We are pleased to welcome back Helena Fairfax this month with another of her wonderful interviews. Over to you, Helena.
My interviewee today needs no introduction for many members of the RNA. Broo Doherty was voted Agent of the Year at the Festival of Romance in 2013 and her friendliness and approachability are well known to many.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions over the Christmas period, Broo. It’s much appreciated! Please tell us a little about the DHH Literary Agency, how long you’ve been with the agency, and how you came to join.
I have been with the DHH Literary Agency for just over two years, although David Headley set it up himself about eight years ago. It is a boutique agency run beneath the wonderful independent bookshop, Goldsboro Books, so we have a constant stream of authors, publishers and readers through the doors. David and I had been friends of several years before we decided that working together would result in a valuable and productive partnership, and so far it has been exactly that. I couldn’t be working in a better place.
What do enjoy most about your job? And least?
The thing I most enjoy is nurturing new talent; there is nothing more exciting than being the first person to read a first novel and think that it could become a best seller. Meeting an author and knowing that potentially I can help to make their dream become a reality is very seductive – and if I manage to fulfil that dream, I feel that I’ve done a good job. One of the most frustrating things about the job is working hard to place a novel that I feel has real potential only for others to disagree with me.
What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
That’s a difficult question. I love books that transport me to places I have never been to before, or ones that make the ordinary seem extraordinary, and novels that enable me to see situations from a completely different perspective. It’s not so much about the themes or the plots – I know there is a theory that there are only ten storylines in the world – but how those themes are explored, the way the plots are unravelled, and the quality of the writing.
Where do you find your new authors, and how?
At the agency, we received about five thousand submissions a year, and each and every one of them is read, but it is only fair to say that of those, I would take on about three or four a year. I go to various industry festivals where they run pitch to an agent, such as CrimeFest in Bristol, Winchester Writers’ Festival and the Writers’ Workshop Festival in York. These are invaluable events as it gives both me and any potential author the chance to meet and discuss their work in a relaxed, friendly environment. I am invited to various creative writing courses round the country to discuss the role of an agent; and then there are also the personal recommendations. Suffice to say I am never short of reading…
What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Do your research. When approaching an agent, find out a bit about them before you submit to them. If you are writing romance, make sure that they are interested in the genre, and illustrate that you have done your research by mentioning one or two of their clients. It is incredibly easy to look up the various agencies on the internet these days and you can assess whether or not you think that you could be a good match for an agent. I also recommend that you look at the Acknowledgements of your ten favourite books; agents are usually thanked and you may notice that one agent is thanked by two or three of these authors, which suggests that you and the agent may have similar taste. And I would suggest that you write a very clear submission letter; mention any relevant writing experience you have done in the past, articles or short stories that you have had published, and whether or not you have done a creative writing course. All of this helps the agent to build up a picture of you and to assess whether or not you are serious about your writing.
Do you think aspiring romance writers have a better chance of being published if they are planning a series? Are stand-alone novels more likely to be rejected by publishers and agents?
There seems to be a vogue at the moment for series – publishers can start to establish a writer as a brand from the beginning and if they are aware that there are several books coming in the future that can certainly be attractive. However, I don’t think that stand-alone novels are more likely to be rejected; after all, it all boils down to the quality of the writing and the enthusiasm of the publisher.
What benefits do you feel an agent can offer an author?
Writing is a very lonely business and I believe that once you secure an agent, the two of you become a team, and your writing becomes a collaborative process. An agent should provide professional advice and support, as well as a genuine passion for your writing, and should be your first point of contact with regard to your publishing career. It is a relationship based on trust. An agent can be invaluable when it comes to negotiating contracts, dealing with every aspect of the publishing process, and should ultimately become a friend who provides not only support, but humour and the odd hanky as well.
What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. No one has done it better.
Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
A little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, published last summer and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, for its sheer scale and humanity, despite the gruelling and harrowing situations it describes. Utterly
captivating, it was a novel that kept me awake for days, and the characters will live with me for a
long while to come.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love nothing better than spending time with my family and friends, enjoying decent food and wine, chatting about anything from books to yomping and everything in between.
If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Exhilarating, challenging, fun.
Helena Fairfax writes contemporary romance novels. Her latest novel, A Way from Heart to Heart, was published by Accent Press, and is set on the Yorkshire moors, near where she lives. Helena interviews authors and writes about books and writing on her blog. You can also find Helena on Twitter, @helenafairfax, and a list of her books on Amazon
Thank you, Broo and Helena.
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