Creative writing



Crème de la Crime

An interview with
Zoe Sharp

An interview with
Darley Anderson

An interview with
Jeff Kleinman

New York literary agent







Darley Anderson, literary agent






"A lot of aspiring writers have potential, but the

real question is

how many of them have that extra something,
such as Harry Potter
creator J K Rowling."

- Darley Anderson











An interview with

Darley Anderson


With best selling authors such as Lee Child, Martina Cole, John Connolly, Leslie Pearse, Sheila Quigley and Alex Barclay on the books, you can understand why Darley Anderson Literary Agency is a prime target for aspiring novelists worldwide. Founded in 1988, the agency has a reputation for discovering new talent and turning that talent into big-time money. Always on the look out for new authors, Darley takes a little time out from his gruelling schedule of book launches, publishing pitches and literary lunches to talk about the business of taking care of business.


The Darley Anderson Literary Agency

Hello, Darley. Firstly can you tell me in one sentence how you would describe the Darley Anderson Literary Agency?

Yes. We’re very focussed, very successful, 100% commercial, friendly and—unlike some agencies—not literary snobs. Our slogan is: Our authors mean business. The publishing world is constantly changing and adapting.


Changes in the publishing world

Can you tell us something about what you feel has been the high points and the low points over the past twenty years or so?

Well, there have been several key moments—or periods—that are especially significant.

Firstly, publishing started to change in the 1980s when independent owner/publishers (such as William Heinemann and Secker & Warburg) became divisions of the conglomerates. I was in the business before this happened, and it’s like BC and AD. Today, most young people in the publishing industry have no knowledge or understanding of the “pre-conglomerate” days. But what has happened is that the individuality of the independent owners has gone. Modern publishing and personalities are almost a contradiction in terms.

We’re in a much more corporate age. That was the major change. Then there was the abolition of the net book agreement; i.e. the retail price agreement. That occurred back in mid-1990s and has led inexorably to the increasing dominance of the large retailer over the publisher. Increasingly, the retailers call the shots, and publishers have been sucked into this new order.

And it’s very profitable for the shops because the publishers take all the risk and pay for everything. They vie constantly for sales slots and shelf space—which, for example, is around £25,000 for a WHSmith Book of the Week promotion. I don’t see that changing.

On the other hand, the marketing of books has become much better. It’s unquestionably more professional and dynamic, and the retailers have played a positive part in this. So it’s not all bad.


Submitting manuscripts

It’s said that everyone has at least one novel in them. With that in mind, what percentage of manuscripts received at your agency have, in your opinion, any realistic prospect of seeing a printing press outside of a vanity publishing house?

Well, we get approximately 1200 proposals a month, which is more than most agencies. If you take 1200 and multiply that by 12, you end up with 14,400 submissions. I personally might take on just 2 writers a year. The agency at large might take on around 5. And of the two I accept, the big question is; Are they going to be around and successful in 10 years?

When I take on a writer, it isn’t simply because I like them and their work. I have to take a 10 year view. I’m interested in their long term careers. A lot of aspiring writers have potential, but the real question is how many of them have that extra something, such as Harry Potter creator J K Rowling.

There are more hopeful writers today than ever before. Many of them are simply dreamers. But there are many good writers too with a future. And there are also many agents and editors trying very hard to find that new talent. Good writing isn’t enough. You have to have a great story. If you haven’t, then readers have a huge number of alternative books out there to choose from.

First novels that get a plug on shows like Richard and Judy usually sell a lot of copies. But the R & J effect soon diminishes. Building a career where all your books are successful is much harder and takes longer.


Common writing errors

Can you tell us what is the most common mistake would-be novelists make—and, if possible, what remedies you might suggest to deal with it?

The commonest error is that when authors write a novel, they don’t give sufficient thought to the market place. They tend to finish their manuscript and send off the first draft. I understand why they do it. They’re often desperate. But they should never send off their first draft. It almost always needs reworking before sending. That’s the real difference between the amateur and professional. It’s being aware of the market that you’re writing for and structuring your story to suit—and developing the quality of the novel by writing a number of drafts.


Staying successful

Is there such a thing as literary agent “burn out”? And if so, how is it that you’re still at the top of your game after 20 years?

Well, I personally love the industry and have never felt my enthusiasm waning, so from direct experience I can’t speak of “burn out”. One of the people I take inspiration from is Manchester United football club manager, Alex Fergusson, who’s still at the top of his game after so many years. To be a successful literary agent, you must love books and doing deals. I’m interested in great story telling, and interested in authors whose books will sell a lot of copies and will give a lot of pleasure to readers. For my part, I get a good commission and the satisfaction of working with such authors to build careers. I love it.


Top literary agencies

Outside of your own agency, would you care to comment on who you feel are the top two literary agencies in the business, and why?



Talent spotting new writers

You’re often credited as being a good talent spotter. If it isn’t too cynical a question, does there come a point when an agent, or for that matter an editor or publisher, can turn almost any writer into the next big thing simply by force of reputation?

No. Absolutely not. About two and half years ago I took on Lee Weeks, a new unknown female crime novelist. I worked with her on her first manuscript, a serial-killer book set in Hong Kong entitled: The Trophy Taker. It was gripping and thrilling. A commercial page turner. I sent it out to all the major publishers, and they all turned it down flat. So much for my reputation and judgement. I had to scrabble around for a publisher for Lee, and finally got a deal with a start-up imprint – Avon, which is part of Harper Collins. The book has since been really successful and the paperback got to number 30 on the top 50 bestseller lists. And her next one The Trafficked will do even better.


