Monday, May 20, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Gemma Cooper

Gemma Cooper represents authors who write for children, from 5+ to young adult. Here she is in her own words:

Before joining The Bent Agency, I worked as a literary agent at Bright Literary Agency, representing a wide range of authors and author/illustrators, from picture books to YA. As an agent, I get to be the first fan of an unpublished book and then champion this book - nothing beats being able to talk up your passions to other book fanatics.

Originally from London, I started my publishing career while living in NYC for three years. I have since moved back to the UK, and I work with UK and US authors.

My client list is typified by character lead stories, with voice being the biggest thing I look for. I love younger fiction, and have a soft spot for funny books aimed at 7+ with series potential. With MG, I'd love to see a good mystery, but really any MG with strong voice will get my attention whatever the subject matter. For YA, I'm a sucker for boy POV, a good contemporary romance or thriller. Author/illustrators writing MG or chapter books would get my immediate attention!

And now Gemma Cooper faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I’ll cheat a little and give you my top three MG books, because this is almost an impossible question if you are including adult, YA, 7+ and picture books!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – I adore this book so much; the voice, the mystery, the setting, the characters, the...everything!

Once by Morris Gleitzman – I use the opening of this book in a ‘voice and engaging writing’ workshop I run as I think it’s one of the best examples of a character jumping out of a book, sitting down next to you and telling you his story. The sequel Then is still a book I can’t even talk about it without crying.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo – Another choice based on an authentic voice and the fact I love a soppy dog story.

And I’ll cheat again to say I recently read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and absolutely adored it. I want to give it time to see if it’s got the re-readability of the above, but I’m pretty sure it will end up on future favourite lists. Makes my heart sing just thinking about it.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Hot Fuzz
Groundhog Day

Red Dwarf
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client? 

A great writer, of course! But also someone who is fun to work with and who I can connect with on a personal level. I talk to my clients a lot – via Skype, phone, long rambling emails – and I want to get on with them on more levels that just the writing. I also want people who are responsive, hardworking and social media-savvy – and not in the sense of being a whiz on Twitter or writing a great blog, but being savvy enough to know what they can and can’t discuss online. I can’t watch everything that goes online and I need to trust my clients to make sound judgments about what they talk about.

I’m blessed with a great bunch of clients who all fall into the ideal client category – they cheer for each other, they’ve formed their own little network and they’re all respectful of my time. I’m actually running a client retreat in June, so any new clients must be up for fun!

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I have just signed up a fantastic author/illustrator with a MG project - it’s hard to find great fiction writers who also illustrate, so this was a massive coup for me. But I always want more! I’m the biggest Wimpy Kid fan, and I’d go crazy if something similar turned up in my submissions. Also, I’m known for my love of funny chapter books or younger MG series. I represent My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, and I want to find something equally as funny with that super hook. There is a lot to be said for writers who can write a genuine nine-year-old voice. For MG, send me ALL of it – anything and everything. For YA, I prefer contemporary romance or thrillers with a strong voice. I will also look at dark and gritty YA.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love being able to champion a book I’m passionate about. You know what it’s like: you finish an amazing book and want to run out and tell everyone about it. Well, I get to do that all the time! How lucky am I?!
My least favourite thing is looking at my to-do list and reading pile and realising there is never enough time to read all the things. I could take a month off and still not read everything I want to.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

The pace of publishing is odd. It can be very slow, then suddenly lots of things happen, and then it slows down again, and then...etc. Don’t think about publishing time as your typical cause-and-effect; think of it more as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey...stuff, (three points for getting that reference). If you expect publishing to be in its own weird timezone, then you won’t be as surprised when it goes through stages of being crazy-manic and then deathly quiet. Be patient and go with it.

My other big bit of advice is make friends with other writers. The best writers have great critique partners. It’s hard to edit your own work, and a great CP will see things that you are just too close to see. Also, it’s great practice editing other people’s books, as you’ll learn tools to help edit your own work.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I’ll finish as I started by cheating a little with one living and one dead writer.

I’d love to have met Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my comfort books. I read it a bunch of times as a teen, and now I have the audiobook, which I listen to if I’m struggling to sleep or if I need to get out of my head for a time. I also think his Dirk Gently novels are fantastic. It would have been great to sit down and have a natter with him about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

I always struggle when people ask for my favourite author, as it’s hard to pick, but the author I’ve read the most of is Robert Rankin – I must be up to 22 of his books now. They are a total mix of comic fantasy, sci-fi, the occult and urban legends, always with running gags, recurring characters and set in Brentford. They are also comfortable reading as you know what to expect...but you also don’t if that makes sense.The biographies at the front of Rankin’s books are fictional, so I’d love to actual find out something real about him and where his bonkers ideas and humour come from. I mean, you have to want to have a drink with anyone who came up with the book title The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse! (Which is an excellent book, FYI.)


  1. Just ordered a copy of ONCE based on this interview--sounds interesting!

  2. Great interview! Ooh and I'm all over these chocolate bunnies! :)


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