In this interview, Lucy Luck, literary agent and founder of Lucy Luck Associates, discusses the role of an agent and what she looks for in her submissions.
'I set up Lucy Luck Associates in 2006 after 8 years at Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd, and in 2008 I joined with Aitken Alexander Associates as an associate agency. My agency focuses on writers of quality fiction and non-fiction, and I see my role as encompassing all aspects of a writer's career, as well as offering focused representation in all markets throughout the world. My authors tend to the literary end of the market, and include Catherine O'Flynn (whose novel What Was Lost won the Costa First Novel Award 2007 and Galaxy Newcomer of the Year), Adam Thorpe, Kevin Barry (winner of the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize 2012), Amanda Smyth, Jess Richards, Richard Beard, Owen Martell, Ray Robinson, Greg Baxter, Jon Hotten and John Hooper.
Talk us through a typical working day:
Every day I have at least one manuscript to read before work and on the journey in. Then it’s emails - from existing clients, publishers, colleagues in the translation and film and TV departments, any other number of people requesting information about my authors, their books, events they might be doing, queries of mine they are answering or queries I need to answer. I respond to anything I can or share any information I can, then turn to admin - there is always a lot of admin on the go - contracts to negotiate, then arrange for signing, rights guides and schedules to keep up to date, general agency-related admin. I try and fit editorial responses, submissions of books/stories/pieces, keeping up to date with any publications/ jacket designs, blurbs, reviews into the rest of the day. I also keep an eye on all material that is submitted to me - I can’t read submissions during the working day as I don’t have time, but I do look through as many as I can, and any that are of particular interest go to the ‘must read’ pile. That is what I do at the weekend, if I have time away from any manuscripts delivered by existing clients.
Physical submissions, or by email?
I am happy with either - physical is easier to read and assess quickly, I do it so as soon as I open the package, but email is easier to keep track of, as long as the letter is in the body of the email, and I don’t have to open lots of attachments to find out what it is all about.
So many people write to us about getting their short stories represented. What advice would you give them?
Write the best short story you can, submit to competitions and be ruthless about the quality of the piece. Of the millions of short stories written, there are a handful that are good enough to catch the attention of readers, and if they are good enough to do that an agent will be interested. Practice is essential - not every short story written, even by an experienced writer, will be good enough to be published, so working through any idea until you feel it can be held up to the light is part of the process. If you feel you have three or four stories that are strong and that have achieved recognition in prizes or publications, then you should write to agents with those stories. Normally though if a writer has achieved recognition an agent or publisher will find them. Ideally, if submitting to an agent, it would be good to have a full collection, which is about 50-60,000 words, and the process is the same as for a novel.
Roughly how many manuscripts land in your inbox each week?
At least 50.
What’s the best submission you’ve ever received and why?
A very difficult question - the best submissions are when the writing surprises me and lives up to the standard I hope for when reading new material. Sara Taylor’s novel did that to me last year - she wrote a good letter with the opening of what will be published next year as The Shore, and I read the first paragraph and was hooked. The quirkiest submission I remember was a jiffy bag filled with different types of chocolate - can’t remember the excuse but it was appreciated. The best letters are the ones that tell me why someone is writing to me, as opposed to another agent.
A covering letter should…
Get my attention for the right reasons.
A synopsis should…
Tell me what happens at the end, and be short (2 pages)
The opening chapters of a manuscript should…
Be as strong as they can be, everything extraneous edited out, and should not describe the weather. Unless it’s Bleak House.
Taking all of the above into account and thinking about the submissions you’ve read over your career, what’s the most common mistake writers make when submitting?
Sending a manuscript before it’s ready, and including too much personal information in the letter. Also, I’m not keen on an author trying to sell themselves to me, that’s what the work needs to do.
Any tips on putting together an elevator pitch?
Don’t overwrite it, be aware of cliches and don’t forget comparisons, they are very useful.
One killer piece of advice for authors looking to get published would be…
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and rejection is never personal. Write because you want to write, not because you want to be published.