In these strange times of uncertainty, we at Greene & Heaton have been looking to the future of the book industry. While high street retailers are temporarily closing, online sales are rising, and we want to encourage writers to keep sending us their work. Readers will always want new stories, new investigations, new ways of looking at the world, and we want to help bring new projects to life. With this in mind, the agents at Greene & Heaton who are currently taking on new authors have all written a short summary of what we’re looking for at the moment, to help guide you in sending your work to the right person. Our submission guidelines can be found here.
I joined Greene & Heaton in 1995, having spent several years as a bookseller. I became managing director of the agency in 2013.
My list of authors is split pretty evenly between fiction and non-fiction – and even after 25 years what I’m looking for in new submissions is constantly evolving. Often what catches my eye is when an author seems to be re-inventing a genre. When the historical crime writer CJ Sansom joined us in 2002 with his first novel DISSOLUTION, I fell in love first with the manuscript, without a thought for how it might fit into the commercial market. At that point in time there was effectively nothing comparable in the world of crime fiction, except maybe for Ellis Peters’ Caedfael novels. CJ Sansom started a significant trend and I do now represent a number of brilliant, bestselling authors of historical crime fiction, but that does not necessarily mean that I’m on the hunt for more in the same genre – unless, of course, they’re irresistible. It’s the points of difference that speak to me, whether it’s literary or commercial, contemporary or historical – are you aware of what’s already out there, and what gives your work a clear footprint of its own? A few years ago I took on a debut crime novelist, Joseph Knox, and we now sell him all over the world. Joseph wrote to me because he was a big fan of CJ Sansom but he had spotted that I was short on contemporary crime. So are you writing something brilliant – brilliantly timely, or odd, or clever, or original, or moving — in an area where I might have room? I’d like to see more contemporary fiction, both literary and popular – in the latter category I’m still looking for an “up lit” author. And I always want to see contemporary crime novels and thrillers.
If I had to pick one ideal Lockdown-escaping novel, one novel that is ideal altogether, it would have to be ONE DAY by David Nicholls. I love it first because it subtly employs the kind of formal constraints which you might expect in a more self-consciously literary novel. It’s decked out as a simple commercial love story, but it hits emotions that many a literary novelist never gets near. It’s warm but not “comic”, unexpectedly profound but never worthy.
In terms of non-fiction, one of the biggest pleasures in my job is to be able to fall into conversations with world-class experts – in science, history, business, popular culture, anthropology, nature, architecture, and food – to discuss how best to introduce their subject to the widest possible audience, in any medium. You don’t even need a written proposal to start that conversation with me, just get in touch. Warning: the first thing I will say to you is “you need to write a proposal”, but I may give you some pointers to get you going. The tantalising thing about non-fiction is that it’s possible to write a best-seller or a prize-winner on pretty much any subject (in recent years I’ve represented books on lemons, David Bowie, violins, money, the Periodic Table, astrobiology, stonemasonry, human failure, the whole universe, the Riemann Hypothesis, suicide bombing, and the novel NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR) – it’s a matter of choosing your angle and working out how to make a page-turning story out of your material.
I joined Greene & Heaton shortly after graduating in 2015 and am now building a list of fiction and non-fiction clients.
In fiction I read across a variety of genres, though my taste tends towards the literary. Some of my more recent favourites are RESERVOIR 13 by Jon McGregor, THE IDIOT by Elif Batuman, AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART by Elaine Castillo and anything by Sarah Moss, Daisy Johnson or Carmen Maria Machado
I would love to find a book that’s both as witty and charming, and as deeply moving as Andrew Sean Greer’s LESS. I love pretty much all writing that makes me laugh, anything from John O’Farrell to Jenny Offill.
And if you can’t make me laugh it’s almost as easy to make me cry. Jessie Greengrass’s SIGHT, Max Porter’s GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS and Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE moved me profoundly at the time of reading and have stayed with me ever since.
I have a particular fondness for short and utterly immersive books such as FEVER DREAM by Samanta Schweblin, SOLAR BONES by Mike McCormack or MOTHERING SUNDAY by Graham Swift. However, Paul Auster’s 4321 and Richard Powers’s THE OVERSTORY are favourites too so don’t be put off sending me something hefty.
