Julia Churchill, Literary Agent, A.M. Heath Literary Agency
An aspiring author’s heart often sinks at the thought of the slushpile. As a literary agent, how do you view it?
I love the slushpile. It’s where my job starts.
There is a perception that it’s not a positive place, that it’s where books get ignored or auto-rejected, but in my experience, submissions are handled with seriousness and respect. We want to find authors after all.
What does it feel like when you discover a jewel in the slushpile?
Like 25 double espressos. I used to metal detect when I was growing up, and was obsessed with the idea of buried treasure. I still am, it’s just a different type of treasure.
When you’re wading through the slushpile, how important is a cover letter to you and what should it tell you?
I want to know the concept, in broad strokes, and to learn a bit about the main character, have them brought to life with a detail or two, and to understand what the direction of travel is in the story, what’s at stake. When I’m writing a pitch, I try and boil it all down, but include some specificity/detail so it doesn’t sound bland.
Have you ever received any bizarre or gimmicky submissions and what do you think of this? Does it help a manuscript get noticed?
It happens and it’s rarely a good idea. I just want a submission that conforms to our guidelines.
What are the magical ingredients you look for in a manuscript on the slushpile?
Voice, concept, character and story. And something that feels new in some way (how infuriatingly vague!). I come at my submissions with hope and positivity, but if I can’t connect with these in the first few pages, then I’m going to pass.
I need to get a sense of where the book is pointed.
What advice would you give to an aspiring children’s author preparing to submit a manuscript?
Don’t send out a first draft. The first draft is often to get the story down and work out where you’re going. It’s the self-edit where you pull the focus.
In the world of children’s books at the moment, is there any particular genre publishers are thirsty for or an age range they are keen to target?
I tend not to think too much in terms of trend. There’s so much opportunity in not following them.
Any advice for an author whose work has just been rejected?
I know it’s hard to put your book out in the world. You spend years writing it, and then you send it out and you may get impersonal rejections. When submitting work, be as secretarial and systematic as you can be. Use spreadsheets to stay organised. Don’t take it personally. I reject books I know may be publishable for lots of reasons. If you’ve done the best possible job you can in writing the book, then do the best possible job you can in submitting it.
Maybe the book you’re submitting isn’t publishable, or maybe it’s the fiftieth agent that you submit to who will love it and help you, or maybe you’ll get some great feedback along the way. Everyone gets rejected. Write for the love of getting better.
What is the most important thing a writer can do to improve their chances of being the ‘buried treasure’ and finding an agent via the slushpile?
For more information, visit: www.amheath.com
Follow Julia on Twitter: @juliachurchill