Thérèse Coen is Rights Agent at Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency. She handles translation rights for the agency’s clients in all foreign language territories, and is building a boutique fiction and non-fiction list. Born and raised in Belgium, Thérèse is multilingual and studied at University College London. She previously worked for Ed Victor and at Bloomsbury Publishing. When not reading, she can be found circling Richmond Park on her bike plotting to win the first women’s Tour de France.
1) Bonnie & Clyde
Although agents are initially attracted to an author’s writing, we take on the book just as much as we take on the author him/herself. It might feel like the focus is all on the book itself in the first stages, but the relationship becomes much more about building the author. Editors and publishing houses will come and go more than agents will (in theory anyway), but we’ll be your partner-in-crime for the long haul. We’re all about focusing on our authors’ careers in the long term – finding the right editor with the right vision and ambition, the right publishing house with the right resources, who want to champion our author for the years to come – and often develop some lifelong friendships with authors along the line.
2) Ultimate multi-taskers
Going into this industry, I had no idea how multifaceted the jobs would be. Obviously, we spend a lot of time working with books and authors, but we also become agony aunts, cake-bakers, expert postage calculators, dog-walkers, office movers, printer-jam fixers and prosecco connoisseurs. A large part of our job consists of checking in with our authors, advising on edits, book covers, publicity and marketing campaign and events, and giving all manners of advice to our authors – including what dress to wear at publishing parties or how to build an Ikea bookshelf. We’re pretty kick-ass, really.
3) “Everything is subjective”
The publishing business is highly and at times frustratingly subjective. Every agent has at one point or other have fallen head over heels in love with a book which sadly not a single editor has picked up. Editors also will champion their favourite books, which will then for reasons unbeknownst not be loved by the public. Lots of ingredients are needed to make a bestseller, and agent enthusiasm right from the start is absolutely key. So when we tell you a book isn’t quite our thing but we hope someone else picks it up, we genuinely don’t think it’s a terrible book, we just think someone else will be a better spokesperson for it.
4) We are Human
We are nice people, promise! We sometimes get a little behind on our reading because we are sometimes drowning in manuscripts and emails, but we really care, and do our best at all times to get back to everyone with feedback and constructive criticism. We might look like a scary bunch, but we’re all pretty gooey in the middle – let’s face it, Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You makes us cry as much as any other reader!
5) Agencies – fat and skinny
Agencies come in all shapes and sizes, some are big and corporate with hundreds of years of cumulative experience, others are small with a more tailor-made approach to each author and their book. It’s worth doing your research before submitting, as some agencies’ style might suit you better than others, but it is worth remembering that ultimately what matters is finding an enthusiastic agent you “click” with and who is going to shout about your books from the rooftops and push the manuscripts into every single editor’s hands!
6) Hone those Blurbs
We often spent hours and hours looking through submission after submission, so to make sure you capture the agent’s attention with a fresh and exciting blurb, a neat layout, maybe some comparisons to other books and a few catchy shoutlines. You should talk firstly and mostly about the book, as that is what we, the editor, and ultimately the readers are going to be most interested in.
7) We are Hungry!
Not only do we consume an unnaturally large quantity of biscuits and cakes in the publishing industry, we are also always incredibly hungry for exciting new books and talent, and are always on the lookout for fresh manuscripts and original voices. We love our jobs, our books and most importantly, our authors. So keep sending us your submissions!