Julia joined A.M.Heath in 2013 as Children’s Agent after four years building up the UK side of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, and six years at the Darley Anderson Agency where she started the children’s books side of the list. She is always on the treasure hunt for new writing talent and considers the slushpile to be the greatest place on earth.
Julia tells us about the agent’s life, and why agents do what they do.
“Shhhhhh—I’ve got a secret.
The life of an agent is one of extremes. A big part of our job is the hunt for new talent and we can spend weeks and sometimes months in a blue funk because we’re not getting the books. And then in it comes and our world turns on a coin. The death mask comes off with a hop, skip and a jump.
Every agent knows the feeling and you can read it on our faces. An agent who’s just signed up someone extraordinary looks a bit different to the one who hasn’t got their new project. They’ll look like they’ve just come back from a spa-break or honeymoon—shoulders down, brow smooth and filled with trust in the world and the promise of great things to come. You know when you meet a friend you haven’t seen for a while – and you can tell in a second that they’re in love? It’s just like that.
For a new author getting an agent is a huge deal. A new writer may spend years tapping away quietly in a shed or spare room. And the call from an agent and the offer of representation means it’s not just you that loves your book. It means you’ve found a champion and so that side of it begins.
Maybe it’s a trade secret, so I shouldn’t be sharing it, but when we take on a new author it’s a huge deal for us too. It’s a long-term commitment, it’s making space in an already busy working life, it’s a leap of faith.
When I send a book out, what I’m saying to every publisher is, ‘This is one. This is the one for you.’ And these are people who’ve worked in the business for years, have spotted and built bestsellers and huge brands, people who I respect and trust and need. It’s a big thing to say to them, ‘Stop what you’re working on—this is it!’
As an agent when there’s a deal happening, we’re on call. I might need to talk to the US at midnight on a Friday because something exciting is happening in NYC. I’ve signed an author up at 4.30 in the morning just before getting in a taxi to the Bologna Book Fair where I pitched it like crazy and started a little snowball that turned into an impressive international career.
When something with voice and concept and story comes along you cancel dinner plans, you spend all night reading, you get on a train to the other side of the country to make sure you are the one who will help bring this book and author into the world.
We can spend weekends, weeks, months—and months and months—helping turn a book that has a spark of something great into an international seller that’s going to find champions all over the world.
So if you’re looking for an agent and you get the call, they will sound all restrained and clever and businesslike but inside, I promise you, they’re as excited as you are. Shhhh!”
Julia will be in Zürich in January for Nuance Words’ Writing for Young People, a full-day workshop for those who write for the Children’s or Young Adult markets.