When Jack Lutz first came to us as a mentee, then as a student on the Ultimate Novel Writing Course, it was clear that his writing was something special.
Now represented by Jordan Lees at The Blair Partnership, Jack’s first novel, ‘London in Black’, is set to be published in June 2022 by Pushkin Vertigo. We sat down to chat about his writing journey, and the practical ways you can narrow down your shortlist and find your perfect agent.
JW: Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer? When did you start writing, and where are you with publication now?
JL: I was rummaging around in some old boxes recently and unearthed a short story I wrote when I was eight – a murder mystery set in London. So I suppose writing’s something I’ve always done, or at least always wanted to do…but it was mostly just bits of novels I’d start then immediately scrap. Never enough time, or I’d second-guess the idea and stop. And then in 2019, I buckled down and actually finished a novel for the first time (with mentoring help from Jericho Writers’ Daren King). But I worried it wasn’t strong enough so rather than submitting it to agents, I set it aside and signed up for the Ultimate Novel Writing Course, in order to write another.
That second novel, ‘London in Black’, will be published next June by Pushkin Vertigo. It’s a near-future police procedural set in 2029, two years after terrorists release a novel nerve agent at Waterloo Station with catastrophic consequences. Our hero is DI Lucy Stone, a cop with crippling survivor guilt who must hunt a killer and recover a stolen nerve agent antidote (that may or may not be a figment of her imagination). So – a murder mystery set in London, just like when I was eight!
We’ve just finished copyediting, and at the moment I’m waiting to see first pass page proofs.
JW: In what ways did being a student on the UNWC help to shape your writing?
JL: Lots of different ways – the course material was instructive, the Q&As useful – but the thing that I’m most grateful for is the mentoring. I was assigned a brilliant writer named Craig Taylor as my mentor, and we had periodic phone calls throughout the course. The mix of tailored feedback plus support and encouragement was unbeatable. I felt challenged, which I loved because it meant my writing was being taken seriously.
JW: How did you find your agent?
JL: I was very fortunate! At the end of the UNWC, Craig (in an act I’ll be forever grateful for) sent a note to Harry Bingham with some kind words about my manuscript. Shortly after that, I received an email from Jericho’s wonderful Rachael Cooper, telling me that she was willing to send a manuscript recommendation out to an agent on my behalf – and did I have any thoughts on who?
Determined not to waste the opportunity, I turned to Jericho Writers’ AgentMatch. First, I ran a search for agents actively looking for crime/thrillers, which spat out about ninety names. I looked them all up and narrowed the list down to about twenty who seemed really focussed on the genre. I read any interviews I could find online, then went on my Kindle and downloaded free chapters from books by each agent’s clients, hoping to get a feel for whether my writing style might appeal.
At the end of all of that, the agent I hoped would be the best fit for me and my book was Jordan Lees at The Blair Partnership. Rachael sent off the recommendation, and later that day Jordan wrote back asking for the full manuscript. Two weeks later, Rachael forwarded on a note from Jordan asking if I could have a chat with him – and that chat was the Call: an offer of representation.
The mix of tailored feedback plus support and encouragement was unbeatable. I felt challenged, which I loved because it meant my writing was being taken seriously.
JW: Were there any surprises along the way, or anything you wish you had been prepared for?
JL: My given name’s ‘John’, and I’ve never really used a nickname. But it turns out that there’s already a (quite prolific!) thriller writer named John Lutz, which meant I suddenly needed to pick a new name for myself. I wasn’t expecting that!
I looked them all up and narrowed the list down to about twenty who seemed really focussed on the genre. I read any interviews I could find online, then went on my Kindle and downloaded free chapters from books by each agent’s clients, hoping to get a feel for whether my writing style might appeal.
JW: What advice would you give to a new writer working on their first draft?
JL: My favourite ideas tend to pop into my head when I’m somewhere other than sitting in front of my laptop. If that’s true for you, too, my advice is simple: whenever you have an idea — for a scene, a snippet of dialogue, a word, whatever – write it down as soon as you possibly can.
At first, I only used notebooks, but that got to be a problem when I came up with ideas in the middle of the night…half the time, I couldn’t decipher my scribblings the next day. And then carrying a notebook everywhere wasn’t very practical, either, so I wound up switching to the notes app on my phone (simple, but works great!). But no matter how you do it, don’t put it off. I’m sure I would’ve forgotten the best of my midnight ideas if I’d waited until morning to write them down.
From Rachael Cooper, Head of Publishing and AgentMatch at Jericho Writers
Working with John was such a pleasure. Not only was this the first recommendation to come from the Ultimate Novel Writing Course but it came with a glowing recommendation from John’s mentor. So naturally, I made myself a tea and started reading. To say I was blown away by the opening chapters would be an understatement. I immediately sent John a very frantic/excited email saying that 1) I’d love to work with him to find an agent, and 2) very cheekily asking him to send me the full manuscript so I could read on!
John and I spent a couple of weeks fine-tuning his submission pack. We even had a transatlantic call mid-pandemic to perfect his elevator pitch for the query letter. When that was ready and John had been able to explore AgentMatch and research his agent shortlist, we decided Jordan Lees could be the perfect match. Before I even had time to cross my fingers, we got a reply from Jordan requesting the full manuscript. This was the quickest response I’ve had from an agent to date.
There’s something about helping talented and dedicated authors achieve their dreams, however small a part we play, that makes this job so special.
When we heard the news that ‘London in Black’ had been picked up by Pushkin Vertigo for publication in 2022, the whole Jericho team were over the moon. There’s something about helping talented and dedicated authors achieve their dreams, however small a part we play, that makes this job so special.
Jack Lutz is a writer and a lawyer. He lives in London with his wife and young daughter. His debut novel, London in Black, will be published by Pushkin Vertigo in June 2022.