Insights into what gets a literary agent excited about a submission

We’re delighted to welcome Rachel Mann to the blog today. Rachel is a literary agent at the Jo Unwin Literary Agency in London, and the judge of our 2023 First Chapter competition.

So if you’re polishing up your novel opening to submit this year, make sure you read what Rachel looks for when reading submissions. There’s still 12 days until the contest closes to get editing again!

Rachel, when reading the shortlisted first chapters what’s going to make a story stand out for you?

Usually the ‘voice’ – that of the narrator and / or of the protagonist, is usually the most persuasive aspect for me. It’s an immediate leap into character and point of view, and the more immersive the experience and unique the voice, the better.

When you receive a 3 chapter submission, what gets you excited enough to then ask for the full MS?

That’s a difficult one because it’s often more than one thing – usually there would need to be a compelling voice, interesting concept, and a fluency and ease at line level. But it could be something much more specific, too – a unique approach to form or language, for example.

What types of writers and novels are you looking for to build your list?

A stock literary-agent answer, I’m afraid, but I don’t know until I see it! My list is very broad, and I want work that begins a trend, rather than following one. 

When you’re reading for pleasure not work, who are your favourite authors?

Reading for pleasure is a REAL challenge in this business… but some writers I love and admire are Akwaeke Emezi, Ocean Vuong, Tove Jansson, Annie Ernaux, Toni Morrisson… I could go on!

Many thanks to Rachel for these insights. You have until 30th January to send your first chapters to be in with a chance of getting detailed feedback from Rachel on your submission package.

Enter here.