Book Broker—an interview with Sam Copeland

Book Broker—an interview with literary agent Sam Copeland from RCW Literary Agency—query letter advice and manuscript wish list (#MSWL) suggestions


Agent: Sam Copeland, RCW Literary Agency

Website: RCWLitAgency.com

Bio: Sam Copeland was shortlisted for Literary Agent of the Year at the 2020 and 2021 British Book Awards and selected for the Bookseller's Most Influential People in Publishing in 2020. He was a bookseller for a number of years, before starting in publishing in 2001. He joined RCW Literary Agency in 2006 and became a director in 2016. He has an extremely diverse list of award-winning and bestselling authors, representing writers of both literary and commercial fiction and all genres (including book group, upmarket fiction, crime and thrillers, speculative fiction and historical fiction—although he isn't looking at SF and fantasy at the moment), children’s and YA, and a smattering of quality non-fiction, and is always open to submissions of the highest standard. He is excited by debuts!

His writers have won or been shortlisted for over 20 major prizes including the Booker, Costa, National Book Awards, Carnegie, Waterstone’s Book of the Year, Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year, Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, Irish Book Awards, CWA Dagger, Dylan Thomas, Theakston’s, Branford Boase, Eisner and Arthur C Clarke and many more.


1) What stands out in a good submission?

WHEN I MOMENTARILY FORGET IT’S A SUBMISSION AND START THINKING I’M READING A BOOK

2) What red flags in a query letter are enough to cause you to pass on a project without looking at the writer's sample pages? What percentage of submissions would you say die with the query letter?

GRAMMAR AND SPELLING MISTAKES, UNSUITABLE GENRE, OR IF IT SIMPLY DOESN’T APPEAL TO ME. PROBABLY 25% FALL AT THE FIRST HURDLE.

3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?

IT’S DIFFICULT TO SAY EXACTLY – MANY MAUNSCRIPTS ARE GOOD, BUT JUST DON’T MAKE ME FALL IN LOVE. HOW MANY OF THOSE ARE REALLY NOT READY FOR REPRESENTATION? I SUPPOSE A LOT OF THEM, AND THE ONLY THING WRONG WITH MOST OF THOSE IS THAT THEY AREN’T QUITE GOOD ENOUGH. IT’S NOT EASY TO CATALOGUE A LIST OF HOWLING ERRORS TO AVOID AND THEN YOU’LL GET PUBLISHED. MOST OF THE TIME, YOU EITHER HAVE IT OR YOU DON’T!

4) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?

I DON’T CARE AND DON’T HAVE A WISH LIST. I JUST WANT TO SEE GOOD BOOKS.

5) When you sign a new client, to what extent do you work through additional revisions together before their manuscript is ready for submission to publishers?

IT REALLY DEPENDS ON THE AUTHOR AND THEIR NOVEL. SOME NOVELS NEED A LOT OF WORK, SOME A LITTLE, AND VERY, VERY OCCASIONALLY, SOME ARE READY TO GO!

6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?

NO COMMENT…. (I HAVE LEARNED TO KEEP MY TRAP SHUT OVER THE YEARS!)

7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?

THE NO.1 AUTHOR WHO FILLS ME WITH ENVY IS MADELINE MILLER. SHE IS ONE OF THE BEST HISTORICAL NOVELISTS I HAVE READ. HER FIRST TWO BOOKS ARE PERFECTION

8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?

I CAN’T SINGLE OUT A PARTICULAR AUTHOR! THAT WOULD CAUSE ME ALL SORTS OF TROUBLE. YOU SEE, AUTHORS ARE NEEDY CREATURES... (I AM ONLY ALLOWED TO SAY THIS BECAUSE I AM ALSO AN AUTHOR!)


Interview with book agent Sam Copeland from RCW Lit Agency—query letter tips and manuscript wishlist (#MSWL) suggestions

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