Good morning, everyone!
Alice Caprio joined The Felicity Bryan Agency in 2023 following over 6 years working as a literary scout.
As an agent, Alice is building a list that spans middle grade and YA fiction across all genres, commercial adult fiction, and romance and fantasy for all ages. It is important for these books to have a clear international appeal, and to be commercial and bold. Alice is also keen to showcase diversity and underrepresented voices.
You can find Alice on Twitter to see more of what she’s up to – @alice_caprio
Alice is also on the agent panel for our First 500 Novel Competition, so tune in to the live event (19:00 BST September 1, 2023) to hear her feedback for our 8 finalists.
Hi Alice, thanks for speaking with us today!
What brought you to agenting? And how does your previous role as a literary scout help you now as an agent?
I started out as a book scout, and my role there was to liaise with agencies and rights departments at publishing houses to find out about their upcoming books in the run up to important book fairs, which we would then report on. The role of a scout is often nebulous (even to those working within the industry!) but they are recognised as an important part of the equation when it comes to ensuring the success of a book. Part of our role as scouts is to help our international publishing clients curate their list in translation, narrowing it down to those couple of books specific to an editor’s taste that would work within a specific market. Most scouts nowadays also work across mediums, scouting for a variety of content creators, such as production companies, theatre companies, audio and video game companies, to select the best IP for them to adapt. It’s also a lot about networking, which is essentially what an agent has to do in being an advocate for an author and having those relationships with editors.
As a scout you get a very wide-ranging knowledge of different markets, across country and genre. I read very widely and then started specialising in kids and YA and science fiction and fantasy across all ages, so that gives me a really good sense of each list in the UK. I think because I’ve read so widely, I really know now what I love and enjoy, but also what works and what makes something work. And because I have an informed understanding of what works and why, across international markets, it means I’m able to have an active editorial input in a book and support the author in that way.
I’m really looking for books that speak to people across borders, about things we haven’t heard of enough. I’m looking for underrepresented voices, in a commercial make up where people can hear about experiences or from voices they wouldn’t come across normally in a format that is quite accessible and can be easily translated in various territories.
As a scout we were processing about 1000 books a month, across various languages too, so you read a book and then move on to the next thing. What I really liked about agenting is the ability to have a creative input and being able to work with the author to build their career, and being involved in the life of a book from start to finish.
What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?
At the moment I read a lot, as I have a lot of submissions coming through and I’m giving feedback to people requesting manuscripts. I’m also meeting with various editors and getting a sense of what they’re currently looking for. I’ve signed two authors, and am in the talking stages with a third, so I’m talking about these projects, and have been assisting them editorially and preparing them for submission. At the moment it’s very much about preparing editors for these projects and then reading and participating in pitch events and finding ways to come across new authors, which is allowing me to be proactive and give feedback.
What’s at the top of your fiction wish-list?
I am actively building a list that spans middle grade and YA fiction across all genres, commercial adult fiction, and romance and fantasy for all ages. I am on the hunt for stories that are smart, commercial and bold, with a clear international appeal.
I am passionate about showcasing diverse and underrepresented voices and I value books that do not shy away from representing the complexities of growing up whilst maintaining a joyful or uplifting quality. I am looking for books with fresh and exciting concepts, whose voices can cross borders and speak out about important topics in an accessible and authentic manner. More generally, I’m looking for captivating storytelling, engrossing world building and atmospheric real-world settings; writing that feels escapist in some way but remains grounded in real-life concerns.
When reading romance, I am drawn to lively secondary characters, unusual set-ups, engaging dialogue and irresistible chemistry between the leads. Humour is a plus and I enjoy a good trope, if explored creatively. Authors within the genre I rate highly include Jenny Ireland, Wibke Brueggemann, Ali Hazelwood, Jenna Evans Welch, Leah Johnson and Margot Wood.
I am always on the look-out for romantasy, high concept YA, dystopian YA, and retellings that feel distinctive. I am open to working with authors within these genres who have previously self-published, particularly if they have a TikTok or online presence. I tend to favour well-plotted, immersive fantasy novels with nuanced female leads, imaginative magic systems, high-stake adventures and courtly intrigue. I am not the agent for hard sci-fi but would be open to grounded sci-fi, particularly in the YA space. Whilst I enjoy high-fantasy settings, I tend to gravitate towards novels with accessible world-building, that might appeal to readers outside of fantasy. Novels I’ve recently enjoyed include The Wicked in Me by Suzanne Wright, The Serpent and the Wings of Night by Carissa Broadbent, A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft, The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown, Hide by Kiersten White and The Legendborn Cycle by Tracy Deonn.
