This week Write On! interviews book agent Charlotte Colwill from The Bravo Blue Agency.
My name is Charlotte Colwill and I have been a bookseller for the last ten years, most recently as a buyer and head of department at Foyles on Charing Cross Road. Over the years I have worked at Blackwells, Daunt Books, Readings (in Australia), Slightly Foxed and Dulwich Books.
Since 2018, I have been working with Kevin Conroy Scott at Tibor Jones to set up The Bravo Blue Agency, which works in association with Tibor Jones. In September last year, our first client Bill Swiggs’ historical adventure novel Blood In The Dust was sold to Bonnier Zaffre with world rights, after winning the 2018 Wilbur and Niso Smith Unpublished Manuscript Prize. It was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in July, sold one thousand copies in the first three weeks, and by Bonnier Zaffre in the UK in September 2019. Having returned from maternity leave, I recently concluded a deal with Bloomsbury for my client Megan Vickers, whose book Stronger is a guide to post-natal physical recovery and will be published in May 2021.
WO: What genres or areas of writing do you specialise in?
CC: I was a general bookseller for years and so my tastes are very broad and I’m at the beginning of my agenting career, so I’m open-minded. The ability to tell a good story and the writing are more important to me than the genre. My personal loves are popular history, imaginative middle-grade children’s fiction and quirky adult fiction.
WO: What would a typical workday entail?
CC: Lots of emails and lots of reading! I try to split my day between looking after current clients (whether that is getting their submission ready, or checking on how their book is progressing at the publishers) and hunting out new ones. I also spend a lot of time on Zoom at the moment, connecting with editors and finding out what they’re looking for. Networking is important in this gig and with the pandemic, one has to be a lot more pro-active about it.
WO: Where does the majority of your work come from? Do you do anything else alongside your work as an agent?
CC: I certainly do, it doesn’t pay the bills at the start! I work for another agent, Kevin Conroy Scott, and support him with contracts, royalties and author care and I also work for a children’s packaging studio which produces a range of children’s fiction for a UK publisher. Until recently, I worked at Foyles Bookshop too!
WO: What inspired you to become an agent?
CC: I always wanted to be an agent, though I loved being a bookseller too. I wanted to be at the forefront of the book industry, being with writers from the very beginning and really shaping what gets to be published and read.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Hope’. It’s such a simple word but the feeling behind it can inspire greatness, lift people out of difficult times and act as a beacon for good things to come. How do you give the writers you work with hope to keep them inspired and motivated, even when the news isn’t great?
CC: I try to be as honest and realistic with them as possible about the strengths and weaknesses of their work and the vagaries of the market, reminding them how unbelievably subjective and commercially-minded this business is. There are so many examples of brilliant writers who have suffered countless rejections from publishers. The most recent Booker Prize winner was turned down by 20 of them! I hope that my own encouragement and belief in them and their work is a comfort when things get tough.
WO: What is the most frequent problem you see amongst submissions, and what one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
AN: My advice would be to be specific and not general in your pitch. Harsh as it may sound, I don’t want to know what inspired you to become a writer or what books you like to read. I want to know what the unique thing about your book is, and who is going to want to read it. I’m looking for a ‘hook’ in the initial pitch that is going to want to make me sit down and give it a read and serious consideration.
Also, keep it professional – it is a professional transaction.
WO: Can you tell us what you are currently looking for?
CC: I’m looking for new historians or scientists or any writers of non-fiction who have a big idea. I’m looking for writers with a new perspective, either because of their background or their experience. I’m always looking for something quirky or funny. I’d love to find a promising new middle-grade writer (though please no unicorns!). If it’s well written and a great story – I’ll consider it!
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
CC: I think I’ve made my feelings about unicorns perfectly clear but Behemoth, the demonic cat from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master And Margarita is one of my favourite characters in all literature. He’s terribly strange and urbane. Perhaps not me exactly, but something to aim for.
My advice would be to be specific and not general in your pitch. Harsh as it may sound, I don’t want to know what inspired you to become a writer or what books you like to read. I want to know what the unique thing about your book is, and who is going to want to read it.