#FoW17. Meet the Literary Agents: Carrie Plitt, Felicity Bryan Agency

Carrie Plitt is one of the agents appearing at this year’s Festival of Writing. Each year we invite important industry players who are hungry for new talent and who look after some of the best authors in the business.

Before joining Felicity Bryan as an agent in 2016, Carrie worked for five years at Conville & Walsh Literary Agency. She loves well-written non-fiction by authors who are passionate – perhaps even bordering on obsessive – about a topic. She’s drawn to unique and diverse voices, atmospheric settings, coming-of-age stories and books that capture the zeitgeist. She also hosts a monthly books radio show called Literary Friction.

When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?
When I graduated from university with an English degree, I knew I wanted to work in publishing (this was partially through a lack of other viable options, and at the time I thought there were only editors sitting at big desks). After some internships, I knew a lot more, and was lucky enough to land a job as the Rights Assistant at Penguin Books. However, I quickly realised that agenting was the job that really appealed – I love the idea of spotting talent, and working closely with writers throughout their careers as an editor, advisor and champion. I was hired as Jo Unwin’s assistant at Conville & Walsh, and I worked my way up from there.

What sort of books do you love?
I’m a bit of an omnivore when it comes to books, and I represent both fiction and non-fiction, but there are a couple of things I’ve noticed that I tend to be drawn to in novels: literary writing, coming-of-age stories, a strong sense of place, books that engage with the zeitgeist, family dramas and strong female characters.

Of the authors who are not on your list, who would you most love to represent?
I am a bonafide Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie fan – I love everything she writes, even if it’s not perfect, and I would love to represent her. I just finished reading the debut Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and I think she is a genuine literary talent. There are so many others: Nina Stibbe, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Marilynne Robinson, Eimear McBride…

Are you most drawn to beautiful writing? Or a wonderful plot? Or a stunning premise? Or what?
First and foremost I am drawn to beautiful writing. But if a book doesn’t make me want to keep reading (and this doesn’t have to be because of a conventional plot) then I’m not interested.

Tell us how you like writers to submit work to you. And how you’d like them not to submit work.
Do follow the guidelines on our website – we ask for a covering letter, synopsis and the first 3-4 chapters by email or post. Don’t send me the full manuscript with no covering letter, or a very short ‘sample’. Also, don’t send me toast (this has really happened). It won’t make me more likely to take you on.

Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?
I don’t know about ‘chemistry’ but I think getting along with my authors is essential – and that’s just as true for authors as it is for agents. You need to trust your agent, and be comfortable with the idea of them giving you both good and bad news. That’s why I always like to meet authors before taking them on, or talk to them extensively on the phone if that’s not possible.

Have you enjoyed reading more since becoming an agent? Or are there times it feels like a chore?
Honestly: sometimes work reading feels like a chore. A lot of the submissions we get in our inboxes are boring or just plain bad. But then I read something really good, and I’m reminded of why I do this job in the first place. I still read for pleasure all the time, and it remains one of the joys of my life – right now I am reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion before bed.

Do you like your authors to tweet & blog & Facebook … or do you really not care?
Twitter, Facebook, social media can be a useful tool. It will help you engage with a community of writers and – if nothing else – keeps you abreast of what is happening in the publishing world. But if you really hate it, or if you are just going to tweet once a month about what sandwich you ate that day, then it’s not worth it! Twitter is a huge source of distraction in my life, so sometimes I think it might be best if we all avoided it.

Agent: Carrie Plitt, Felicity Bryan Agency
Carrie’s list covers popular science, nature writing, big ideas, history, travel, sport, health, women, art and music. On the fiction side: she represents literary and book club titles.
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