John Baker joined Bell Lomax Moreton in 2019 where, as a junior agent, he is focusing on building his own small, cultivated list, shaped around his passion for Science Fiction and Fantasy, alongside providing administrative support across the agency. John has built a small but unique list of authors, who all share a passion for subverting expectations and creating rich new worlds of adventure. His clients include Gabriela Houston, A. M. Shine, Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Nadia Attia and Salma Ibrahim.
We’ve been keen to feature an agent who is focused on this side of the market for a while and were delighted when John agreed to answer some questions about long manuscripts, standout cover letters, and his current wishlist.
Your profile says you’re looking for anything that sits on the Science Fiction and Fantasy spectrum – are there any particular stories or perspectives on your wishlist at the moment?
John: I love this question. At the moment I am looking for lots of things. My taste for underrepresented mythologies remixed into something fresh remains underserved, though I am not looking for Greco-Roman right now. I’d love some crossover speculative mysteries, something like Stuart Turton, so some fresh magical realism or something more historical but bizarre. I’d love a great pirate novel or a sci-fi Top Gun! And I’d love more smart and interesting horror in my inbox, especially gothic but fresh.
We often advise writers to keep their debut novel under 100,000 words, unless it’s SFF! Would you be put off by a manuscript that’s very long … or quite short?
John: Quite short is harder for me than very long; the list of editors looking for novellas isn’t long, and I’d rather see something safely over 75K than below it. And a beefy word count doesn’t put me off, but I will be expecting you to prove why you need that length. The days of indulgent 180,000 words epics have passed.
‘A beefy word count doesn’t put me off, but I will be expecting you to prove why you need that length.’
What makes a cover letter stand out to you?
John: A few things, personalisation to me, a strong hook that’s front and centre, an understanding of my tastes and a clear vision of where you would sit in the market. Keep it short and sharp, and limit the extraneous detail.
There don’t seem to be many British literary agents accepting SFF at the moment. Would you recommend any other avenues to writers who are struggling to find representation?
John: At the risk of shooting myself in the foot, the self-publishing SFF space is robust and if you are happy to invest in decent editorial and production values, you can make a mark, but look at what successful self-published authors are doing and try to follow their example, rather than trusting your instincts on what you think will work. Also, a portion of the SFF publishers do have open submissions every so often. Should they offer a publication deal, most will offer to recommend you to an agent, and if they don’t, I would say it was worth checking in with any agents you are waiting to hear back from regardless.
‘A portion of the SFF publishers do have open submissions every so often. Should they offer a publication deal, most will offer to recommend you to an agent, and if they don’t, I would say it was worth checking in with any agents you are waiting to hear back from regardless.’
We love the sound of the upcoming debut Verge by your client Nadia Attia, which we’ve seen pitched as a folklore road trip novel set in a xenophobic near-future Britain. Can you tell us what drew you to her submission?
John: Honestly, I love a dark folklore novel, the natural world is a beautiful and terrifying place and Nadia is a master of playing in those margins. Also, it’s dark, it’s political, it’s heartbreaking and it’s beautiful. I love the protagonists, Halim & Rowena, like they are the uni mates from a summer long past. Verge takes on a rich and exciting adventure whilst speaking to the injustices we have seen every day of our lives and I can’t wait for everyone else to love it as much as I do.
Finally, what’s your favourite thing about being an agent?
John: I have two favourite moments. One when you get to make those phone calls that change someone’s life, and you know that the work you’ve done means their books are going to exist on the shelves in their house and mine. And the other is when you are in the editing trenches and they’ve just come up with some solution that completely blows your mind— to use my most overused movie quote, “Turns it up to Eleven!”
Find out how to submit to John on the Bell Lomax Moreton website and follow him 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.