Good morning, everyone!
This week, we’re joined by Daisy Chandley, an Associate Agent at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop. Daisy joined PFD in 2019 and has been building her own list while also supporting Tim Bates and Annabel Merullo.
As an agent, Daisy represents a range of creative and informative non-fiction as well as adult fiction including literary, upmarket, mystery/thriller, rom-com and horror. She loves page-turning premises and compelling twists, and is keen to see anything that explores themes of sexuality, gender, race and disability.
You can learn more about Daisy on Twitter @daisychandley.
Hi Daisy, thanks for speaking with us today!
What brought you to agenting?
I’d always wanted to do something that involved writing in some way, but I’m certainly not an author myself, and I really wanted a role that also had a fast-paced, analytical side to it – I’d previously been thinking about going into law, so perhaps I was after something with a little arguing involved! After deciding to try and get into publishing and eventually landing an internship at a literary agency, I still didn’t entirely know what it would look like on a day to day basis, and couldn’t have imagined it would fit my incredibly niche criteria quite so well. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to say that I truly love my job – no Sunday scaries for me!
What’s at the top of your fiction wish-list?
With fiction, my reading broadly falls into two main categories: sharp, witty and clever novels on the literary to upmarket commercial spectrum with just the right balance of emotion and edge, and things with a darker side, be it unputdownable psychological thrillers, uncrackable murder mysteries, or even a literary and original horror novel. With crime I prefer an amateur sleuth to a police procedural, but I’m open to anything with a strong hook and quality writing. Overall, whether it’s a delightfully fun and scandalous page-turner, or something more literary and strange, if it’s stylish and smart, I’d love to see it. And, though it’s easier said than done, I’m an absolute sucker for a really good twist. Across the board, I’m always looking for stories that explore sexuality, race, gender, and disability, and would love to hear from the many writers whose voices and experiences aren’t given enough space in publishing.
What’s at the top of your non-fiction wish list?
On the non-fiction side, I’m looking for bold new insights and underrepresented voices on popular science, nature writing, relationships, social issues and politics, and am always especially interested in fresh, playful and exciting writing on pop culture, love, and the internet. I’d also love to see illuminating narrative non-fiction, whether a beautiful and lyrical exploration, or an enthralling and explosive deep-dive. I’m very selective with memoir, but I could always be tempted by a seriously scandalous and brutally honest rollercoaster of a story in the vein of How To Murder Your Life or I’m Glad My Mom Died.
Is there any genre you’d rather not receive?
I don’t do YA/Children’s, and I’d rather not receive hard SFF although I am definitely interested in speculative fiction. As I mentioned, most memoirs aren’t for me, and nothing military please. I’m definitely open to (and a big fan of) romantic books, but they’ll need to be on the more literary side and have a very good dose of humour thrown in, plus a bit of bite, so the more traditional genre romances aren’t for my list.
What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?
It hugely varies, which is one of the main joys! Unless there’s anything hugely pressing or exciting waiting for me when I wake up, I usually start the day by taking stock of my submissions that have come in overnight, so I can check if there’s anything that immediately stands out as looking unquestionably up my street – everything else goes into my submission folder for me to dive into as soon as I get a spare moment. The rest of the day will be a combination of doing edits on clients’ proposals and manuscripts to get them ready to go to publishers, putting together submission lists for projects that are nearly ready to go, negotiating and drafting contracts, liaising between clients and editors, setting up and going to editor meetings, and general admin/emails. Some people always do their more creative work in the afternoon and more agent-y, email-y work in the morning, but for me it mostly depends on when I feel exactly the right amount of caffeinated for each task…
What do you want to see in a query letter?
I like them short and sweet: your pitch, the space you see your book fitting into and some comps to help illustrate that, a professional bio (where you’re based, previous publications of any kind, courses etc), perhaps one or two lines about why you chose to submit to that agent, and that’s pretty much it. Of course it’s lovely to briefly mention if you’re from where it’s set, or are writing from some personal experience, but a full-on backstory or an abundance of personal information isn’t necessary. Keep it friendly but professional – and try not to veer toward either pleading or showmanship!
Same question when it comes to the synopsis. What should writers do? What should they avoid?
I hear most writers feel a deep sense of dread at the mention of a synopsis, and I can completely understand why – while I love writing pitches, I can’t say that putting together a definitive A4 summary of your beloved, complicated, nuanced book for agents to look at is a task I envy. That said, I’m grateful to everyone who’s powered through, as they’re an absolutely invaluable part of your submissions package; they don’t just show me where the plot goes and how your extract fits into the wider narrative, but can also showcase the level of confidence and control you have over your story.
With that in mind, here’s a couple of tips for a solid synopsis – preferences will of course still differ agent to agent, so don’t be surprised if you see someone else saying something slightly different, and do always check each agency’s submission guidelines in case they have any specific requests.
- Map out the whole plot start to end, rather than picking up where your submission leaves off, or leaving out the ending so we can enjoy your amazing twist without spoilers (or in the hopes of getting full MS requests to find out what happens) – I completely get that urge, but I really need to know where you’re going with it to know if there’s any chance of it being for me in the first place.
- Aim for 1 side of A4, but don’t waste your one short and precious life trying to cut a few words or fiddling with the margins to keep to this – unless submission guidelines say otherwise, spilling a little onto a second is absolutely fine.
- Shoot for the middle ground between bullet points and an essay – I actually think the average ‘plot’ section for a film on Wikipedia gets it about right! You don’t need to introduce every character, subplot, or conflict. Sometimes you’ll need to reference some seemingly minor or unrelated things that prove crucial to the plot (whether a well-planted clue or a turning point for a character’s development), which is absolutely fine, but we should be able to clearly follow the core story as we read.
