Juliet Mushens is an agent in the UK Literary Division of The Agency Group. Before becoming a literary agent, Juliet worked in fiction marketing and editorial at HarperCollins, after reading history at Cambridge.
Juliet represents a bestselling list of fiction and non-fiction writers, in every area except writing for under-10s and diet books. She was picked as a Bookseller Rising Star in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize in 2013.
When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?
I became an agent in 2010, and it’s been just over two years now since I signed my first writer. My first job in publishing was in the fiction marketing department of HarperCollins, working on the marketing campaigns for everything from crime authors to historical fiction. I loved the books I worked on and it was a fantastic grounding, but I was always drawn to the idea of agenting. As an agent, the decisions you make are yours alone – it’s down to my taste and judgement – and that freedom was really appealing. I joined an agency as an assistant and after 8 months of assisting I was made an agent. I moved to The Agency Group in December 2012 to help develop their UK literary arm.
I love unreliable narrators, believable women, snappy dialogue, historical settings, things that make me cry, black humour, a high-concept hook… all sorts. Amongst my favourite books are I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Riders by Jilly Cooper, Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, Life Mask by Emma Donoghue, The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe, Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Book Thief, all sorts, really.
Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?
Most of my writers are slushpile novelists. I also represent non-fiction so I tend to approach those people, but by far most of what I sell comes from unsolicited submissions. I think there’s a real misconception that you must know someone in publishing for us to read/pay attention to your book. I’d never met most of my writers before I called them in to talk about their manuscript: all I had was their words on the page. Of the debuts I’ve sold this year, they came from all sorts of backgrounds: PAs, sales assistants, receptionists. … It really is down to how good your book is.
The grim stats: how many submissions do you get per week (or year)? And how many new authors do you take on?
I average 100 a month. As for how many I take on? As many as I think are good enough. No matter how busy I am if something spectacular comes along I’ll find a way. My list consists of around 25 contracted authors (i.e. they have publishing deals) and around 10 further authors who are working on projects.
What Unique Selling Points do you have as an agent or agency?
I bring a sense of humour, a hell of a lot of editorial support, and enthusiasm to the table. Plus a strong track record in getting good deals for debut writers. I’m also passionate about making the process as transparent as possible for the author. Agents and publishers are people, too – not terrifying elitist gatekeepers to a mysterious world!