How to find a literary agent with Juliet Mushens, Francesca Haig and Jessie Burton

A friend and I attended a Guardian Masterclass last week on how to find a literary agent. The class was led by literary agent Juliet Mushens of United Talent Agency. Ninety-eight other people had signed up for the three hour masterclass and the event was held at Loft in Islington.

Juliet started by welcoming everyone and then went through what a literary agent was and why you might want one. As most newbie writers soon discover, publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts are few and far between – most expect you to be represented by a literary agent – but this was just one of the many reasons outlined by Juliet for why you might want one. Juliet then talked us through the submissions process that literary agents like to see and went through how to write a good over letter in detail. This was, as you can imagine, very interesting and incredibly helpful.

Francesca Haig and Jessie Burton (authors of The Fire Sermon and The Miniaturist) then arrived for a Q&A on the cover letters they had sent to Juliet which, together with their books,* prompted Juliet to make them an offer of representation. Francesca and Jessie’s responses to the thoughtful questions asked by the audience gave great insight into what it took to become a successful author – not least the volume of drafts you are likely to get through in making your novel the best novel it can be.

Everyone was then invited to pitch their novel idea to Juliet. Listening to the numerous novel ideas was fascinating – I was clearly in a room full of talented and able writers and I really hope many go on to become published as there were a fair number that I would like to read. Juliet asked me to read her my pitch and rather nervously I stood to talk about my idea to the world for the first time. Juliet gave me some clear pointers on where to go with the pitch and I sat down feeling pleased to have had the opportunity to receive her feedback on the work that I have been alone with for the last two years. Unlike most writers in the room I had yet to finish a first draft, but as and when I do finish my novel then thanks to this masterclass, I feel much more confident about the next stage in the process.

If you have a nearly completed novel and are considering sending it off to literary agents I can highly recommend taking this class or one like it before you do so. Of course, much of the information imparted in the class is available it you do your research on the internet, but having it all delivered in one go and straight from the mouth of one of the most well-regarded agents in the business was to me, invaluable and well worth the £49 the Guardian charges for this kind of event.

*It should be noted that all three speakers stressed that the main way to obtain representation was to have written a great novel!

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