Charlotte Seymour is a literary agent at Johnson & Alcock and was named a Bookseller Rising Star in 2021. Editorially focused and passionate about literature in translation, Charlotte is building a list of literary and book club fiction, crime/thriller, and non-fiction. We were excited to ask her some questions about her role as an agent and her current wishlist.
What is your favourite thing about being a literary agent?
Charlotte: I’m constantly learning: from my authors and their works; about the book market as it changes over time; from and about the brilliant people who work across the industry. It keeps you on your toes!
Are there any particular themes or approaches you’d like to see in crime and thriller?
Charlotte: I particularly enjoy character and voice-driven novels, atmospheric settings, and love when a writer can tap into a wider conversation in society, without this necessarily being the main focus of the story. I think Celeste Ng, Rumaan Alam and Imran Mahmood all do this exceptionally well, to name just a few.
‘I particularly enjoy character and voice-driven novels, atmospheric settings, and love when a writer can tap into a wider conversation in society, without this necessarily being the main focus of the story.’
Short story writers often struggle to find a home for their work. Do you think there is a market for collections and what advice would you offer writers of short fiction?
Charlotte: There is a market for collections, but it is a small and competitive one, often made easier if a collection is preceded or followed by a novel with which a publisher can build and broaden the author’s readership. I would encourage writers to enter their stories for publication in magazines, journals and anthologies, whether in print or online, and submit to competitions and prizes, to start building a profile. When it comes to putting together a collection, think carefully about what connects the stories and justifies them being published together in the same volume, what order the stories should appear in and why…
Could you share your top tips for the cover letter?
- Take the time to research agents and their interests and make clear in the covering later why you have chosen to submit to an individual agent or their agency – this personalised approach goes a long way!
- Keep the letter clear and concise, making it as easy as possible for the reader to identify quickly what kind of book you are submitting and why you think it would be a good fit for them.
- Not all books lend themselves to easy categorisation or description, but it’s worth spending time on identifying the hook or elements that will make your work stand out: it could be a clever plot, a compelling voice, or a new take on a familiar subject, for example.
- Include comparison titles to help give a sense of where you see yourself in the current market; if this feels daunting then you can also frame it in terms of the authors whose works you enjoy and take inspiration from.
‘Not all books lend themselves to easy categorisation or description, but it’s worth spending time on identifying the hook or elements that will make your work stand out.’
Our clients often ask if a prologue will put literary agents off. Do you have a strong opinion on this?
Charlotte: A prologue can be a brilliant way of getting a reader’s attention and building suspense, but like every other chapter or plot point, it has to serve its purpose and avoid feeling like too much of a narrative device or promising an atmosphere which then isn’t fully developed in the rest of the novel.
We often encourage writers to read books that are being published now. Any recommendations for recent or upcoming releases?
Charlotte: I completely agree: it’s essential to be engaging with contemporary culture across media, not just books, as I think the most successful works, even if they’re historical or fantastical in their setting, will often tap into contemporary sensibilities and concerns. In the most crowded genres such as crime and thriller, finding a unique angle is immensely challenging – last year, I loved what Joseph Knox did in his novel True Crime Story, cleverly blending fact and fiction and tapping into the success of the true crime genre. The number of whip-smart young female voices emerging in recent years has also been notable, and this year I’m particularly looking forward to new novels from Jessica Andrews and Yara Rodrigues Fowler, having loved both their debuts.
Find out how to submit to Charlotte on the Johnson & Alcock website and follow her on Twitter here. If you’re preparing a submission, you might like to look at some recent BPA blog posts on Agent Research, Cover Letters, Synopses and Genre.