Charlie Brotherstone joined as a literary agent at A.M. Heath in 2008. He represents literary and commercial writers of fiction and non-fiction.
Founded in 1919, A.M. Heath is one of the UK’s leading literary agencies. They represent a broad range of bestselling and award-winning authors, including novelists, historians, biographers, and children’s authors. In addition, they have seen the successful launch of many talented newcomers, something in which they take particular pride.
When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?
I had a fantastic time interning at an agency in London while I was at university and after a brief hiatus in China (don’t ask) I started as an assistant at A.M. Heath in 2008, where I have been ever since. From my experience literary agencies have been great places to work, full of fun people, energy and ideas. Not sure what else I would do with myself now.
Agenting has certainly broadened my literary horizons. Brilliant writing shines through regardless of genre and it’s been a privilege to discover new writers, reflected in the eclectic mix of authors with whom I’m lucky enough to work. My only bugbear is that where once there was a pile of twenty ‘to reads’ now there are at least a hundred! I admire authors who amplify your experience of the world and have the power to change your view of it: J.G. Ballard, Hilary Mantel, Patrick Hamilton, David Foster Wallace, to name but a few.
Have you ever opened a new manuscript, read a single page, and thought ‘I’m going to end up making an offer on this’? What was it about that page which excited you?
Yes, recently I read a brilliant opening to a short story. There was something strikingly exotic about the voice which immediately had me hooked and I was delighted to take the author on soon after meeting. Picking up a manuscript and being transported to such a different place can make the job incredibly exciting at times.
What’s your pet peeve on covering letters?
Any simple punctuation or spelling mistake sets alarm bells ringing about the manuscript, when a cover letter should be enticing you to read on. As a general rule usually it’s better to keep them short and relevant. Do include contributions to magazine’s and graduating from creative writing courses; do not include your pet’s hobbies.
Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?
I represent a real mix: journalists, film-directors, creative writing graduates, recommendations from clients, authors from the slush pile, even a Lord. There are no set rules, but the slushpile is a rich source, as are many of the extremely well run creative writing courses in the UK. Recently I heard an editor say they had commissioned a novel from someone they were sitting next to at a dinner party, so there are no set rules, although I’m obviously not going to the right dinner parties!
What’s the most important part of your job? Is it editing/shaping the manuscript? Selling the manuscript? Or supervising the publication process?
All these are equally crucial despite being very different. It’s actually one of the great things about the job, an ongoing relationship with an author once a publishing deal is struck. The shared aim, after all, is to forge a long and successful career for that writer.