Helena Fairfax's agent interview was due to be posted last Friday but we're very glad to say that literary agent Louise Buckley was otherwise engaged - hosting one-to-one sessions with RNA members at the RNA conference in Lancaster.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with our members over the weekend, Louise, and for visiting us again here on the RNA blog.
Please tell us a little about the Zeno Literary Agency and how you came to join.
Zeno Agency is a London-based literary agency specialising in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror. It represents major brand-names, high profile award winners, talented debut authors and prestigious literary estates. Currently, the UK science fiction and fantasy publishing industry is experiencing a slight contraction and there are fewer editors seeking novels in these areas, compared to a few years ago. Therefore, John Berlyne, the owner of the agency, made the decision at the end of last year to bring in someone who could represent authors writing in other areas too: me! At Pan Macmillan publishers, where I previously worked as an editor, I published a diverse list of commercial fiction authors, including women's fiction and thriller authors, as well as science fiction and fantasy authors. I'm therefore well-placed to embrace the agency's existing client list as well as take the agency in new directions.
What do you enjoy most about your new role as literary agent?
In some ways I enjoy exactly the same things I enjoyed whilst working as an editor; working with authors, editing books, persuading people to buy the books! But what I enjoy most in my new role is having the freedom and flexibility to take on the authors I want to take on. I was still allowed to do this at Pan Macmillan, but working in the commercial fiction division meant that I could only publish commercial fiction - in my new role I am not bound by a remit. For example, I have recently taken on an author writing literary fiction and I am also looking for YA fiction.
I also have the opportunity to represent authors over the course of their careers; as an editor you change jobs or are moved across to work on other things so an author can have many editors during their writing lifetime, but the agent will always be by their side, championing them.
Finally, I'm enjoying selling rights. We had a separate department for this at Pan Macmillan so this is a new part of my job.
What did you enjoy most about the RNA Conference?
Meeting aspiring authors. I always enjoy meeting authors and mixing work chat (e.g advice) with the more mundane chit chat. Everyone at the conference was very welcoming and friendly, there was a really positive vibe there.
When you open a submission from the slush pile, what’s the first thing you look at? (Query letter? Opening paragraph? Synopsis?)
For me, I always look at the query letter; I want to be given a sense of what type/genre of book I am reading, and also to see if the author has followed the submission guidelines (it can mean an automatic rejection if they haven't). Then I read the first couple of pages - whether the author can write is always more important to me than what happens in the plot - and if I am enjoying what I'm reading, I'll read the full three chapters. Only then will I look at the synopsis to see what happens next and how the novel finishes.
What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Not a straightforward or conventional romance but one that had me weeping buckets by the end.
Which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
Miss You by Kate Eberlen. The novel isn't out until August but I was lucky enough to read it when it was on submission to Pan Macmillan. It focuses on Tess and Gus, two people destined to be together, but forever be one step away from each other, as they navigate going to university, first love, jobs, marriage and babies - without knowing the other exists. It's a bit like One Day, only if Emma and Dexter spent twenty years having never met.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cook and bake - I was recently given Scone with the Wind: Cakes and Bakes with a Literary Twist as a present and have enjoyed making several of the bakes listed. I also like walking and exploring new places. My husband and I are about to move out of London to the Sussex coast, and I'm very much looking forward to exploring the South Downs, historic local towns and Sussex coastline. I am partial to a good gin or glass of wine with friends, too.
If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Busy and quiet.
Thanks so much for dropping in to talk to us, Louise. It's been lovely getting to know you, and we hope our members are keeping you busy after the conference. Wishing you all the best in your new job!
Helena Fairfax writes contemporary romance novels, and sometimes branches out into romantic suspense when she’s in the mood for danger. Subscribers to Helena’s newsletter receive a free copy of Palace of Deception, a contemporary romantic suspense novella set in the mysterious and romantic fictional country of Montverrier.
If you would like to write for the RNA blog, please contact Elaine Everest on firstname.lastname@example.org