- Clear and concise writing is better than lyricism, and I’ll never mind a synopsis being on the stark or blunt side – this is a tool rather than a piece of creative writing in and of itself, and the best way to show yourself off as a writer here is demonstrating control over the plot and an understanding of what’s really driving it.
- Stick to objective facts – rather than telling us how we as the reader might or should start to feel about a certain character in light of an important event, tell us how other characters start to feel about them, if we’re told this, or how they start acting differently in the text.
- If it doesn’t move along the plot, alter a character’s motivations, or become a crucial piece of information later, take it out and see if someone reading the new version would still understand who’s done what, why, and ‘so what’. if so, it can probably stay gone!
- No gimmicks, rhetorical questions, or funky layouts – just simple third person, objective, fully written out sentences. If the book jumps around in time then for me it’s up to you whether you state that at the start and do the synopsis in chronological order, or head up each paragraph with the time that section is set in.
- Practice doing synopses for other books you love – despite sounding a bit like Year 6 homework, it can be really helpful in practicing making these judgement calls with a bit less personal investment.
In your opinion, what defines good writing?
This is such a tough one, as if I stacked up my five favourite books, it would be almost impossible to say there was one characteristic of the writing that was the same across them all, and which made them good. Besides, there are hugely acclaimed books which I wouldn’t for a minute say weren’t good, but which I personally can’t stand on a sentence level! On the whole in fiction, I suppose I’m more likely to be taken by writing that’s sharp and acerbic with moments of deeply felt emotion than writing that feels very sincere and lyrical throughout, but I can think of countless exceptions to that even as I type it…
Your dream submission lands in your inbox, tell us about it.
It’s happened more than once, and it’s a wonderful feeling! I rarely know a dream book until I see it, but perhaps because it’s summer I’m currently in an especially soft mood and would love to see a smart, stylish, literary ‘romcom’-ish thing in the vein of Laurie Colwin’s Happy All The Time, or Rebecca K Reilly’s brilliant Greta & Valdin (which is coming out in the UK soon, but you can get the gist from the blurb!).
What makes for a successful author-agent relationship? How can both parties get the most out of the relationship?
I think it hugely depends on the author, which I know isn’t helpful, but neither is a blanket statement, as different authors want and need entirely different approaches at every stage in the process. Something that’s always going to be useful is just being honest with your agent about what works for you – maybe you want to see every rejection you get, maybe deep down you only want to see the nice ones. Maybe you want to be poked and prodded if you miss a self-imposed deadline (and tutted at if you’re spotted live-tweeting a Sex and the City rewatch…) or maybe that’s your idea of overbearing hell. Maybe you’d always rather have a long and wonderfully tangential chat over the phone, or maybe you prefer to stick to emails. I’m lucky to have wonderful relationships with my clients, and no two of those relationships look quite the same.
What’s your favourite thing about being an agent?
It’s honestly hard to choose, but definitely up there is that coveted moment when something lands in your inbox that you can immediately tell is incredibly special and absolutely right for you, and that you can’t help but shout about from the rooftops (sometimes before you’ve even signed it…)
What are some of your favourite authors and books?
It’s incredibly tough to narrow it down but a handful of the authors past and present whose work I’ve loved are Patricia Lockwood, Elif Batuman, Torrey Peters, Gillian Flynn, Shirley Jackson, Raven Leilani, Max Porter, Carmen Maria Machado, Virginia Woolf, Sayaka Murata, Kiley Reid, Sally Rooney (sorry), George Saunders, Joan Didion, Amy Liptrot, Elif Batuman, Ottessa Moshfegh, J.D. Salinger, Donna Tartt, Jean Toomer, Tana French, Lorrie Moore, Bret Easton Ellis (more recent outbursts aside…) and Fernanda Melchor. As of this moment, it’s a tie for my favourite book between Susannah Moore’s In The Cut and Laurie Colwin’s Happy All The Time, so about as horrific and as delightful as you can get.
What interests or passions do you have beyond the world of books?
While I obviously do read for pleasure, people are sometimes surprised to hear that I’m not exactly motoring through books at superhuman speed in my spare time. I spend most of my day reading in one way or another and have no shame in diving into films and TV when I get home; I’ve been trying to watch at least 75 new films a year, which has been hugely fun and has filled some long overdue holes in my cultural knowledge, but I’ll always go back to Sex and the City and Broad City when my brain needs a hard reset. Outside the house, I’m a die-hard swimmer (the one time I put my phone down), and have even been getting into birdwatching – with special binoculars and everything – which I refuse to be embarrassed about…
Trends in TV and film often have a relationship with the publishing industry and are constantly changing. Do you have any advice for writers wondering whether or not to follow trends in their own writing?
It’s important to know about trends in books, film and TV, but I’d say that there are two main things you should use that knowledge for: your pitch letter, where you can draw out similarities between your work and popular genres or themes, and being aware of when a specific sub-genre or trend is at its peak and likely to be nearing saturation, meaning that if you’re writing in that space you’ll want to be even more careful about having a clear USP that sets it apart. While I currently say on my page on PFD’s website that I’m looking for things with elements of Succession or The White Lotus, knowing that agents are after that absolutely shouldn’t make someone embark on a Succession copycat book! For one thing, realistically by the time you finish it, that trend is likely to be on the wane, but most importantly, writing simply to try and fit a trend isn’t likely to produce exciting and fresh work that you’re really passionate about. Be aware of how your existing ideas share elements of trends for pitching purposes, and there’s nothing wrong with fleshing out some element slightly more that you think feels especially timely, or cutting back on something that you think is starting to feel a little overdone, but don’t shape or base your work around them.
Any final words of advice for authors at any stage of the writing or submission process?
Try and be patient, and stick to your guns – as the wise Lady Gaga once famously said, “there can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one”
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!