Book Broker – an interview with Thérèse Coen

Book Broker – interview with literary agent Therese Coen


Agent: Thérèse Coen

Website & bio:

Therese Coen, literary agent with Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency

Preferred genres: Children’s, MG and YA, and adult fiction.

1) What stands out in a good submission?

A clear, professionally written one, with a strong and immediate pitch that hooks the agent right in. It always helps when the letter also showcases the author’s knowledge of the book market and tells us clearly where the book sits within that market. It beats trying to stand out with jokes, pictures or funny fonts.

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

One that is far too long. I quite regularly see children’s manuscripts which are over 100,000 words or fiction manuscripts which are over 200,000. Keep a children’s MS around 80k for YA and 60k for MG and under 120k for adult fiction. I obviously won’t discount something if it’s slightly over these word counts, but try not to go too far over.

3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from agents you’ve submitted to once, just keep writing and keep submitting! So many authors don’t succeed their first time, but they learn from it and grow into better and more resilient writers as a result.

4) How do you weigh the importance of each submission component (query letter, synopsis, writing sample) when determining whether you will ask to read a full manuscript?

I read the query letter first and unless the letter tells me straight away that I am not the right agent for it (say it concerns a genre which I do not represent), I always open the full manuscript and have a read of the first few pages or chapters. I will then check the synopsis if I like what I’m reading, before downloading the MS on my kindle to read in its entirety. I think the letter is the most important in the first instance; it will set the tone and level of excitement of the agent. Then the manuscript obviously has to delivery on that promise. I would personally say that the synopsis matters the least in some respects; I know it’s something authors worry about a lot, and universally hate writing them, but I would not worry too much. Just get the bones of the story down on about a page/a page and a half. We just need to be able to see where the story goes, it doesn’t have to be some beautiful piece of prose!

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?

That’s a hard one to answer as it’s not really a numbers game. Submissions vary week on week, but tend to be between 5 and 15 a day, on average. We actually ask for the full manuscript straight away, so that we can just keep reading if we’re enjoying it. This minimises the faff, and since the manuscript has to be finished before submitting anyway, we found it just made sense and eliminated any waste of time on everyone’s part. I’ve gone months without signing any authors, and then signing 3 in a week, so it very much depends on the quality of what comes in!

6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?

This actually happens much more often than agents admit. My view is always that I have signed an author because I believe in their writing and their long-term career prospects, and essentially know they are good enough to get published. There is always an element of luck and timing that is involved in submitting a book, and sometimes you’re just unlucky. I would never drop an author because their book didn’t sell, but I also always check with the author when I sign them up that they have more ideas for future books. So, we go back to the drawing board, take into account any feedback we’ve had from editors and start work on something else. So many of our authors didn’t sell on the first, or second, or sometimes even third attempt, but we keep persevering, which very frequently pays off!

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

I took a day off last week and tore through Expectation by Anna Hope, and was just really hooked in by the realness and rawness of the characters and the problems they faced. They weren’t all necessarily that likeable but there was so much to identify with, or so many traits and storylines I could see my friends and family members reflected in. It was very thought-provoking and handled so many themes very intelligently and compellingly. It’s one of the first books since reading Daisy Jones and the Six that I have wanted to push into all my friends’ hands!

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

I actually have 3 middle grade debuts launching close to each other so I’m going to bang the drum for them all if that’s allowed!

The first one is THE GREAT DODO COMEBACK by Fiona Sandiford, which Usborne are publishing on the 28th of May.

The second one is THE SHIP OF SHADOWS by Maria Kuzniar, which Puffin are publishing on the 16th of July.

And the third one is SKY PIRATES: ECHO QUICKTHORN AND THE GREAT BEYOND by Alex English, which Simon & Schuster are publishing on the 23rd of July.

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