Hannah Weatherill is a literary agent at Northbank Talent. She is currently building her list of Fiction and Children’s clients and is keen to work with a twisty thriller, an emotional reading group or women’s fiction novel, or something entirely different.
Can you describe your personal taste in fiction and also what you’re currently looking for as an agent?
My taste is incredibly varied, which is useful as we represent a wide variety of authors! We’re always looking for novels with a strong, pitchable concept and complex characters – something the reader can really sink their teeth into that has potential to reach not just readers in the UK but across the world via translation and book-to-screen deals. We’re particularly on the look-out for psychological thrillers, dark women’s fiction, feel-good stories, and love stories with a strong emotional pull. We love books which tells us something new about the world we live in today, but that doesn’t just mean a contemporary setting – we’re also looking for timeslip novels and historical family sagas.
Do you have an opinion on ‘trends’ – should writers follow what’s popular in their genre or simply write what they want to write?
Because novels are often published more than a year after they’re acquired, authors who try to write to trends are already behind the curve. So, we’d always recommend writing the story you feel excited about, but do think about what you’ve seen on the market and what makes your book different. A great concept and excellent voice will always stand out.
You represent Gráinne Murphy, who was shortlisted for the Blue Pencil First Novel Award 2019 and has her debut ‘Where the Edge Is‘ coming out September 2020! What was it about Grainne’s writing that got you interested?
Gráinne is a beautiful, thoughtful author whose writing is clear, analytical and lyrical all at the same time. But she also has a real talent for coming up with snappy concepts, which are so important for catching readers’ attention, and using those as a jumping off point for exploring complex characters and their relationships.
It seems more and more that publishers expect submissions to arrive very polished. What do you think writers can do to perfect their work before finding an agent? And how do agents help get the manuscript ready for submission?
Publishers expect high-quality manuscripts because they’re looking for books that will stand out from the competition, ideally when it comes to both plot and writing quality. We work closely with all our authors to make sure their novels are the best they can be before submission, but it’s important that authors try to polish them before they submit to us. We can fix spelling and grammar, but a document that’s mostly error free will make for a better first reading experience. We also like to see that authors have really thought about the market and have worked on the structural aspects of their novels, such as making sure their plot and characters are dynamic but believable.
Any terrible cover letter/submission stories?
No specific stories, but a polished cover letter will make a good first impression. It doesn’t have to be long or gimmicky – just tell us briefly about your novel and a little about you, including any previous writing experience or publications.
Tell us a little about your career before Northbank and what you want to contribute to the book industry.
After a degree in German and Spanish, a Masters in translation, some freelance translation and editing, and a couple of internships, I landed a job as a literary scout – they’re little known outside the industry, but they’re basically the spies of the publishing world. Our job was to tell our clients – foreign publishers and film/TV production companies – what UK agents were submitting to editors and whether or not they should consider buying the foreign or dramatic rights. That gave me huge amounts of access to agents and editors, and loads of insider knowledge about what was and wasn’t selling, both in the UK and abroad.
However, as a scout you don’t get to work with authors directly, or see novels through to publication. I really wanted to use my knowledge and publishing relationships to help authors build their careers, so I jumped at the chance to join Northbank as their fiction and children’s agent.
Last novel you loved?
Apart from our clients’ excellent books? I loved AFTER THE END by Clare Mackintosh, which is about a couple who are dealing with their son’s terminal illness and has a sliding doors structure. It’s an incredibly moving novel that grapples with a situation we could all find ourselves in with honesty and heart. It has everything we’re looking for – a great hook; complex, relatable characters; and something a bit different (in this case, the structure) to make it stand out from the pack.