Book Broker – an interview with Rachel Mann
Agent: Rachel Mann
Preferred genres: Middle grade, YA, voice-driven adult non-fiction, some adult fiction—both commercial and literary but always progressive.
Bio: I spent nine years commissioning and editing books for young people at a few of the major houses in the UK, and was most recently global publishing director for the Roald Dahl Story Company. I quickly realised that I’m much more interested in helping people tell new stories, so am now actively growing a list of writers in fiction and non-fiction, with a particular focus on children’s and YA.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
This is such a hard one, because much of our industry is so taste-driven in a way that isn’t always helpful. Often there’s a jolt of excitement I get upon reading something great, and it’s hard to say why and when that comes. Generally, though, I’d say for the submission itself it’s the sense that the author knows what they’ve written in terms of market positioning, and that they know too who their readers are. In the manuscript, it’s often something that’s been thoroughly, thoroughly edited before sending, and by that I mean the author redrafting and redrafting again, and perhaps at least having the input of a trusted friend. It needs to be tight (by that I mean economical) and as typo-free as possible at line level, and if it’s a non-fiction proposal it needs to be very clear about what the author is setting out to do and why.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
To be honest it’s often quite easy to tell from the pitch letter alone. If the author isn’t aware of the book as an entity in the publishing marketplace—as something that needs to be positioned and sold—then often it’s difficult to get them where they need to be professionally and editorially.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
I think it’s really important to target your submissions—it’s a waste of both yours and the agent’s time if you don’t. So to show that you know and feel an affinity with the agent’s client list is vital. Any actually personal detail that has been gleaned from a trawl of an agent’s social media, though, is always a little unnerving!
4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?
It’s more important that the writing itself isn’t clichéd, I think. That said, I’m not a fan of "woman being pursued by a sinister man on a dark and rainy night," but that could just be a genre thing! And if you’re introducing a character by having them wake up, get out of bed and make breakfast, they’d better be having some pretty original thoughts…
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
I love to know what has brought a writer to this story—what they’ve experienced that has led them to the topic; what is it about their understanding of life that compelled them to write this book, now. It’s also nice to know a little bit about what they’re planning to write next.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
Wow, what a question. Its entire dependence (still) on the independent wealth of middle-class white men and the unpaid labour of white women usually married to those men, and its impenetrability for everyone else? Maybe that’s three things, but I feel strongly. Like much of our society, in fact, I think the publishing industry needs totally dismantling and rebuilding…!
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I was recently totally blown away by Sayaka Murata’s EARTHLINGS, published by Granta in the UK. It is incredibly bold, affecting, voice-driven work, and all the better for having the most exhilaratingly nuts and dark ending I’ve read for ages. It won’t be for everyone, but I loved it.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Because raucous laughter is what I think we all need at the moment, I want everyone to read Wibke Bruggemann’s hilariously wry YA debut, LOVE IS FOR LOSERS, published by Candlewick in the States and Macmillan in the UK. It’s the snarky, laugh-out-loud diary of fifteen-year-old Phoebe Davis, who is disgusted by the indignity of love until she meets Emma while (reluctantly) working at her local thrift store. An overworn comparison, but it really does feel like Fleabag for Gen Z, and is a delight for adult readers too. It stormed the book fairs when we went out with it, and even now I’m constantly screenshotting lines that make me scream.