professional. Do your research and submit to agents who represent your genre. Rejection is part of the process – your work isn’t going to be right for everyone. But if you’re not getting anywhere, then maybe it’s time to think about why that is.
4) How do you weigh the importance of each submission component (query letter, synopsis, writing sample) when determining whether you will ask to read a full manuscript?
We ask for the full straight up, but what determines whether I’ll keep reading is the writing itself, how much I’m enjoying it, whether I think the idea or hook is strong enough, and if I think I can sell it / I’m the right agent. I think it’s a combination of all of the submission components, but ultimately it has to be about the concept and the writing as to whether I’ll keep reading on.
5) Approximately how many query letters do you receive per year? Of those, how many will you respond to with a request for a full manuscript? And of those, how many are likely to receive an offer of representation?
I personally get about 1200-1500 a year. Of those I might read about 20 full manuscripts and of those maybe 3 offers. Very roughly, though. It depends on the year, how busy I am with existing clients and whether I’ve got other projects I’m already working on.
6) What is the average length of time it takes to place a manuscript with a publisher, and what is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?
No hard and fast rules in this game, but I’d say I usually know if something is going to fly within about 4 weeks. Sometimes we get offers within 24 hours. Sometimes it can be 6 weeks.
If a manuscript isn’t selling, I’ll think about the feedback from editors and whether it’s worth revising it. I might think about further submissions to make. If I’ve exhausted all the reasonable possibilities, then it might be time to think about writing something new. It’s not always the first novel you submit from a writer that sells. And it may be that that novel will see the light of day another time.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I finally read Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo when I took a week off recently. It had received a lot of attention and won prizes so those were compelling reasons to read, but it was the brilliant writing and the openhearted way she explored a variety of women’s lives that kept me reading. I spend my life reading but I wish I had more time for reading outside of the job too.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
There are so many and I am excited about them all! But I’ll tell you about the next two fiction debuts to be published: