Meet the agents: Sallyanne Sweeney

Sallyanne Sweeney was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Cambridge University. She is building her list and is looking for talented writers via MMB Creative. Passionate about working with debut authors, her fiction tastes are wide-ranging, from the literary to the very commercial, but she is always excited by a distinctive voice, strong storytelling and a fresh premise.

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

I did an internship at Watson, Little Ltd in 2007 and have been here since – first as an assistant agent, handling the agency’s audio, serial rights and permissions, and then building my own list as a literary agent. I love the thrill of finding and working with talented authors, and seeing a project through from typescript to finished book. I also enjoy the variety of my job and how every day is different.

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What sort of books do you love?

My tastes are quite wide-ranging and in adult and children’s fiction I enjoy everything from literary novels to the more commercial end of the market. Above all, there must be a great story that will keep me interested and a compelling voice. Being from Dublin, I’m always interested in Irish writing, as well as anything with a multicultural slant. Anything that makes me cry will also win me over!

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?

Yes, and there’s no better feeling! There’s always the worry that the rest of the manuscript won’t live up to that opening page, but if you’re already excited you know it’s something special. It’s usually the voice that will immediately hook me in, and in this instance, it was the confidence of the writing that made me feel I was in good hands.

What’s your pet peeve on covering letters?

As agents have limited time to read unsolicited submissions, you need to grab their attention and often less is more when it comes to covering letters. It also helps if authors have researched the agent they are submitting to; most agents have profiles on agency websites so there shouldn’t be any excuse for sending projects to agents in genres they don’t handle.

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

Most of my authors have come from the slushpile and I read everything that comes in, trying to respond as quickly as I can. I’ve also taken on authors I’ve met at writers’ festivals and graduate events, and through client or publisher recommendations. In non-fiction, I occasionally approach interesting personalities I’ve read about in newspapers and online, such as my first client, Mark Boyle, who went on to write The Moneyless Man.

Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?

I think it certainly helps and it’s always a good idea to meet an agent before signing with them where possible, to see if they’re a good fit for you. I think the most important thing is that you agree with the agent’s vision for your book and writing, however, and good communication is vital in getting the most out of the agent-author relationship.

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 the above, depending on the day!

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

I think the main mistake authors make is sending their typescript out too early. Very rarely is a first draft perfect, and I’d advise not beginning to query until you can’t see how you can continue to improve your typescript. I’d also advise to read as much as you can in the genre you are writing in, and keep trying!

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