Tuesday, 16 October 2012

AGENT INTERVIEW: Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency

Shining a light into the dark to highlight agent Gemma Cooper's move to The Bent Agency.

The wonderful Gemma Cooper has moved to The Bent Agency and she's asked me to make sure everyone has her new details.  Gemma is actively looking for new authors!

* Hi Gemma and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a literary agent representing children’s authors and author/illustrators.

After spending time at literary agencies in New York and London, I joined Bright Literary Agency as an agent in 2011 to cover a maternity leave position managing Bright's amazing author/illustrators and develop the fiction portfolio. I moved to a permanent role at The Bent Agency in September 2012, to focus on fiction for 5+ to YA, here in the UK and also in the US. With this in mind, I’m very actively looking for new authors.

I am lucky to represent some very talented authors including Mo O’Hara, author of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH, which sold in a 3 book deal to Macmillan UK and Feiwel and Friends (UK March 2013/US Fall 2013).

When I’m not working (which is almost never), I renovate my old house, drive around Suffolk in my pink car, and write scary books for 10+

* What led you to focus on representing the children’s market?

I would say in the last ten years, 98% of all my reading has been children’s and YA. I love the talented writers in this market and the depth and quality of the story telling. When I decided to start a career in publishing, I only wanted to work in children’s because this is where my market knowledge is and where my passion is.

I was very lucky that I was living in New York when I discovered publishing as a potential career and I got a highly coveted place on an internship where I focused on YA and MG. From that point, I was hooked, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

* How would you describe your typical working day?

Busy! I’m sure some people think literary agents just sit around reading all day, but really reading is such a small part of my job and certainly not something I do in the office.

I get a 7am train into London, so the first thing I do when I get a seat is to check my emails and respond to anything that has come in overnight. We deal with lots of Australian publishers and other people not in our time zone – my emails are never at zero. After tackling the inbox, I usually read submissions or requested material for the rest of the journey in.

When I get to the office, my day will depend on the emails that are coming in. I always start with a list of things to do, but this often gets pushed aside as urgent things come in! I meet with editors mid-morning or mid-afternoon, so I’ll be preparing texts and pitches. I also negotiate contracts, edit texts, look after our social media (blog, twitter, website), look at artwork, manage bespoke writing projects, call editors and meet new authors/author illustrators. All this takes me to around to 6pm/7pm and then I head home, tackling submissions on the train back.

* Trials and tribulations of being an agent: What do you love about your work? What don’t you love? What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

I love the stories. The chance to read something before it’s published. I love being the person who gets to make that call, ‘you know your dream of getting published? Well that’s going to happen.’ I mean, who wouldn’t love getting to do that! I love being able to be a small part of someone’s success story.

I find the biggest challenge in my job is not having enough time. Time to get back to people as quickly as I would like. Trust me, writers who are waiting for submission responses, it does weigh on my mind. But I could work 24 hours a day and not get back to everyone as quickly as I would like.

* Do you want near perfect manuscripts or are you happy to work with the author editorially? Would you describe yourself as an ‘editorial agent’?

I’m definitely an editorial agent. I love working with an author editorially to polish and make the very best out of the opportunity to wow publishers.

* Would you take a risk on a manuscript that showed lots of promise but needed a lot of work?

Yes, I have done. As I’m new, this is going to be something I’ll do in these first few years and that’s totally fine with me. As long as the author isn’t afraid of hard work, I’m happy to put the time in. I might give them notes on the first three chapters, just to see they have the skill to revise. This has worked well so far and I’ve signed three authors like this.

* When looking for that new manuscript and debut author what are the main things that grab your attention? What makes a piece of work stand out from the slushpile?

Voice, voice voice and more voice! Nothing grabs me more in the slush than a great character with a strong voice.

* If you could make a wishlist of things you’d like to find in your submission inbox, what would it include? And do you have any favourite genres?

  • Boy voice YA – it’s my favorite thing in YA and so hard to do well.

  • Contemporary or issues books – I’m seeing a lot of urban fantasy, so I’d love a nice juicy contemporary.

  • A YA thriller or something fast paced with lots of action.

  • A YA or MG crime novel or some sort of heist.

  • A younger tween friendship based novel – think Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

  • I would like to see some of the paranormal elements that work so well in YA filtered down into MG.

  • An amazing literary novel with great voice and perhaps a slight magical or mystical element.

  • I love Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, so I’d love to see some funny space stories for a younger audience.

  • 5-8 chapter books with series potential.

  • Author/illustrators writing MG or chapter books would get my immediate attention!

I don’t really have a favourite genre, just give me good characters in a strong story.

* What kind of working relationship do you aim to build between you and your clients? Do you see yourself as a career builder or prefer a more manuscript by manuscript approach?

I want to be a career builder. I’m building my own career at the moment, so I want to take my authors all the way with me!

* Does an aspiring author need to prove they have commitment to pursuing a writing career by providing a writing CV?

