Meet the agents: Louise Buckley

After working as an editor for the likes of Pan Macmillan and Dorling Kindersley publishers, Louise Buckley sought the freedom of representing authors at all stages of their publishing journey. In 2016, Louise became a literary agent with Zeno Agency.

Zeno has specialised in representing an esteemed list of successful and prize-winning science fiction and fantasy authors. Louise was brought on board to help expand the agency in new directions.

We interviewed Louise to find out what books, authors and genres she is currently enjoying and what it takes to get on her agent list. To find out more about Louise, take a look at her profile.

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What books and authors do you love in commercial fiction? Please give us some examples.

I enjoy reading a huge variety of commercial fiction books. I love reading women’s fiction with an epic, sumptuous feel – authors such as Lucy Foley or Lucinda Riley. Or summery stories set in foreign locations such as Among the Lemon Trees by Nadia Marks or The Island by Victoria Hislop. I also love reading humorous fiction with heart – books such as Miss You by Kate Eberlen or Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

I read a lot of psychological thrillers but there is a huge amount being published at the moment, so something would really have to stand out from the crowd for me to represent it. I am always looking for books that make me ‘gasp’, so stories full of unexpected twists and turns. Recently enjoyed reads in this category include Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney, Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough and The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.

In crime fiction I am also looking for something a bit different – a twist on the police procedural or something with a more ‘classic’ or high-concept feel to it. I loved The Dry by Jane Harper.

I am not as keen on Dan Brown-style adventure novels or novels with a military aspect to them.

What books and authors do you love in literary, historical, or book group fiction?

I would say my tastes tend towards the more accessible end of literary fiction – I like books that are well-written and smart with a strong voice, but not necessarily trying to break new stylistic ground. For me, plot and character have to come first, and if the quality of the writing is exceptional, well, that’s a huge bonus.

I like books that transport me to unusual places or situations. Or that force me to ask uncomfortable questions – books that tackle important or ambitious themes and give the reader much to talk about, so books such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I also love authors writing about what it means to be human, authors such as Elizabeth Strout or Emma Healey or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

In historical fiction I am looking for vivid characterisation and an utterly compelling plot. I love stories that focus on a little-known but fascinating person’s life, so books such as Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. My favourite periods of history to read about are the Tudor, Elizabethan, Stuart periods, the Victorian period and the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Any other genres you would be interested in? And what’s a big no?

I love dystopian fiction and it doesn’t matter if it is YA or adult. Some of my favourite novels in this area include The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

In my fantasy, I tend to prefer YA fantasy or simpler narratives – I don’t like overly-complex worlds and I prefer no more than three points-of-view. I also love reading magical realism and books that feature magic in a real-world setting.

In science fiction, I prefer reading big, ‘high-concept’ novels and I generally prefer a real-world or near-future setting, rather than novels set in space. Examples would be books such as Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I love reading horror but it is a tough sell at the moment and so something would have to be truly exceptional for me to take it on. But I do have a soft spot for traditional ghost stories, and authors such as Susan Hill and Shirley Jackson

I am not looking for any urban fantasy or erotica.

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On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?

Non-fiction is an area that I very much want to expand into, as I read so much of it in my spare time. Since becoming a mother, I have become passionate about representing authors writing about the female experience, specifically experiences of motherhood but also more broadly books that tackle what it means to be a woman in society today.

I have a strong interest in nutrition – in both the science behind what we eat and why, and in cookery. I enjoy reading books that inspire and motivate me, so self-help and those that could be classified as ‘inspirational’. I am always interested in what makes us tick, so I like reading books about popular psychology or psychiatry. I also love reading books about nature.

And what would you not want to see in non-fiction?

I enjoy reading the odd memoir or biography, but I don’t feel I am best placed to represent it as it’s not an area I know enough about. Similarly, I don’t know much about sport and I’m not really interested in books about business.

What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?

I have a few turn-offs. I am not impressed when the author prioritises writing about themselves over writing about the book – even if you have led an amazing life, the agent will always be more interested in the book, and whether they can sell it.

I am always more attracted by covering letters that are succinct and confident, that contain all the necessary information but don’t waffle for any length.

Do you have any unpredictable loves?

I have a huge soft spot for Groundhog Day-style novels and stories that provide a clever conceptual twist on the everyday and ask what ‘might have been’ – for example, I really enjoyed Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and Before You Go by Clare Swatman.

I also love reading time-slip or novels that feature time-travel.

What single piece of advice would you most want to give writers?

Persevere. You’ve been rejected thirty times? Keep going. You might need to go back to the drawing board or source an independent editorial opinion to see where you are going wrong. Then write something new or rework accordingly and try again. And repeat.

Also, most writers don’t land agents and big publishing deals straight away. Some of them wait years and years before their big break. But you don’t always hear that on Twitter or The Bookseller, where the big success stories are given so much focus.

How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?

I probably receive a few thousand submissions over several ‘open’ periods each year and take on an average of 3-5 authors a year.

Louise is currently open for submissions is especially looking for women’s fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, crime, and non-fiction focusing on parenthood or the female experience. If you think you would be perfect for her list, follow the link to the Zeno Agency submission guidelines or find more information.

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