Write Advice – literary agent Susan Yearwood

Susan Yearwood
14 August 2019
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Mo Harber-Lamond

The process of representation and submission of manuscripts to agents can seem alien to a first-time novelist. Here, our Faber Academy alumni speak to literary agent Susan Yearwood about what she wants in a submission package, what kind of deal authors can expect and the three things her successful authors have in common.

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Q – Hi Susan, and thanks for joining us! To begin, would you be able to tell us what you look for within the synopsis, in terms of length, style, etc.?

SY – Glad to be here! I like to see one page for a synopsis, with a detailed description of your novel. There is no need for a chapter breakdown, just paragraphs (without character names emboldened).

For submissions as a whole, a complete package would be the first 30 pages with the synopsis and a cover email that includes a sentence encapsulating the novel’s major theme, a brief paragraph describing the novel in more detail and a following paragraph consisting of your writing experience thus far and a little about yourself that may be of interest to an agent.

Q – Is there a strong market for narrative nonfiction, and is it something you look for?

SY – There is certainly a market for narrative non-fiction. I haven’t sold any, though, but feel free to send it to me as well as to other agents.

Q – How much does it matter to an agent to see that a manuscript has been longlisted for an award?

SY – Awards are helpful but not conclusive in deciding whether to read a writer’s manuscript. Do mention the longlisted position in your submission, however.

Q – I’ve finished the first draft of a historical thriller on the Faber Academy Work in Progress course, and I’ve also nearly finished a fantasy novel for 9+ children. How should I approach this with agents? Should I choose one and focus on that, or look for an agent who covers both of these areas?

SY – It may be best to choose an agent who represents both children’s and adult fiction. If not, once your writing career is established in adult or children’s fiction you can look for another agent for new work. It’s possible to be represented by two agencies, one for children’s fiction and the other for adult fiction.

As for trends in the next year, I expect more of the same with more cross-genre titles, particularly including elements of mystery and suspense.

Susan Yearwood

Q – I’m writing a novel that could definitely be called commercial women’s fiction/chick lit (incidentally, a label I feel writers of books for women should proudly reclaim!) Which authors working in that space do you really rate, and what kind of manuscripts do you think agents will be after in the next 12 months?

SY – I am looking for commercial women’s fiction at present, particularly the ‘little cottage’ style books which are hugely popular both here and in the US. I also like the slightly grittier women’s fiction that Jane Fallon writes. As for trends, I expect more of the same with more cross-genre titles, particularly including elements of mystery and suspense.

Q – If you were to read a submission, like the story idea and see potential in the writing, but the writer needed some help and guidance, would you consider taking them on?

SY – It’s definitely easier to take someone on with brilliant writing and a potentially good idea than the other way around.

Q – I see you’re looking for women’s fiction. Would that include historical fiction with a strong focus on women’s themes, or just contemporary?

SY – I am looking for contemporary and historical fiction. A strong female lead also helps.

Publishing can seem a very murky area for new writers, but it’s made clearer once the process of representation and submission to publishers takes place.

Susan Yearwood

Q – What are the three consistent qualities you have found in your successful authors? 

SY – The three qualities I have found have helped my most successful writers were patience, being thorough (in writing) and understanding how to deal with constructive criticism, which can be quite difficult at times.

Q – The ‘unreliable female protagonist/witness’ has been popular for a long time – would you still look for this kind of story? Also, are gay themes mainstream or still quite ‘niche’?

SY – There is a move away from the unreliable female protagonist type of women’s fiction and I am certainly looking for a more traditional love story. I had some success with Gloria by Kerry Young which includes gay themes that augment the novel’s plot. I’m not sure her book is seen as niche; however, it was classed as literary.

Q – What sort of deal would a first-time author expect – or aim for?

SY – There are many different factors that determine the type of deal a debut writer receives (advance, royalties and how many books to sell in a deal) and that is negotiated for you by the agent. This can seem a very murky area for new writers, but all of this is made clearer once the process of representation and submission to publishers takes place.

Q – Susan, thank you for your time!

SY – Thank you for having me. Good luck in your writing careers!

Susan Yearwood

Susan Yearwood at Susan Yearwood Agency has successfully launched the career of Kerry Young, then a debut writer who was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award for Pao, the first book in a trilogy set in Jamaica. She also represented Prajwal Parajuly, whose collection, The Gurkha’s Daughter: Stories, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

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