In non-fiction I am looking for stories of unusual lives told in an original way. I haven’t stopped thinking about Tara Westover’s EDUCATED, Jean Hannah Edelstein’s THIS REALLY ISN’T ABOUT YOU or Emilie Pine’s NOTES TO SELF. I studied languages at university so I’m always keen to find books about the spoken word, and more particularly about the way it relates to the way we experience the world. Equally if your book can teach me about something brand new, that’s brilliant too. I consider myself an expert on both heart surgery and economics having read and loved FRAGILE LIVES and FREAKONOMICS.
Quarantine reads: I started my self-isolation with Michael Frayn’s A VERY PRIVATE LIFE, an eerily prescient fairy tale first published in 1968, about a dystopian world in which half the inhabitants live entirely within their homes, and a young girl who escapes to experience what’s outside. To cheer myself up I then picked up NOBBER by Oisín Fagan which turns out to be a story of plague-ridden 14th century Ireland. It’s pretty brilliant so far though… For something a little less on the nose, I’d recommend Lena Andersson’s ACTS OF INFIDELITY, a perfect exploration of the painful solitude of loving somebody that you cannot have.
I’ve been at Greene & Heaton since 1995 and am a director of the agency as well as an agent. I represent writers of both fiction and non-fiction and many of my authors have been shortlisted for or have won major literary prizes, including the Man Booker, the Man Booker International, the Women’s, the Wellcome Trust and the Costa Prizes.
I love reading immersive, thought-provoking, funny, heart-warming and inspiring stories – love stories, ghost stories, psychological suspense and thrilling stories, stories about journeys of discovery both outwards and inwards – I found David Abulafia’s THE BOUNDLESS SEA fascinating, but also I am a pushover for memoirs like Tara Westover’s EDUCATED and my own late, great memoirist Kate Gross’s LATE FRAGMENTS. A high concept can be fun – like Laura Barnett’s THE VERSIONS OF US, and THE NIGHT WATCH by Sarah Waters, where the narratives are told in three different ways, and backwards, respectively. I’m very fond of a story told by an unreliable narrator, whether it is Sarah’s Dr Faraday in THE LITTLE STRANGERor Sue Trinder in FINGERSMITH, or Paul Morris in Sabine Durrant’s LIE WITH ME, or Dee in MAGPIE LANE by Lucy Atkins.
I also love and am looking for stories that surprise me, that take me to places, times, situations that I have not visited before – and indeed may never experience other than through the medium of a book. I want to read writers who make me feel empathy, engagement and turn my own ways of thinking about the world inside out or upside down. The book equivalent of that brilliant “upside-down” (or is it the right way up??!!) globe sculpture outside the LSE. I love beautifully written and researched and evoked historical fiction, like S.G. MacLean’s Seeker series (the latest book in the series, THE BEAR PIT, is out in paperback and ebook) set during the English interregnum in the 17th century, another period of great turbulence and uncertainty; or Ian McGuire’s THE NORTH WATER, about a murderer and the man who will bring him to justice aboard a 19th century whaling ship – but who is the predator and whom the prey? I love novels of ideas like Temi Oh’s science fiction DO YOU DREAM OF TERRA-TWO? and Ben Wood’s THE ECLIPTIC. And, like Elizabeth Bennet, I dearly love a laugh and Anne Youngson’s new novel, to be published later this year, about three women who become friends when they meet via a runaway dog and a narrow boat, gives me that and many other narrative pleasures – it also made me cry (and yes, I do dearly love a blub too…), as did her very moving first novel, MEET ME AT THE MUSEUM. All these stories move nimbly between and in and out of genres – and they appeal to a very wide range of readers as a result – something that is very important to me. I want to represent writers who want to communicate with the greatest possible number of readers, and writing that helps us connect with each other, learn, laugh and cry and also gives us a sense of wonder. That’s a lot to ask, but the best writing can do that…
And of course the writing in the stories I want to represent should always be the best it can be – it should be remarkable – always the right words, tone and style, used in the right way to enhance and define the telling of the story. Perhaps it will be writing that is lush and baroque and dazzles like the stars in the unpolluted London skies in our coronavirus times; or perhaps it will be writing that is limpid, pared down and restrained – and very powerful because of that clarity and restraint. Whatever works best for the story.
Some of the writers and books I’ve enjoyed most over the last year are TO CALAIS, IN ORDINARY TIME by James Meek; THE FRIENDby Sigrid Nunez; THE SALT PATH by Raynor Winn; THE HEAVENS by Sandra Newman; TOMBLAND by C.J. Sansom; SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid; THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper; and Francesca Wade’s SQUARE HAUNTING.