At the other end of the spectrum, I am interested in cosy, low-stakes fantasy with heart, in the vein of TJ Klune and Travis Baldree. When it comes to historical YA, I enjoy immersive settings and stories with a speculative element. My latest coup de cœur was Dana Schwartz’s Anatomy: A Love Story.
In middle grade, I am drawn to sweeping adventures, stories with a speculative and magical twist or a spooky feel. I appreciate middle grade novels that do not talk down to the reader but remain fast-paced and fun. I am also on the search for contemporary stories with a timeless universal quality. Some of my favourite authors in the middle grade space include Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Michelle Harrison, Angharad Walker, Elle McNicoll, Nicola Penfold, Jordan Lees and Jack Meggitt-Phillips.
Is there any genre you’d rather not receive?
I’m not a huge fan of horror, but I will go for things that are a bit lighter and have a creepy gothic vibe or body horror, something in the vein of Rory Power or Krystal Sutherland.
I’m not usually a fan of straightforward historical fiction unless there’s a slightly speculative twist or it has a strong romance, or the world building is there to provide atmosphere.
Similarly, I don’t tend to go for murder mysteries but will always take a look at anything that subverts the genre. I also enjoy thrillers with a social consciousness in the vein of MA Bennett’s S.T.A.G.S and Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades. For the time being, I am not open to picture books and illustrated fiction.
What do you want to see in a query letter? And what do you hate?
In think it should definitely be professional, because this will be a business relationship, even though I am someone who tries to have an accessible agenting style. I certainly don’t want authors to feel intimidated and I think getting that personal connection across in the query letter is great, but I do think there’s a professional boundary to be maintained in the ways that authors interact in that space. So do reference things that are relevant, like an author I’ve signed who resonated with you, but don’t be too personal.
I would also say that authors who are putting their work out there should be confident, and not apologetic or feeling like you’re taking up someone’s time. Be very clear, let me know why I’m the best person to see this and why you think we would work well together.
I really appreciate when someone can give me a good sense of their book through market comparisons, and for those to be well researched (rather than just including the most well-known and successful authors in a genre). It’s really interesting to think about what your book resembles tonally, and where it would sit in a bookshop.
It’s good to know where the author is based, because that will also inform the kind of conversations that I will have both with people here at the agency, but also with the author themselves, in terms of modes of communication and how we would work together, and I like to have these conversations early on. I also want to hear about people’s writing journeys, whether they have a presence anywhere, just things that might be a plus.
Any final words of advice for authors at any stage of the writing or submission process?
As an agency we always try and make sure that authors know that a rejection doesn’t mean that your book is not good enough, it’s just a very competitive industry and we want to make sure that we are so passionate about a book that we can make it stand out from the crowd and know that editors will love it because we’re the best champion for it. I think that sometimes that experience and feeling of constant rejection can be quite demoralising, and I imagine it’s difficult for authors when you’ve spent so long on a project. Making sure that you research agents and are only querying when you feel like it’s a good fit and taking that in stages and widening your scope gradually will help to minimise this. And also, being aware that there are many reasons why an agent might be unable to take you on that are not about the book not being good enough. If an agent doesn’t connect with the work, or they don’t have an editorial vision for it, or they already have very similar authors on their lists, it makes it difficult to be the best champion for your book, and that is what authors need. So, I think the overarching thing is that it is hard, but it’s not personal, and putting yourself out there in as many ways as you feel comfortable is really useful because there are so many opportunities that may not seem obvious, like pitching events on social media, and useful information to be found in many different places. Taking on feedback, either from agents or other authors, is also incredibly useful. Of course, you may get feedback that you don’t chime with and that’s okay, but a lot of the time people may be able to point things out that you can’t or offer you a unique perspective. I know that it is a hard process, but it will happen, and it’s that match made in heaven situation where someone will get an email and be really excited about your book from page one and that’s exactly what you want in an agent, someone who is really passionate about your book and has a vision for it.
I also think it’s useful for authors to know going into querying what they’re looking for in a relationship with an agent. Are they looking for someone who can assist editorially, or has certain connections, or can have a more personal bond and support? Because everyone works differently, and the best working relationships are those where you’re on the same page and can be honest with each other.
Check out Alice’s AgentMatch profile for the full interview.
If you’re struggling with your query letter and synopsis, do check out our free resources on our website. We have lots of info to help you on your way. Or, better still, if you’re a member with us, our lovely Writers Support team will be happy to offer you a free query letter review!