Sunday, June 4, 2017

RNA CONFERENCE: Meet the agents

The RNA conference 2017 will soon be upon us (14th-17th July, to be exact!) This year there are seven literary agents offering one-to-one pitching sessions. We thought it might be helpful to host the agents here on the blog, so that those people applying for a pitching session can get to know them a little better before they send off an application.
The agents attending are:

Unfortunately Julia Silk was on holiday at the time of putting this article together. We have a full length interview with Laura Longrigg of MBA here on the blog which you may like to refer to. (Of course Laura and Julia will have different tastes, but Laura's interview will give readers an idea of the ethos behind the MBA Agency.) *UPDATE* Julia Silk has very kindly taken time to respond on the last day of her holiday. Her replies are listed separately at the bottom of the post.

Isobel Dixon was also unavailable at the time of going to press. We have an interview with the wonderful Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann here for reference, but please note again that Carole's tastes and Isobel's may well have been different.

A warm welcome to those agents who were able to make it today. Thanks for answering our questions at such short notice!

What is it you are most hoping to find from your pitching session at the conference? Are there any particular genres/themes that you would love to read? 

Kate Nash:You might as well ask me to predict the outcome of a dress shopping expedition! Yes, I have an idea of some styles and colours I like but until I see the dresses on the rail, I simply don't know which one I'm going to absolutely love. However, the number one thing that gets me into a story is realism: real characters dealing with real life problems in real settings. I'd like to see more stories from different regions of the UK and overseas, and stories involving characters from different backgrounds. 
Lisa EveleighI always hope to find an unputdownable story, something that grabs me from the first paragraph.  I would love to find an author writing a multi-layered family story which involves romance, along the lines of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  I also like romantic comedy. Anything with a First World War and/or 1920’s setting is hugely appealing.  I’m also interested in historical romance generally, though later than Medieval.  
Broo DohertyThis may sound trite but in these uncertain times, I am looking for epic stories well told, with engaging, well developed characters and psychological depth. I’m looking either to be taken out of my comfort zone and transported to a place I have never been too, or shown a new, original perspective on a situation I know well.
Tanera SimonsI am really excited to meet with enthusiastic aspiring authors, and am crossing my fingers to meet someone whose work I love and who I could see myself working with. In terms of genres/themes, I am open to anything and everything: rom-coms, thought-provoking storylines, dark love stories, historical romances… the list goes on! I want to get completely swept up in the story, and fall in love with characters so real that I don’t want to say goodbye when I finish reading. I want fiction with strong but fallible female protagonists: the next Bridget Jones or Rebecca Bloomwood, who show us that even the best of us make mistakes!
Felicity TrewI’d love to find a striking, powerful female voice – one that inspires women whether we’re left laughing or crying.  I’m a huge fan of a good weepy, historical, funny, psychological suspense, saga and anything truly unputdownable!

Have you noticed any particular trends in romance in the past year or so, and if so, what do you think publishers are looking for at the moment

