What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Agents must try to be immune to trends. We have to plan for the future: if I sign an author today, it can take six months to edit the book into shape, then (let’s say) another two months for submissions, contractual wrangles, faffing around—from that point it’s still going to be 12 months minimum before the book is published in hardback, maybe another 12 months for the paperback, so the trend we were trying to catch is long gone. I work a lot with genre publishers who acquire in multibook deals, so by the time books two and three come out, the trend is long, long, long gone. That’s why it’s important for me to take on authors I truly believe in, writers with genuine talent, and books that transcend trends and will last. Some of my amazing clients—Elizabeth Taylor, Elaine Dundy, Dick Francis, Beryl Bainbridge, William Trevor—wrote books that will last forever. And I believe the writers I’m taking on now will follow in their footsteps.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I get a wide range of submissions and I’m pretty pleased about that—my tastes are broad and my list reflects that, [and] I don’t think I’m really lacking in any department right now. At a pinch, maybe I haven’t seen any really good space opera in a while? Something with great characterization and serious scientific chops, wears its worldbuilding lightly, but also has a degree of self-awareness and humor. I loved [Becky Chambers’] The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet [and] wish I’d spotted that one sooner. My dream (and it is a dream) is to find a writer who can fill the Douglas Adams–shaped hole in all our hearts.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Not really a topic, but the thing that saddens me most is when a writer makes silly mistakes in his or her submission. Don’t make yourself an easy decline! You’ve worked incredibly hard on a book for a year, two years, maybe more, why throw it all away with a bad submission? Take it seriously—you’re applying for a job with me; treat it as such. Don’t spell my name wrong. In fact, don’t spell anything wrong; don’t obviously cut and paste from your last submission letter or make stuff up or forget to attach the submission (we see it all the time). I get up to 100 submissions a week and take on maybe six authors a year, so the default answer has to be no. Don’t make yourself an easy no.
What is unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I remember a venerable literary agent telling me that the reason he was an agent was because “nobody else would have me.” I started off working for a major publisher and quickly learned that corporate life wasn’t for me—agents tend to be outliers, iconoclasts, people with a different perspective and a fierce sense of individuality. But most of all, we love books and authors and want to make sure they get what they deserve and can make a serious career out of writing. For them, for us, for the readers. I go into battle for my authors every day and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If you like books, cats, gin, and cricket (or any of the above) you should follow me on Twitter. And please check out all the agents here at J&A if you’re thinking of submitting. Right, must be time for a Negroni… *clinks glass*Ed Wilson is a literary agent and co-owner/director of Johnson & Alcock, a London agency running since the 1950s. He has a diverse and developing list of fiction and nonfiction, covering debut writers through to established, bestselling, and award-winning aut