Rebecca Ritchie is an agent at AM Heath, looking for contemporary women’s fiction, reading group, historical fiction and saga, through to police procedural, crime, thriller and psychological suspense. She is also interested in non-fiction topics such as cookery, travel, health and wellbeing.
How did you become an agent?
I initially thought I wanted to be an editor (as a lot of people do, I think). My first bit of work experience in publishing was during the summer of my second year at university, in the Publicity Department at PanMacmillan. I loved it; being surrounded by books every day, talking to people who love books and whose job it is to actually bring them into existence, and I even helped Ken Follett who’d come in to sign hundreds of copies of his latest novel – such a thrill! But I realised quickly that Publicity wasn’t for me: I wanted to be working at the beginning of the process, discovering new voices and working with the author creatively and editorially. I applied for dozens of internships and jobs at publishing houses and agencies (I’d learned what an agency did by this point!) and when I graduated I secured an internship at PFD. The six weeks I spent there were so exciting, reading unsolicited submissions, being educated on book contracts and royalties negotiations (and quite a lot of photocopying too, of course). My first job was an assistant to two agents at Curtis Brown, and I learnt so much there on what it takes to be a good agent: you have to be an honest sounding board, a critic, an editor, a therapist, an eagle-eyed (and sometimes bullish) negotiator, a fierce champion, and so much more. I moved to AM Heath two years ago and for me, agenting is the absolute dream job and it is such a privilege to get to work with an author so closely right from the start.
Do you represent the same genre of books that you enjoy reading?
Yes! My tastes are very commercial and I’m not sure I could represent a book that I didn’t actually enjoy reading. It also means I read widely in the genre in which I agent, which is crucial as it means I know what’s out in the market and what books are working, and means I have a benchmark against which I can measure submissions.
Regardless of what happens in the plot I’m not going to be swept along with it if I can’t lose myself in the writing or the voice.
Describe the kind of book that you are looking for?
Commercial fiction across the board: contemporary women’s fiction, historical, reading group, crime, thriller and psychological suspense. And I’m a total sucker for a timeslip novel too.
What are some of the main reasons that you turn down manuscripts?
The writing. Regardless of what happens in the plot I’m not going to be swept along with it if I can’t lose myself in the writing or the voice. Obviously plot and character are vital (particularly in commercial fiction), but if someone cannot truly write then I’m not going to want to read on.
Main piece of advice for writing a submission letter
Do your research. Make sure you’re approaching the right agent at that agency for your book, don’t make silly mistakes (i.e. addressing a different agent/agency in your covering letter), and give some background as to why you’ve chosen them to submit to. When it comes to the content of your letter, it’s so important to really know your novel. I love submission letters which sum up the hook of the novel in an immediately memorable way that just compels me to read on.
What have been some of your biggest successes?
One of my authors who I’m most proud of is Zoë Folbigg. Her debut novel, The Note, was inspired by her real life love story (she fell in love with her husband on the train on her commute to work). I met her at a pitching event and we immediately clicked and worked on the book together for a few months. The book was then acquired by a digital-first imprint, but in the first few weeks after publication the media coverage was so phenomenal (she was invited on to the This Morning sofa to talk about her real life story) that the publisher moved incredibly fast to get a paperback out there and it was stocked across several supermarkets within a matter of weeks. That book has now sold over 250,000 copies and next year Zoë’s fourth book will be published. I’m so proud that from quite small beginnings she has gone on to have such monumental success and is able to be a full time writer.
Don’t give up and write what you love.
What are you currently reading?
The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans. It’s rich and layered with a brilliant mystery at its heart, and I love her writing.
Any final advice for writers?
Don’t give up and write what you love.