Book Broker – an interview with Hannah Schofield
Agent: Hannah Schofield, LBA literary agency (London)
Preferred genres: Most genres in commercial and reading-group fiction. I’m not the right agent for sci-fi, satire, political or espionage thrillers, or books for children.
Bio: Hannah Schofield is a literary agent at LBA Books, which she joined in 2018 after two years working in literary scouting, foreign rights, and interning for an agent. Having brokered her first book deal during the first lockdown (a rather bizarre but greatly fun experience!), she’s currently building her list of authors. She is open to queries and particularly welcomes submissions from authors from communities that have been underrepresented in mainstream publishing.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
In the query letter, a clear pitch and a strong title will immediately catch my eye—as will comparison titles that are books I love. I read every submission I receive, but authors who write concise, punchy query letters with clearly outlined stakes for their protagonists are more likely to make me flick to their pages the moment I get their email.
In the sample pages, a strong voice and polished writing always cut through. Bonus marks if something intriguing happens at the end of the pages so that I’m desperate to call in the full manuscript!
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
If the writing isn’t quite flowing or the opening pages are confusing in setting, tone, or characterisation, this is usually a sign that the manuscript isn’t ready yet and there’s some more craft-honing to do on the author’s part. Plus, if it’s unclear from the query letter where this project sits in the market, that’s tricky too: something that’s too samey or too wildly different to what’s out there at the moment suggests to me that the author needs to do a bit more reading of current releases.
3) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?
I recently wrote a Twitter thread about my manuscript wish list! As it’s now high summer I’m particularly on the lookout for beach reads: pacy and gripping thrillers, and deliciously fun romcoms.
4) What do you love most about being an agent, and what do you find the most challenging?
Being there with an author from the germination of their idea, through several drafts, to that moment where you can tell them "your book will be published" is such a privilege and brings me so much joy. I’m very editorially hands-on and love working with authors creatively.
But it can be challenging to find enough time to read everything—from author’s drafts, to submissions, to what’s recently been published for market research!
5) What typically draws you deep into a manuscript? What common snags are likely to break your narrative immersion?
If I fall in love with the protagonist(s), I will follow them anywhere. A character who I want to become my best friend—or I am slightly scared of but can’t look away from—will always grip me. Combined with excellent writing, I’ll be glued to my Kindle!
I’m often pulled out of a manuscript if the pacing lulls—or on the flipside if too much happens in too quick succession, without getting enough of a sense of character. I also commonly come across submissions where the first three chapters are polished and brilliant, but the rest of the manuscript falls flat in comparison, which deflates my enthusiasm for that project a bit!
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I feel like there’s still a view that commercial and genre fiction is somehow less worthy of accolades and attention in the industry– but it’s just as challenging to write a satisfying genre novel as a really linguistically experimental one, and they can be just as successful if not more so. And genre audiences can be the most loyal readers out there—myself included!
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I recently read WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker, which blew me away. I’d read his previous book ALL THE WICKED GIRLS when I interned at his UK publisher years ago, and also thought it was amazing, but nobody seemed to be talking about it. So I’m delighted that he’s now getting more recognition because he’s incredibly talented.
Whitaker’s books have characters that you root for, sometimes painfully so, from the word go. WE BEGIN AT THE END’s protagonists—a ballsy thirteen-year-old who just wants to protect her younger brother at all costs, and a small-town policeman hiding his recent diagnosis—just captivated me. After a major plot point happened, I was hooked and I couldn’t do anything else until I was done.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
The first of my clients’ books to be published is Amy Lavelle’s DEFINITELY FINE on 5th August. This is the funniest book you’ll ever read about grief—think Fleabag in an Irish Catholic family who’ve lost their matriarch. The main character is also called Hannah and I love her so much!