The very first post in our Agent Showcase series comes from John Baker, Junior Agent at the stellar Bell Lomax Moreton Agency. Now in its 21st year, Bell Lomax Moreton represents an incredible roster of authors and illustrators, including Oliver Jeffers, Rabina Khan, Black Girls Book Club, Rose Blake, Daisy Upton and Mr Bingo.
Thank you for taking the time to chat to us, John!
To start, can you tell us a bit about the agency you work for, and your role within it?
I work for the very fantastic Bell Lomax Moreton Agency, which is a small but mighty literary agency which now has agents covering nearly every branch of trade publishing. The agency is 21 years old this year, and we are very proud of everything we have accomplished in that time.
Regarding my role, I was very recently promoted to Junior Agent, after nearly two years as an Agency Assistant, which I am incredibly excited about because it makes me sound very grown-up and important. I’ve been representing clients for a while now, alongside my role supporting the other agents, but now I’ve been tasked with picking up the tempo on my list growth, which is going to be brilliant fun.
Ah, huge congratulations on your promotion! That is extremely exciting - as is being able to grow your list - I can't wait to see who you bring onto the Bell Lomax Moreton books! So, what sorts of manuscripts are you looking for in particular?
At the moment, I am staying focused on my small but growing Science Fiction and Fantasy list, in the adult and YA space.
I have quite broad tastes inside of that, but I am developing a real taste for a reclaimed/reimagined folklore style fantasy or horror, especially from a less-represented voice. Also, I know humour is hard, but I would love to read a lightly comic fantasy, Pratchett or Kings of the Wyld style, where the story comes first and the jokes second. Also, I’ve yet to sign an epic or heroic fantasy, so I’ve got my eye out for some.
Horror wise, I love something high concept with a kind of creeping dread – go as weird and wonderful as you like, as long as your writing takes me with you. I just read Mexican Gothic, which was gorgeous, so any diverse reimagining of classic stylings, sign me up! Also, I would be keen to read something which could be broadly categorised as supernatural suspense, like the completely wonderful Pine.
And as for Science Fiction, I love my pop-corn space opera, the more ambitious the better, and my Firefly grieving heart would love a rollicking space-western (without the casual 90s racism). Speculative thrillers are a lot of fun too, or a high-concept mystery like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle or even paranormal police procedural. Give me a classic genre novel with a Sci-Fi twist, I’ve yet to read a Sci-fi court-room drama, Grisham with necromancy, (actually, that could be fun, somebody write that and send me it).
For my YA tastes in the SFF space, I value originality and diversity in plot and character more than anything. I know the SFF YA market is already being excellently served with the secret destiny, swoony-romance adventure, I’ve read and loved those books too, but the YA I’m looking for has to be something more subversive or boundary pushing, whilst still keeping inside the YA rules, (so watch those wordcounts). Or something issues driven but with an uncanny twist.
Oof, I can't wait for all of these things to crowd into your inbox! But before they do, what can an author do to endear their submission to you?
Don’t be ashamed of pop-culture references. I watch as much TV as you do and if you can comp your book better with a film-meets-a-TV-show (that I will definitely have seen), then tell me. I’m going on submission very soon with a wonderful book that the author described as End of the F*cking World meets Midsommar which was a brilliant pair of comps and I instantly knew what the book was going to be and loved it.
I'm totally with you on that. The telly comps can be such a quick and easy indicator of what a book is. And is there anything that an author definitely shouldn’t do when they submit their manuscript to you?
I never respond well to a rambling cover letter, with reems of extraneous information. All it needs is a strong hook indicating you know where your book would sit in the market, a short blurb and any relevant information about you as an author that you think I would want to know. There is so much time for us to get to know one another if I like your work, so keep the letter brief and let your writing do the convincing.
That market knowledge, and having an idea of where a book could realistically be positioned within the market, is absolutely essential for any author when pitching their book – and I think sometimes folks don't know or realise that. So, what are some of the benefits of having an agent?
Publishing is a complicated industry; it is important to have an agent who can help you understand what is going on and can keep an eye on your best interests. Also, if we send you out on submission, we are saying with our chest that we believe you are a writer deserving of publication, and publishers value our opinion, which gets you further through the door at least.
Is there one piece of advice you would give to someone hoping to get an agent?
Do your research, and make sure to tailor your cover letter to the agent you are submitting to. It’s easy to spot a copy and paste job, and there’s nothing that makes me warm to an author quicker than them demonstrating why they would love me to be their agent.
John Baker on Twitter.
Bell Lomax Moreton Agency on Twitter.
Bell Lomax Moreton Agency website.