Anam Iqbal on Finding Your Perfect Agent – Jericho Writers
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Anam Iqbal on Finding Your Perfect Agent

Anam Iqbal on Finding Your Perfect Agent

Finding a literary agent is a lot like falling in love – it can take time, but once it clicks, it clicks. On her third novel, YA Romance author Anam Iqbal met her perfect literary agent (Hannah Schofield of LBA) through a one-to-one session – and never looked back.

We caught up with her about what it’s like working with her perfect literary agent, and why you should never give up even when things feel tough.

JW: Tell us a little about yourself. When did you start writing?

I have always loved literature. Growing up, I devoured novels as a pastime instead of watching television with my siblings (how very Matilda of me, I know!). I spent a lot of time journaling, and writing book reviews and short stories, but it never occurred to me that I could actually write a novel. This is partly because I grew up reading books written by predominantly white authors where characters of my background didn’t really exist. The first time I came across South Asian characters in fiction was when I read the Harry Potter series and the Patil twins made an appearance. It was great to have that representation, but it still felt as though such characters would only ever be on the sidelines.  

Whilst studying for my master’s degree at the University of Oxford in 2015 I would take regular trips to the local Waterstones, and I realised that the market was changing. I was seeing the names of diverse authors on bestseller lists in the UK – writers who were sharing fresh, authentic stories, and their work was being widely read. I realised that perhaps I could write a novel myself someday, from a perspective that wasn’t mainstream – and perhaps people would want to read it! It sparked a hope that never quite stopped niggling at me. 

I was seeing the names of diverse authors on bestseller lists in the UK – writers who were sharing fresh, authentic stories, and their work was being widely read. I realised that perhaps I could write a novel myself someday…

JW: What were some of your first projects?

While I was still a student at Oxford, I began working on my first manuscript – a YA Fantasy novel that can be described as a loose re-telling of Aladdin. I finished writing and self-editing it in early 2018, and then began querying. I sent out a handful of emails and received no interest. In September 2018, I decided to attend the Festival of Writing in York held by Jericho Writers (The Writers’ Workshop at the time) because I’d heard you were able to pitch to agents directly there.

It was an incredible experience, where I was able to learn a lot from the various workshops and engage with agents on a face-to-face basis for the first time. I received some full manuscript requests at this stage – but no offers of representation. It was quite disheartening but the whole process made me realise that I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

Such feedback was my torch against the darkness of self-doubt, loneliness, and the fear of failure, which every writer experiences at some point or the other (trust me, every single one).

I decided to purchase a manuscript assessment via Jericho Writers to learn the areas where I could improve my novel. Eleanor Hawken was the editor for my YA Fantasy novel, and she gave me wonderful and encouraging feedback, even stating that she wished she could read the second book in the series right away.  This was when I really started to believe in myself as a writer. It was my first time receiving feedback from a professional and it felt completely different from the encouragement one receives from friends or family.   

Ultimately, I still didn’t receive any offer of representation with this novel. But such feedback was my torch against the darkness of self-doubt, loneliness, and the fear of failure, which every writer experiences at some point or the other (trust me, every single one). And perhaps without this encouragement I wouldn’t have continued to write, and thus I wouldn’t have written my next novel, which got me the offer of representation I’d always wanted.

I wrote a diverse British Gossip Girl. A YA Contemporary Romance novel, set in the heart of London, that touches upon issues such as cyberbullying, class differences, patriarchy, and Islamophobia.

JW: How did you end up securing representation with your agent? 

During the lockdowns in 2020, I found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands and a burning feeling to pen the story I was constantly daydreaming about. Once I got into the flow of writing, all the rejections and doubts that had been haunting me from my previous work no longer mattered. Only the story did – the characters, their journey, the truths of their humanness. I wrote a diverse British Gossip Girl. A YA Contemporary Romance novel, set in the heart of London, that touches upon issues such as cyberbullying, class differences, patriarchy, and Islamophobia. And I could just sense that it was my best work yet, that I’d incorporated everything I’d learned about writing over the years and turned it into something truly publishable!  