And here are some recommendations for quarantine reading:
And as well as wanting to receive submissions in all the areas I mention above, I’d love to hear from a writer who is working on a brilliantly insightful account of living under our lockdown conditions and the psychological and emotional and cultural and political changes we are all experiencing – perhaps in the vein of the wonderful Mass Observation diaries of the Second World War (Simon Garfield’s two volumes of extracts from these diaries are wonderful and would also make very good quarantine reading).
See my bio for the constant wishes, and as the Rights Director for the agency, I’m always working across the agency’s entire list to sell our books internationally. Beyond this, I represent narrative non-fiction on behalf of some international clients and work with a few aspiring novelists. At the moment think we could all use some more laughter and love, so would love to read a contemporary (but maybe pre-pandemic) love story that’s a little bit cool. You know, with characters you actually want to be friends with, ladies with agency, something that pulls at your heartstrings and has you laughing out loud or cringing in disbelief, and just gives joy – see Kate Davies’s IN AT THE DEEP END, an updated SEX AND THE CITY, or Nora Ephron meets Nick Hornby. I also fear for James Lee Burke’s age, so fiendishly plotted, layered, atmospheric crime novels never go out of style. And our world is in flux and in need of some serious reconsideration on so many issues (environment, social responsibility, equality, accountability), so if you have some research, insights, dare I say solutions?!, then let’s hear them!
Lockdown Reads: Thank you Hilary Mantel for writing a novel, THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT, so long and beautiful that it might take me into the post-lockdown world. If you haven’t read WOLF HALL, start there and if the Tudors turn you off, go to EIGHT MONTHS ON GHAZZAH STREET. I also have Don Winslow’s finale to his cartel trilogy, THE BORDER (after THE POWER OF THE DOG and THE CARTEL), lurking in the wings so who needs Narcos when you have these three thrillers out there?!? Lindsay Hilsum’s book on war correspondent Marie Colvin, IN EXTREMIS, is absolutely amazing and an inspiration to us all to bear witness.
I’ve been at Greene & Heaton since the summer of 2018, and before that I was an agent at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, starting there in 2012. My list of authors is quite broad across fiction and non-fiction, and I’m looking for new writers in a whole range of genres.
I love working on literary fiction, of all different kinds. I’m always on the lookout for big sweeping tragic love stories, or a really meditative novel about modern life. I’d love to find more in the upmarket/reading group space for commercial fiction – either something funny or moving, or a bit of both! I’m a huge fan of Emma Jane Unsworth, who brilliantly combines the grittiness and complexity of city living with real warmth and humour. Rainbow Rowell is also a favourite – her books are the kind that stay with you forever, and her characters become friends. On the other hand, I also love dark stories – my literary heroes include Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Raymond Chandler – and I’m always looking for something sinister or creepy. That includes gothic, ghost stories and horror, as well as domestic noir or psychological thrillers. I recently enjoyed TRUE STORY by Kate Reed Petty, and I’d love to find something fresh and original that has a real capacity to frighten the reader!
I also love historical fiction, and in particular I’m always looking to find the right project set during World War II. Ned Beauman’s THE TELEPORTATION ACCIDENT is one of my favourite books, and feel like nothing I’ve read before or since. I studied Classics at university, and I love modern takes on classical stories, like the brilliant SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeleine Miller.
I also have a small list of young adult and middle grade fiction, which I love working on. I’m looking for something that feels current and contemporary, either with a real conversation at its core. I’m not currently looking for fantasy, or anything younger than middle grade.
On the non-fiction side, I love working on memoirs of extraordinary people, or narrative non-fiction about something the author feels passionately about. I’ve worked on several books about mental health, and I’m interested in untold stories across popular science, history and popular culture. I’d also really like to find a brilliant true crime book. Cookery, wellness and lifestyle aren’t quite right for me.
Three recommended lockdown reads: WEATHER by Jenny Offill will make you feel less alone in these strange times. I’m currently reading CATCH 22, which was my favourite book as a teenager but I haven’t reread in years. One of my favourite comfort reads is THE BEST OF EVERYTHING by Rona Jaffe, which will transport you to a Mad Men-esque publishing world in 1960s New York.