With their emphasis on editorial feedback and ongoing career management, they have become a popular agency for writers.
In 2004, Elinor joined the oldest literary agency in the world, A P Watt. Three years later, she was promoted to Associate Agent and began building her own list of authors. For the next five years she assembled an impressive roster of clients working in Literary and Commercial Fiction, Picture Books, Middle Grade, YA, and Non-Fiction.
She joined Rochelle Stevens & Co in January 2013 as their sole book agent and handled all of the publishing contracts for the agency.
In 2015, she switched to the Diamond Kahn & Woods Literary Agency where she has continued to build her client roster.
Elinor is also on Twitter, so do click the follow button at the end of this interview.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of being the sole book agent at an agency?
There were two main advantages, for me, as an agent building my list. The first was that excitement of starting something new; excitement is always infectious and builds a lot of goodwill.
I also had a free reign to take on any kind of author or book that I feel I could sell. If I had been working with another book agent there might be some encouragement for me to focus on areas they didn't cover, and as an agent with quite a diverse list (fiction, non-fiction and children's books) it was important to me that I could keep the clients I had, and also be unrestricted in taking on new clients.
I don't really feel there were any disadvantages. Editors know me already, from my previous job, and in my experience they react to the books you send them and the relationship you build with them, above all else. I am well connected to other book agents, through ex-colleagues and friends I've made over the past 9 years of my career. Agents are usually quite independent beasts, so I don't feel there is a big difference.
How difficult is it for a literary agent to discover the next generation of writing talent when so many agents are jostling for the attention of the same writers through open submissions and conferences?
I suppose writers are more 'discoverable' than ever, online, through writing courses and so on. It doesn't always feel easy, but the challenge is part of the appeal, for me. Who doesn't like a treasure hunt?
Competition with other agents is an inevitability I am very happy to accept. While I know some authors will choose another agent over me, it hasn't happened so often for me to ever worry about it! I want authors to have good representation and find the right agent for them, so I always encourage writers to make multiple submissions. I don't like exclusivity in any part of the submissions process and I am happy for authors who do have a chance to meet a few agents and decide who is the best fit for them.
What would be your five main reasons for rejecting an unsolicited query?
Poor quality of writing is at the top of my list, followed by a plot that sounds bad - though I realise 'bad' is a vague term! It could seem boring or derivative, but really this covers anything that doesn't make me want to read it. And I know this doesn't help at all, but my personal taste does come in to that decision.
The next three are harder to choose! For children's books, I see submissions which claim an age range which is not matched by the book. Either the author states it's aimed at 14 year olds but the subject matter is much younger, or they say it's for 7 year olds but the language is too difficult for that age. That's a problem which may correctable, depending on the case, but at its worst, makes me doubt how much knowledge of children and children's books the author has.
Ignoring submissions guidelines won't help, though I don't judge authors too harshly on that if they get everything else right, and depending on how far they deviate from what we ask for. I need to see a synopsis – I'm unlikely to read chapters without one. If you don't attach at least one chapter, I may think your email and synopsis sound good, but the bar is raised slightly higher for me to email an author back, to ask to see more. Chapters which are not chronological and are not the first of the book are not useful for me. Group emails are off-putting, as is not bothering to address the email to me. Some people pay lip-service to the idea of personalising their emails without actually doing it e.g."I want to be represented by you because I've looked at your client list and admire many of your authors" - which is of course applicable to any agent. If you're serious about your writing, show me that by taking your time over the submission.
I'm going to sneak sexism in at number five – this doesn't happen often but I don't want to work with an author whose characters are very much gender stereotypes and I have rejected submissions for this reason before.
Does time restrict you from personalised rejections? Or do you make an effort to add some insight in the response?
It does. I have to prioritise what I need to do for my clients, over this. I do add insight when I feel it's appropriate – with near misses, people I have asked to send me more of the book (having read the first three chapters) and if I think there is something clear and simple they can do to improve their book. It isn't always appropriate for me to give feedback though; if it's a kind of book I don't represent, and therefore don't know as much about, for example, or if a decision to reject a book has been very clearly a matter of taste.
How many times does a book you represent and love have to be rejected by publishers before you suggested a revision to the author? How would you handle an author reluctant to change?
Sometimes feedback on a book can be quite unanimous in that editors all make similar suggestions for what could be changed, so then it is worth considering further revision to take that in to account. I make that decision more on the basis of feedback than on the number of rejections. Some editors will even suggest that they would like to see a revised version, though that isn't all that common – when that does happen I explain that to my client and we discuss how we feel about the changes they are suggesting, before agreeing on what to do next. If I felt the author had good reason not to make those changes I would support them in that, and I have yet to encounter an author who didn't want to make changes that I thought would improve the book. Authors tend to have learnt to take criticism and edit, and to recognise good advice, before they get to this stage.
What author from history would you love to have represented? And why?
This has been a fun one to think about! I know you just ask for one author, but it's hard not to turn that in to a list. I would love to have represented Lord Byron – you don't get too many authors with that sort of appeal, these days, though I don't actually represent poets, so maybe that's cheating. Also Dr Seuss, who I think needs no explanation. And maybe Tolstoy too, why not.
What is your current wish list? And how should writers contact you? Do you accept queries from those living outside of the UK?
Literary fiction, above all else. A really good, serious novel. But (bearing Tolstoy in mind) serious does not mean without a sense of humour, it does not mean no love stories, it does not mean that the opening scene can't be someone waking up on a sofa, having cheated on their wife. Ideally, I'd like the author to be British, but it might be someone who feels influenced by American novelists; I'm a huge fan of American literature. The novel could possibly tackle some facet of today's society and this could be quite personal, or on a much wider scale. With the risk of repeating myself, I do love love stories – and never seem to get sent any. I'd be interested to see a good rom com as much as a literary novel on love/sex/relationships.
Our submission guidelines are on our website. I accept queries from abroad, but I can only work with authors who have English as their first language (or one of, if they are truly bilingual) and are writing in English; I don't accept submissions of anything that has been translated in to English.