Missed publishing opportunities

Are there any successful books that you’ve turned down that you now wish you hadn’t? And if so, can you recall the reason why you declined representation?

No, nothing springs to mind.


Acceptance and rejection

It’s said that literary agents sometimes decide on the merits of a novel within the first few paragraphs. Is this true with respect to your own literary antenna? Or you do occasionally, or even often, wrestle with a manuscript before committing yourself one way or the other?

You can certainly get a good clue to the worth of a novel even from the submissions letter. And sometimes you start reading a manuscript and you think “mmmm”. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the writer will sustain your interest, however. And I usually discover that pretty quickly. Other times, it takes a little longer to form a conclusion.


Formulaic novels

For better or worse, literary agents are, it seems, here to stay. But in your opinion, have agents really helped and expanded the publishing market? Or have they—by following well trodden formulas—merely helped funnel would-be original thinking authors into convenient marketing genres to the detriment of real talent?

Well, there are a great number of literary agents out there that cover the whole spectrum of the book industry which is generally profitable—except perhaps for areas such as religion, poetry and academia. Everything else is well covered, with agents who specialise in celebrity books, or popular culture, or popular fiction. The only really strict formula for publishing is in the romance category. The commercial sector, however, thinks in terms of genre, which isn’t the same as formula. When I first started, publishers were more rigid about genre than today. I think there is more flexibility for new ideas and styles and original thinking.


Getting published

Would it be kinder for a literary agent to simply tell a hopeless writer that he or she is hopeless? Or do you believe that anyone can make it to the top, or at least get on the ladder of success?

No, I don’t think everyone can get published. It’s a tough industry, and to get to the top requires a very special person. As I said, only a few have that extra something. It’s the same in any industry. Even getting published in a small way requires a lot of talent and perseverance. Most people simply don’t have either.


The influence of television

Has television influenced the way modern novels are constructed? And if so, has it been a good or bad thing? Television has had a definite influence, but I’m not sure that many book authors have understood this. Because of TV, the modern novel has to have more pace and dramatic incident. Soaps operas, for instance, seem almost to have a melodramatic incident every 30 seconds or so, whereas many modern novelists—notably British novelists—still go 20 pages without anything dramatic happening. Of course, characters still have to be deep and challenging. But pace is essential. There once was a view was that TV was going to kill books. But it hasn’t happened. TV has simply helped to change what the novel has to do as far as pace is concerned. It’s worth writers keeping this in mind.


Lee Child, Martina Cole and other successful writers

Is it true that a great story, well-told (within reasonable subjective criteria) will eventually find a publisher? Or is it instead a hard fact that there will always be wonderful manuscripts destined to rot in the bottom draw?

I feel that very good modern writers are more likely than ever to find a publisher—as long as they have perseverance. If you give up easily, your writing career will falter. Lee Child is one of my most successful writers, and from the start he worked out what would work commercially and structured his writing to take advantage of that. He’s both pacy and a story teller; the important qualities for a commercial writer. Literary agents and editors can help technically.

But story telling is everything. If I gave Martina Cole, another of my mega-selling authors, a piece of paper and a pen, she could write the outlines for 5 novels in almost as many minutes. I certainly couldn’t do that. Martina, incidentally, left school at just 14. She’s currently the number one hardback adult fiction writer in the UK. The only person who’s challenging her is Terry Pratchett.

Having said that a great story on its own is not enough to guarantee commercial success. Writers need to create great characters above all. Think James Bond, Harry Potter and all the great characters in Shakespeare and Dickens et al.


The appeal of writing novels

Given that writing novels is such hard work, and often very lonely work, what do you feel is the appeal for so many would-be authors—aside from the unlikely prospect of striking it rich?

Some people just have a need in them to write, or tell stories. It’s always been that way. Lesley Pearse, one of my very successful authors, writes big epic sagas. If you told Lesley that the publishing business is closing down, she’s certainly not going to starve. But she would find it difficult to live without writing. It’s a need. A passion. Catherine Cookson was still writing into her seventies and eighties even when she was a sick woman. She had no interest then in the money she was making, but she simply couldn’t not write. Others see writing as the way out of their dull jobs or professions. We see this a lot in submissions.


Email submissions

Writing is hard. Life is short. Postage is expensive. With this in mind, is it still reasonable that many literary agencies, such as your own, still refuse to accept email submissions? And if so, why?

You’re really asking the wrong guy here. I’m simply not very technically minded, so I’m not experienced in downloading manuscripts from emails and personally forwarding them on to our agency readers. Instead, we tend to ask for hard copy. Things might change now that a new generation of readers is coming on the market. It’s going to be increasingly part of the reading experience. But print books will continue, I’m sure of that.


Mr Edit YouTube videos


Meanwhile, here are some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you. Hope you enjoy them.

You Tube video for writers and authors


Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue




You Tube literary agent video help


Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary agent.




You Tube video - how to write fiction


Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.




You Tube video for authors and novelists


Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.





Links for writers


Preditors & Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials of literary agents and publishers. A must for any writer.


Creative Helps. Helpful resource for the creative community. Articles, links and tips.


Nick Daws' Writing Blog. Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing, both for print and online, plus a guest post for anyone who wants to make a contribution. Check it out.



Other links we like


Sump Magazine. Great motorcycling magazine.

Classic Bike Bargains. Cool T-shirts for sale



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