Book Broker – An interview with Emma Finn
Agent: Emma Finn
Literary, book group and upmarket commercial fiction, high concept crime and thriller, memoir, and narrative non-fiction.
Emma is a literary agent at C&W, a dynamic agency in London which focuses on uncovering and championing new voices.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A well-structured, clearly written query letter with a great pitch, a strong sample that hooks me in quickly, showcases a brilliant voice or premise and leaves me dying to read more, and a concise synopsis with all the spoilers.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
It’s our job to root for new writers so I’m never looking to catch authors out with tiny errors, but blanket emailing to ‘Dear Sirs’ or getting the agent’s name wrong isn’t ideal… The other thing that often misses the mark for me is over-reliance on a couple of heavy-hitters in any given genre for comparison titles. A thoughtful, original sense of where your book might sit always catches my eye.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
If there are consistent dips or shifts in pace or style, and the reading experience as a whole feels disjointed, that can be difficult to see beyond on an initial read, and I do struggle with unconvincing, exposition-heavy dialogue. We always say do as much refining and tweaking as you possibly can before submitting, but manuscripts do arrive in different stages of fine-tuning and if I fall head-over-heels for a voice I will take the plunge even if there’s a lot of work to be done.
4) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
I know it’s a minefield of competing advice out there but as a general rule I’d say polish your sample as much as you possibly can before you press send, do your research, and personalise your query letters so that each agent you’re approaching understands why your book might be a good fit for them / their list specifically, and – something I always say despite knowing it’s impossible – try not to be too disheartened or put off by rejections: it happens to every writer at one stage or another and no book is one-size-fits-all so you need to find the right champion for your writing.
5) Are there any recent changes or trends in the publishing industry that you think authors should know about?
There’s been a huge upswing in enthusiasm for smart non-fiction right across the board recently, which is a pleasure to see. And I think and hope both agents and editors are being more proactive in looking for and championing stories from exciting new voices from a range of backgrounds, so we should be heading for a much richer and more representative publishing landscape in the months and years to come.
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?
Generally, after a long chat with the author running through our ideas, I’ll do a structural edit first – so focusing on any high level changes we want to see, which can be anything from tweaking character arcs to significant rewrites or overhauls depending on the shape of the manuscript – and then I’ll move on to closer line edits from there. I’ll often work on several drafts with an author before submission, which is why collaborative writers who are open to editorial input are always such a joy to discover. I’ll be chatting to editors about upcoming projects as I approach submission to prime them and scope out which people and lists might be the best fit, and finally I’ll put together a submission package where I get to sing the praises of the book and tell publishers why I’m so excited about a project.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I’ve just read Circe by Madeline Miller, which was wonderful – a magically modern retelling, such a richly conceived world and a brilliantly drawn protagonist. And on the non-fiction side, I’m about halfway through a proof copy of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, which is a completely compelling deep-dive into three different experiences of female desire, and is structurally and stylistically fantastic. (It’s out in July here, so not long to wait.)
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
They’re all exciting! The next book of mine to publish, though, which I am hugely excited about, is Jessica Pan’s brave and hilarious non-fiction book about an introvert who decides to live like an extrovert for a year to see how it might change her life, putting herself through a series of horrors in the name of research. It’s called Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come and is out in the UK on 30th May.