Meet the Industry: Charlie Brotherstone, A.M Heath

Charlie Brotherstone, A.M Heath
Charlie has been at A.M.Heath since 2008 and is actively building a list of fiction and non-fiction authors. He is on the lookout for strong and exciting voices, whether they be commercial or literary. He’s loved working with debut writers at the editing stage before submitting to publishers and securing publishing deals for them and hopes to represent a list of authors which reflects his somewhat disordered bookshelf. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what he’s looking for, but original storytelling will always shine out, regardless of genre, and a dollop of humour never goes amiss.When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?

I did a few stints of work experience at a literary agency whilst completing a degree in English literature in Bristol. I hesitate to say I became part of the furniture but I did paint the office and loved the working environment. I realised in a roundabout way, after completing an MSc in China, that agenting was the career for me. I’ve been at A.M. Heath since 2008, and have hugely enjoyed building a list of first time writers and working on iconic literary estates.

What sort of books do you love?

There is nothing quite like being immersed in a book, especially in an age of constant distraction. I love authors whose singularity of vision can transport me to another place or make me see the world differently. I blogged recently about what sort of books I’ve been impressed by and which authors I represent http://amheath.com/blog/killer-books/.

What’s your pet peeve on covering letters? [see here and here for our thoughts – ed]

Too many to list without sounding like a curmudgeonly pedant, but I would urge authors to consider how important it is to not make any spelling or grammatical errors in a cover letter, given that they are submitting a book.

Tell us how you like writers to submit work to you. And how you’d like them not to submit work.

Follow this and you’ll have no problems http://amheath.com/submissions

Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?

A mixture, but I have tended to work with debut authors and am a keen devotee of the slush pile. It is really rewarding to find something brilliant in submissions and work with the author all the way through to a publishing deal and beyond. 

Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?

It certainly helps, and many authors I represent have become good friends. Most of my clients have been debut writers and I’ve found that the trust built up working on a first manuscript has been a solid basis for a good long term relationship.

Do you get involved in shaping an author’s career?

Yes, and I’d be failing the author if I didn’t. The main area of friction is between the artistic integrity of the product and the commercial pressures of the market. There are lots of grey areas and a delicate balance has to be struck. It’s the agent’s responsibility to provide the support and advice an author needs to make the right decisions for their long term career. If an author were haggling over jacket design and negotiating their contracts they’d be left with no time to write.

Do you like your authors to tweet & blog & Facebook … or do you really not care?

Being active on this front can be really helpful both in connecting with readers and being supported by a community of writers. So can speaking at literary festivals. Most authors are hugely passionate about their work and it’s fantastic that there are so many ways to express that now. Robert McCrum just wrote an interesting piece on the increased interaction between writers and readers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jul/01/readers-control-new-age-of-print.

On the flip side social media can become an obsession…

If you weren’t an agent, what else would you be?

Ahem, I will be a huge rock star

Do you secretly have a book in you? And if so, tell us more …

The warts and all autobiography of said rock star, mainly focusing on the agenting years

 Charlie 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. 

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