Literary agent interview: Laura Williams at PFD

Great to have Laura Williams here today revealing what she’s looking for in the fiction submissions she receives.

Laura is a literary agent at Peters Fraser and Dunlop and the judge for the 2017 First Chapter Competition. She is actively building a fiction list and is looking for literary fiction, edgy commercial fiction, psychological thrillers and high-concept contemporary young adult.

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

I think it has to be a combination of things – a good initial covering letter and instantly intriguing pitch, which is then followed through on with a compelling and well written opening chapters. As with all things, it’s impossible to say exactly what will grab my attention – the projects I call in are never quite what I expect! But they’re normally something a bit different, that are both pitched and written well.

Writers repeatedly hear from agents they submit to that you like it but you didn’t love it enough, how does a MS make you love it when you have requested and read the whole thing?

Again, this is such a hard question. For starters, if I’ve actually read the whole thing having called it in, that’s a good sign – there’s so much on all our reading piles that making it the whole way through a submission means that we’re invested enough in the story to want to see how it plays out. There are moments when I find I’ve read a whole manuscript in an afternoon and I haven’t noticed the time going by – when you read for a living, that’s when you know it’s something a bit special.

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

The first paragraph is crucial. I want to be instantly gripped by the character or situation introduced, and I want to have an instant sense that the author is in control of their writing, and knows how to put a sentence together. The best feeling in the world is being swept away by a first chapter and thinking, yes, I want to read more, because it doesn’t happen every day!

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

I’m mostly looking for literary fiction, as well as contemporary reading group or crossover fiction. I don’t really do anything too commercial, but you just never know – the first book I sold was a really boysy thriller that I didn’t see coming for my list at all, so never say never. I’m also building a list of some non-fiction and YA as well.

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

All time favourites: Chabon, Updike, Atwood, Patchett, Salinger, Carver, Hammett, King, Jackson. My favourite books of this year so far: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon, The Girls by Emma Cline, Moonstone by Sjon, Thin Air by Michelle Paver. Also I’ve just finished Lincoln in the Bardo, the first novel by George Saunders, which is out next year, and I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s astonishing.


Thanks for these insights into your wants for your list, Laura, and for being the judge of the 2017 competition.

So, writers of crossover, reading group, YA and literary fiction get polishing those first chapters! Then enter them here to be in with a chance of getting detailed feedback on your submission from Laura, and who knows maybe a full MS request too!