I’m a member of Jericho Writers and found out about the agent one-to-one sessions. I booked three sessions over the phone and received full manuscript requests from each agent! Hannah Schofield read my full manuscript within two days and offered representation. After meeting with her in person, I just knew she understood my vision as a writer and would be the perfect champion for my work. I signed on with her a week after our first meeting.  


JW: Do you think that speaking to Hannah in the context of a one-to-one did more to put you at ease than if you had approached her directly looking for representation?

I was definitely nervous about the sessions. However, after speaking to the first agent, I realised how kind and compassionate they are. They understand that writing your story is hard and that pitching is nerve-wracking! All the agents were certainly straightforward about what they liked and weren’t so keen on with regards to my work, but it was always in a warm and reassuring way.

It was an incredible experience to receive direct feedback from agents, both the compliments on my work and the insightful criticisms (which really helped to improve my story). The excitement some agents showed to receive my full manuscript was incredibly uplifting. It made the process of querying more personal and enjoyable. And I believe it played a role in helping me leap out of the slushpile quicker!

If I’d emailed these agents my query, I know it would’ve taken them much longer to get back to me, and there’s always a possibility they would’ve passed on the project! Having a direct conversation enables you to build an instant connection, and it’s beneficial for both the agent and author to get a sense of whether they would be able to work together.    

It was an incredible experience to receive direct feedback from agents, both the compliments on my work and the insightful criticisms (which really helped to improve my story). The excitement some agents showed to receive my full manuscript was incredibly uplifting. It made the process of querying more personal and enjoyable. And I believe it played a role in helping me leap out of the slushpile quicker!



JW: What has it been like working with your agent so far?

Hannah Schofield is an absolute dream of an agent. I love her excitement, appreciate her sensitivity and criticism, and feel incredibly grateful to have someone like her in my corner. She’s great at what she does, and I feel safe with the thought of placing my work in her capable hands.

I was nervous about the thought of having an agent pick apart my story and pinpoint all the areas they wanted me to cut out or change. However, I’ve found that editing is a collaborative process and, when you’ve got the right agent who understands the heart of the story, it’s quite enjoyable to work together with the same goal in mind.

JW: How confident would you feel in approaching publishers if you didn’t have an agent?

The truth is that the publishing industry is very competitive, and it’s incredibly hard to stand out. Securing an agent who really believes in your work is a massive help in getting your foot in the door, especially if you dream of being published with a Big Five publisher, as I do! I don’t think I’d feel comfortable going at it alone. Also, it’s important to consider that agents understand a lot about the industry that authors are simply not aware of; they are able to protect you as a writer and ensure your best interests are met.

I’m glad I didn’t secure an agent with the first two novels I worked on, because I simply wasn’t ready then.

JW: Do you have any advice for authors who are querying right now?

Persevere! I’ve written three novels now – which took a lot of time, effort and, yes, blood, sweat and tears – and I secured an agent with my third manuscript. Nothing was a waste of time or effort! Not even a bit. Every moment I took out of a busy schedule to work on my stories, every daydream I’ve had about my characters, every single word I’ve written, and every rejection I’ve experienced has led me to this. It all improved my craft as a writer, and my ability to delve deeper into the psyche of my characters and create fleshed-out worlds and narratives. I never thought I’d say this, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way – I’m glad I didn’t secure an agent with the first two novels I worked on, because I simply wasn’t ready then. I think the secret to making your writing dreams come true is that you refuse to give up! Keep writing, keep querying, and keep dreaming. Persevere my friends, and, even if you face numerous obstacles or the path is long and tiring and unexpected, you will get there in the end. And it will all feel worth it.   

About Anam

Anam Iqbal was born in Paris and raised in London. She studied BSc Anthropology at UCL, which deepened her passion for writing about the nuances of human thought, experience, and culture. Whilst doing her master’s degree at the University of Oxford, she completed a thesis based on British South Asian culture and identity, and that provided the inspiration for her upcoming novel, which is a Young Adult Contemporary Romance. It can be described as a diverse British Gossip Girl.

You can follow Anam on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.