Marina de Pass joined The Soho Agency after several years working in the editorial departments of Little, Brown and HarperCollins. She is currently building her list of Fiction clients.
Marina also published her first YA novel The Year After You shortly after completing the Faber Academy. BPA’s own Emma and Sara taught a Faber Academy class on ‘Editing Your Novel’ and have since worked with a handful of alumni, including Kara White (represented by Lizzy Kremer at David Higham), who is working on her debut with her agent prior to submission to publishers, Matson Taylor (represented by Alice Lutyens at Curtis Brown) whose debut The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is out this month on Scribner, and Claire S Lewis (represented by Hayley Steed at Madeline Milburn), who published her debut novel She’s Mine with digital publisher Aria and is working on her follow-up.
Your bio on the Soho Agency website tells us you love upmarket commercial and book-club fiction in all its forms – what’s top of your wishlist at the moment?
Marina: I would especially love to find a big, emotional contemporary novel in the vein of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You (one of my favourite books of all time), Rosie Walsh’s The Man Who Didn’t Call or Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years, which I devoured very recently – it got me out of my lockdown reading slump. It is compulsive and emotional – a love story of sorts, with a twist. I am a huge upmarket love story fan in general – I adore books that provoke genuine emotional reactions and I would love to read more set in exotic, atmospheric or transporting locations, like Catherine Issac’s You Me Everything.
‘I’m always on the lookout for rom-coms – I genuinely think it’s a travesty that they don’t make them like Sweet Home Alabama anymore.’
I work closely with Sophie Kinsella, who is, in my opinion, the #1 Empress of rom-coms. I also adore Lindsey Kelk, Mhairi Macfarlane and Sophia Money-Coutts’ books – I want to laugh out loud and I love a dry and witty rapport between the main couple.
I’m also really looking to find a fresh-feeling police procedural series that appealed to a younger generation of crime-lovers – those that love Luther, The Capture, Line of Duty on TV and want to find a similar book series to get their teeth into.
Should a cover letter include more about the writer or the novel?
Marina: I think it can work both ways, depending on what you’ve written and whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. As I am mostly looking for fiction, I want to hear mostly about the novel – for me, the cover letter is where you present your novel in the most targeted, compelling and straightforward way. That said, I definitely want to know whose book I am reading, so I think it’s key to include a couple of sentences about you and why you chose to write this book, where you are based and any relevant qualifications or writing competitions you’ve won or been shortlisted for. But only if you feel it’s relevant – I am not worried about A Level results, for example, but if the book is set in a small, spooky fishing town in rural Finland and you grew up somewhere similar, I want to know!
How important is the synopsis?
Marina: An annoying answer – it is and it isn’t. I know all agents do this a bit differently, but personally I read the cover letter and sample chapters first. If I like what I read, I then look at the synopsis – so what I want from it, is to know where the story is going, who the key characters are, what happens in the end, and the full impact of any twists, including spoilers. I know this might sound a bit forensic, but it’s so helpful to have a clear and comprehensive synopsis so that I can really think about the book, the writer and what they have set out to achieve as a whole.
My advice is to not overthink the synopsis and to not overcomplicate it. I always bear in mind that authors sometimes find these tricky to write.
Is a writer more likely to impress an agent if they’ve completed a creative writing course? Are there other steps writers should take before seeking representation?
Marina: I judge each submission on the story and the writing.. I am always interested in hearing about creative writing courses, because I did one myself and I love hearing about other people’s experiences. But I’m interested in them rather than impressed by them, if that makes sense. I read all the submissions addressed to me personally; if I love a book, I love a book – it’s as simple as that. Saying you have been on a course isn’t going to have a bearing on my response.
Your YA novel The Year After You came out February 2019. How does being an author affect the way you work with your clients?
Marina: It definitely adds another element, which I consider a really positive thing. When my novel was published, I got to see the publishing industry through a debut author’s lens. I think (and I hope the authors that I work with would agree) this gives me an added sensitivity – when I say I understand how an author feels, I genuinely do! But also, when I first started working in industry, I worked in the editorial departments of two major publishing houses – a different perspective altogether!
‘Authors, reading and writing are at the heart of everything I do and have done for almost a decade. I work in this industry because I love it – I adore working at The Soho Agency, amongst so much creativity and fabulously talented clients and colleagues.’
I hope that all the work and different experiences I’ve had over the years have shaped me into an engaged and relatable champion for our clients and their work.
In light of 2020’s happenings, how are things changing in the publishing industry?
Marina: I think it’s still quite early days to judge what the impact and changes will be long-term; like other industries, it has been a complicated, unsettling time for everyone – authors, agents, publishers, booksellers, readers. But what I think we have proved is that we are adaptable – there have been some amazing digital campaigns from publishers; people are still reading; bookshops have found new and enticing ways to sell books – and we’re always looking at how to be more creative. It’s not all doom and gloom – we continue to take on new clients; deals are being done; publishers are buying books; bookshops have reopened . . . Every day looks a little brighter.
Who is the last writer you signed and what made you take them on?
Marina: Earlier this year, I took on an author called Ali Lowe. I am so excited for everyone to find out more about her debut novel, which I have just sold to a major publisher. I can’t say too much about it yet, but what I will say is that it’s Liane Moriarty/Desperate Housewives territory and, like them, it is brilliantly compulsive.
When Ali sent me her novel, it was a normal Friday morning in the office. I said to myself, I’ll just read a couple of pages then get on with the day. Hours later, I had devoured the whole book at my desk, told all of my colleagues about it and could barely sit still from excitement. It’s a difficult feeling to define, but it was as if the writing was sizzling on the page. I just knew that I had to work with her . . .