Meet the agents: Julia Churchill

Julia Churchill joined AM Heath in 2013 as children’s agent, after four years building up the UK side of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, and six years at the Darley Anderson Agency where she grew the children’s list. She represents some fabulous writers, but is always on the treasure hunt for new writing talent. She’s looking for debut and established authors with storytelling magic, from picture book texts right up to YA fiction.

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

I started as Darley Anderson’s PA about twelve years ago. Darley is an agenting legend, so typing his emails for two years was a great way in to the business. I became Agency Manager after a couple of years, then was charged with building up the children’s side of the business. Agenting is creative, tough, exciting. What’s not to love?

What’s your pet peeve on covering letters?

Aggression and hyperbole. Normal things to be peeved about.

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

When considering a submission I’m looking for a voice, an idea, a story, a character, and a book that’s trying to say something to me. Every book I’ve taken on has delivered on those fronts.

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

It’s all here. If you’re writing a children’s book or YA, I’d love to see it when it’s ready to share.

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

Mostly from slushpile. 90%. The slushpile is the best place in the world.

Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?

You need trust and respect coming from both sides, yes.

What’s the most important part of your job?

For every author, and for every deal, I’m a slightly different agent depending on the needs of the client and the situation.

Ultimately, an author has an agent to make an easier professional life and to make more money. It’s my job to take care of both those ends.

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

Absolutely. That’s one of the crucial roles of an agent.

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

Read. Be a reader. Be a fan. Also, if you’ve sent your book out to everyone, and you’re only getting form rejections, that’s feedback. Look hard at the book, and try and work out what isn’t connecting. Then read some more books. Be a reader. Be a fan.

Are e-books 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?

It entirely depends on the reason. An exciting thing about now is there are lots of ways to do things. The landscape is different. But traditional publishing is still dominant. Over an international career, an author needs the passion and push of hundreds of experts. I want my clients to benefit from the talent of editors and publicists and marketeers and sales people and designers: the list goes on and on.

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

Good books and good manuscripts never feel like a chore. And it’s important in my job to keep reading really great books to re-calibrate. If you only read submissions, you get a new idea of what’s good. I want my idea of what is ‘good’ to be ‘superb’, rather than just ‘publishable’.

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

About 100 a week. I think I take on about one in a thousand, but the stats don’t feel grim to me. Most people don’t make it because they aren’t good enough. Ouch, but it’s the truth. I like playing the guitar, but I’ll never make any money from it. I play because it makes me happy.

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

A track record for spotting and developing debut talent and doing great deals. And our agency has one of the best rights departments in the country.

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

More than anything, I like them to write and to have good lives. But yes, once published, social networking can be helpful, if it’s done well.

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

There’s few things as impressive as a talented publishing team who’ve decided to put their hands on a project. It’s got to be the first two.

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

A dog walker or a chef.

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

God no, it’s much too hard.

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template