Meet the agents: David Headley

DHH Literary Agency was founded by David Headley in 2008, based in London, they represent an eclectic range of best-selling and award-winning authors, including novelists, historians, short-story writers and children’s authors.

David created the agency, its main objective being to provide a more attentive and individual representation for our authors. They wish to help re-launch established writers as well as nurturing debut authors. They are currently only looking to represent fiction writers.

When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?

I became an agent in 2008 when I took on my first client. I decided to become an agent because I felt I was in a unique position to help unpublished writers. As the owner of Goldsboro Books, a much admired independent bookshop, with a good relationship with many editors in all the major publishing houses, and with a commercial eye for great writing, it was an obvious step for me.

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What sort of books do you love?

I love books that are written well but are a little bit different. I have been accused of liking books with a visceral voice and I am sure that I do but I like a unique voice.

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?

Honestly, no, I haven’t but I have read a page and thought there is real promise here. I do like manuscripts with amazing first lines and the fact that the author has clearly thought about how to grab the reader from the very beginning.

What’s your pet peeve on covering letters?

I’m quite forgiving, so I don’t get too annoyed with silly mistakes on covering letters although I’d wish for a perfect one. I really dislike my name being someone else’s i.e. Dear Ms Smith.. I also don’t wish to read the synopsis in the covering letter if it is also attached.

Of the authors who are not on your list, who would you most love to represent? (You can pick a few names.)

There are a number of authors that I wish I represented but I won’t mention names because I see them often in my bookshop and don’t want to embarrass them. They are great writers and I am always looking forward to reading their new books.

Are you most drawn to beautiful writing? Or a wonderful plot? Or a stunning premise? Or what?

I am drawn by all of those. Mostly, I would say that I am drawn by the voice or narrative. I just want to be told a wonderful story that I don’t want to stop reading.

Have you ever surprised yourself by representing an author whose work you had assumed you wouldn’t like?

I only represent authors whose work I like so this would never happen to me. I would never represent an author if I were in any doubt about their writing.

Tell us how you like writers to submit work to you. And how you’d like them not to submit work.

If you mean submissions, I make that quite clear on my website. I like a covering letter, which tells me about the person submitting, a brief synopsis (one page) and the first three chapters. Some people choose not to read my guidelines and in that case they are showing to me that they can’t follow simple instructions which is a concern.

Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?

I really dislike the term slushpile. I have taken on a couple of authors from submissions to the agency. Mostly, authors I represent are either recommendations or those who I have met at writing courses or conferences.

Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?

It obviously helps if there is personal chemistry and I have found that good friendships can be formed. Ultimately, there needs to be trust on both sides from the very beginning and from that foundation a good working relationship is formed.

What’s the most important part of your job? Is it editing/shaping the manuscript? Selling the manuscript? Or supervising the publication process?

All of those are most important to me and I can’t say one is more important than the other. All of those processes affect my author and their career and as such I feel I must do all to the best of my ability.

Do you get involved in shaping an author’s career?

Of course. Without my authors, I don’t have a job, so I do my best to nurture and support all of my authors.

If you had one bit of advice to give to new writers, what would it be?

Write the best book you can. It is as simple as that.

Are ebooks going to bring about fundamental changes to the publishing industry? What would you say if one of your authors wanted to e-publish their next book, cutting out conventional publishers altogether?

Ebooks have already brought about fundamental change. There are more self-published authors than there has ever been. There would have to be a very good reason to by-pass conventional publishers for me to agree with my author’s decision. I still have a large amount of faith in conventional publishers.

Have you enjoyed reading more since becoming an agent? Or are there times it feels like a chore?

Reading is never a chore and I have always been a voracious reader but, obviously, some writing is better than others and I find it difficult to read badly written books.

The grim stats: how many submissions do you get per week (or year)? And how many new authors do you take on?

On average we receive about 40 manuscripts a week and we take on less than one percent. It doesn’t mean that the majority of books submitted aren’t good enough to be published but that they just didn’t grab us enough to want to represent it.

What Unique Selling Points do you have as an agent or agency?

We are a new agency with a passion for our authors. Our objective is to provide a more attentive and individual representation. With my background in bookselling I feel I have a far better commercial understanding of what readers are buying.

Do you like your authors to tweet, blog, or use Facebook … or do you really not care?

Yes, I care more than ever that my authors do all of those because it is more important than ever that authors find their readers. With more and more books being published, publishers having smaller marketing budgets, less books being promoted in the media, these are ways an author can reach a wider audience.

Which is most important: the editor, the publisher or the advance?

All are incredibly important but for me it is the editor that makes the difference. A good editor will offer a good advance and champion the writer within the publisher.

If you weren’t an agent, what else would you be?

I’d continue to be a bookseller. I couldn’t do anything other than work with books.

Do you secretly have a book in you? And if so, tell us more …

No. I have no desire to write.

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template