Book Broker – An interview with Carrie Plitt
Agent: Carrie Plitt
Preferred genres: literary fiction, book club fiction, narrative non-fiction, non-fiction by experts and journalists, memoir
Bio: Carrie Plitt is a literary agent at Felicity Bryan Associates where she is building a list of both non-fiction and fiction. She was named a 2018 Bookseller Rising Star. The authors she represents include Sunday Times bestseller Reni Eddo-Lodge, Wellcome Prize winner Will Eaves, and Royal Society Science Prize shortlisted Joseph Jebelli. She is looking for writers of literary fiction, upmarket crime, narrative non-fiction, pop-science, history, big ideas, travel, memoir and nature writing. Prior to joining FBA, she worked at the literary agency C&W and in the rights department at Penguin Books. She also hosts a books podcast called Literary Friction.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
The best submissions have already hooked me by the first page. They don’t have to be extremely plot-y, but they will have something original and surprising in the writing or storytelling that grabs me and makes me want to keep reading. If it’s non-fiction, the idea has to be clear, original, and exciting, and something that would work for the trade market.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
A lot of writers think that they should submit to agents once they have a solid first draft, but I tell writers that they should instead think of the manuscript as ready when they can’t do any more work on it. Do multiple drafts. Take some time away from it. Ask trusted friends to read it for you. I see a lot of manuscripts with spelling and grammatical errors, which is usually a sign of not enough care being taken in other areas. I also see a lot of overwritten first chapters. Make sure you come back to the opening—it’s so important.
3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Submit to more than one agent at a time, and don’t worry too much about rejection. Even the best writers will get rejected by someone; it’s such a subjective business. However, if you’re getting the same feedback in your rejections, it’s really worth taking that on board and redrafting before submitting elsewhere.
4) What typically draws you deep into a manuscript? What common snags are likely to break your narrative immersion?
For me it’s all about the consistency of writing. I see a lot of books that have excellent opening chapters but then lose steam a bit with the prose, perhaps because the author hasn’t worked on the middle sections enough. I love books that explore characters and relationships, and so I get frustrated when characters seem thin and difficult to hook into.
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?
As an agency, we receive about 200-400 submissions a month. Of those, we only take on a few a year. This is the same for most agencies but we have a dedicated reader who looks at every single submission we receive and recommends them to agents. We also have a great history of representing novels and non-fiction projects that came in unsolicited. In fact, my colleague Catherine just did a big pre-emptive deal for one last week!
6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?
It really depends. Sometimes it’s about trying another round of less obvious publishers, or taking the feedback from the first round of submissions on board and working on another draft before submitting again. In other cases, authors have put their novel to the side and written another one. There are a lot of success stories in all of these scenarios. Just because a book doesn’t sell right away doesn’t mean that someone won’t become a published author.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I just finished Euphoria by Lily King and I absolutely loved it. I was particularly grateful to read this novel now because I was having trouble focusing on reading during the lockdown. But this novel immediately transported me to Papua New Guinea in the 1930s and a love triangle between three anthropologists working there.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
I’m incredibly excited about a debut novel that will be published in August called The Octopus by Tess Little. Tess is an incredibly stylish writer—and she’s great at dialogue—but she’s also a very convincing storyteller. I love how this novel takes a classic locked-room mystery and makes it something much more sophisticated, about power and control and the marks we leave on others’ lives.