Kate Nash:Digital opportunities mean that publishers are quite open to different story types but I think that romance is under some pressure from the popularity of psychological/women's thrillers on the one hand and emotional "women's mysteries" on the other. My "reading for pleasure" pile has got the following current bestsellers on it from both these genres: I See You by Clare Mackintosh, The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern and This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell. Having said that sagas are very much holding their own with WW2 and the post war period popular, and there is still plenty of demand for escapist romantic comedies. Beaches, Cornwall and gin all trending. 
Lisa EveleighCosy romances involving cup-cakes, beach huts, and tea-shops still seem to be going strong though I wonder if this isn’t mainly a digital-first trend.  
Publishers tell me that they are looking for a strong ‘millennial’/Generation Y’ romantic novel.  This is going to be very hard to find, since younger writers with the necessary vocabulary are much more interested in fantasy and dystopia and therefore tend to aim at the Young Adult market in which romance is mostly – but not always – subsidiary to plague, and/or magic and mayhem.  I’ve also been asked for paranormal romance.    
Broo DohertyNovels featuring diversity seem to be gaining ground at the moment which is not before time, given we live in a multicultural society, and I think that would apply to the romantic genre as well.
Tanera SimonsI always find the subject of trends a tricky one: I would always advise writers to write what they’re good at rather than attempt to follow current trends. If your writing is good enough and story compelling enough, you will always succeed! However, at the moment I definitely think that people want to read escapist, feel-good fiction, that takes them away from the stresses of politics and news of terrorism. Readers want to be transported into a fictional world of warmth and positivity. I also think that editors are on the look-out for anything a bit different, that takes the classic love story and introduces a new element: perhaps more diversity, so not just a ‘boy meets girl’ love story, but a ‘girl meets girl’, or love across different cultures etc. Of course, trends will come and go and these are just some themes that I’ve noticed.
Felicity TrewAny of the above genres I’ve mentioned are getting on publishers’ radars but they do have to have that competitive high quality to them. However, sagas in particular are having a wonderful revival at the moment (which I’m very excited about).

What's been your favourite romance novel recently?

Kate Nash: I've actually been reading a lot of psychological thrillers but I did enjoy The Judge's Wife by Ann O'Loughlin which was shortlisted for the RoNAs. A mystery, I was completely sold on the realism of the setting and the characters.
Lisa EveleighI’ve recently been on holiday so read a fair few, and it’s impossible to name one, so if I’m allowed? 
The House on Bellevue Road – Rachel Hore 
A Secret Garden -  Katie Fforde
Are My Roots Showing? – Karola Gadja 
An Unconventional Act – Jan Jones
Broo DohertyThat’s an impossible question to answer – too many to choose from!
Tanera SimonsAgain, such a difficult question as there is some really exciting romance fiction around at the moment! I would have to say Paige Toon’s The Last Piece of My Heart, though. I haven’t read her for a while, and reading this latest one reminded me just how brilliant an author she is. Bridget (the protagonist) is just such a wonderfully warm character, and I completely fell in love with her story.
Felicity TrewI was extremely lucky to receive a proof copy of Dawn O’Porter’s The Cows (HarperCollins, 2017) just before its publication, which I utterly devoured – one of those books you just don’t want to finish because it’s become like a friend to you!

Julia Silk MBA Literary Agency
1 What is it you are most hoping to find from your pitching session at the conference? Are there any particular genres/themes that you would love to read? 
I grew up on Georgette Heyer and 80s bonkbusters - I'd like to find a great Regency romance, and I still love the glitz and glamour of authors like Shirley Conran and Judith Krantz, so anything that brings to mind either of those genres would make me happy. I'm also always on the lookout for something with a touch of the gothic or ghostly - not supernatural/paranormal so much as hinting at unusual goings-on.

2. Have you noticed any particular trends in romance in the past year or so, and if so, what do you think publishers are looking for at the moment? 
Subjects that have come up a few times recently are stories with an international feel featuring interesting locations. Also, sagas sent in the 1920s/30s or earlier. Timeslip also seems to be on editors' wishlists and I suspect this genre is due a bit of a moment. I love Barbara Erskine myself, so I'd be really pleased to read something that brings her work to mind.

3. What's been your favourite romance novel recently?
I'm a big fan of Rowan Coleman and adored We Are All Made of Stars. I really enjoy novels with interconnecting stories and for me the range of age and life experience of the protagonists, combined with the clever structure, made for an unusual and satisfying read. I also love anything by JoJo Moyes and Marian Keyes - the combination of serious subjects with humour and the perfect slow burn to the romance storyline gets me every time.
* * *
Thank you all so much for answering our questions today. We appreciate you taking the time out at such short notice, and we hope you have a successful - and enjoyable! - time at the 2017 RNA Conference.

Questions compiled by Helena Fairfax

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Lesley Cookman said...

Could I point out that I am featured on one of these agent's websites despite not having been a client since last year. I have asked to be removed, to no avail.

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