No. Obviously let me know if you have been published before, but if not, don’t worry! I just want to read your submission.

* Do you expect your writers to develop a market brand or are you keen for them to pursue a diversity of stories?

I think it’s good to build a fan base before you diversify, but if you have a strong voice in a variety of genre’s or age ranges, then I’d be happy to support diversifying.

* Do you have any submission preferences or things that annoy you? 
Please email me cooperqueries@thebentagency.com with a query/submission letter and the first 10 pages of your manuscript pasted onto the bottom of your email.

I DO NOT accept postal submissions.

I like a straightforward and simple query letter, as I tend to read the genre/age range and then skip straight to the pages - I'm on the hunt for voice! So don't get hung up on submission/query format and keep it simple.

For example, something like:

Subject: Query - MG Sci-Fi AMAZING NOVEL IN SPACE by Gemma Cooper

Dear Gemma I am seeking representation for my MG Sci-Fi AMAZING NOVEL IN SPACE, complete at 45,000 words.

Then a few paragraphs telling me what the book is about. Google query letters and you will see lots of examples, or look at fantastic resources like Query Shark.

Then one paragraph with any important details about yourself that are relevant to writing or this particular novel. For example, I am a member of SCBWI...I am previously published....I work at the International Space Station...etc.

Then a sign off.


I read and respond to all my submissions personally. It’s just for ease that it goes into a different inbox, so everything doesn’t get mixed up.

Please allow 4 weeks before chasing.

I do often update twitter with my query stats, so you can see where I’m up to in answering them. Gemma on twitter

* When reading submissions what would you say are the most common mistakes made by aspiring writers?

All the back-story up front and in the first pages.
Telling the story and not showing it.
Boring openings, like waking up and looking in a mirror.
Laundry lists of character traits.
Starting with a dream.

* Would you ever consider a proposal for a series from a new author, or do you prefer stand alone books? If an author is writing a trilogy, should they mention it in their submission?

The first book has to be the best one you can make it. I love series potential as do publishers, but make sure all the main loose ends are tied up in this first book. If you are writing a trilogy, I would say something in your cover letter like, ‘the book has series potential’ – but don’t tell me all about books two and three. Let me enjoy one first.

* What is one thing you wish every beginner writer knew?

Not to rush. I can only read someone once for the first time - if that makes sense. If you send me something and I reject it, then a month later you revise and send it back, I’m always going to remember that first time.

Use a critique group/partner and wait until you are 100% happy with your book before sending it out.

* Any other words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

Join SCBWI.  Network and get involved.
Get a critique partner/group.
Read, read, read!

* Re: The submission letter. If you've been published in a different area should it be mentioned? Should you include writing qualifications?

Yes, always mention previous publications and writing qualifications. But don’t worry if you have none.

* Should you include if you’ve been shortlisted in major competitions? Some say it shows the work is better than average, others that it wasn't good enough to win so it reflects badly.

If you have been shortlisted in a recent competition, I would mention it. Also, you could mention if you have revised since the competition or enlisted a critique partner/group to improve the book.

* Re: Editorial advice and responses to suggestions and criticisms. Are you looking for authors who might disagree (in a rational and reasonable way) and defend their vision, or, would you prefer authors to trust your suggestions completely?

I want to work with an author to make their book more saleable, while also keeping their vision – the words are theirs but they have come to me to help sell the book.

I expect authors to have some disagreements to comments, but I like them to think about why I have made them. I never want to be all like, ‘I’m right! You have to change this,’ but I also want an author who will sit on feedback for a few days before sending defensive emails.

I always meet my authors in person or on skype. That way I can tell what sort of person they are off the bat and if we would get on. You get a feeling about these things.

* If an author mentions their website or blog, do you check them out? And if so, what would you like to see?

I don’t usually look at blogs unless I’m considering signing someone – I just don’t have the time! But if I want to represent someone, I get a bit Google stalkerish. What I expect to see on a website or blog is appropriate content and nothing that would cause concern to a publisher if they Googled the author name (and they do).

Also, I like positivity and am not really a fan of people who chart all their rejections and struggles in the slush pile. Save that for when you have been published.

* Is it ever worth mentioning you have children in your target readership age (shows you are in touch with that age group) or is that a no-no on the lines of 'I read it to my family and they loved it'?

Your children will love your work because you wrote it and have shared it with them - not because it’s good. If you wrote this on your cover letter, I would skim over it.

* Do you read submissions personally or are they given to readers? If so, at what stage would they go to you?

I read all my submissions personally and I can’t see this changing anytime in the future - I’d worry too much about something amazing being missed! Also, after spending over year interning and buried in slush daily, I really enjoy reading subs......you never know what you’re going to find.

* If an author writes for several different age groups is it okay to make several, simultaneous submissions?

I’m not a fan of simultaneous submissions. Bring me your very best project or the one that most fits my wish list.

Friday, 12 October 2012

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