Sophie Lambert is a literary agent at Conville & Walsh Literary Agency in London.
Founded in 2000 by Clare Conville and Patrick Walsh, the Conville & Walsh Literary Agency have become one of the leading UK based agencies.
Representing a host of best-selling and award-winning authors, the agency also has a reputation for nurturing the careers of new writers and continues to accept unsolicited submissions.
In early 2013 the Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency bought a 50% stake in Conville & Walsh and now the two agencies share offices and resources in the West End of London. But they very much operate as two separate literary agencies and will continue to do so.
After graduating from university, which included a year's study in Aachen, Germany, Sophie Lambert became a bookseller and buyer for Blackwells in London.
She later spent three years in New York working for the literary agency Janklow & Nesbit Associates.
Returning to London, Sophie became the Foyles buyer for Selfridges.
In 2009 she joined Tibor Jones as an Associate Agent and in 2011 was named a director of the company.
Deciding the time was right to focus more on the careers of authors, Sophie moved to Conville & Walsh Literary Agency in 2013 bringing her roster of award-winning authors with her. A year later she was acknowledged by The Bookseller in their prestigious Rising Star list.
Sophie is always seeking new writing talent to add to her client list and is also on Twitter. So do follow her for submission updates by clicking the link at the end of this interview.
Have your studies in German given you any advantages in your networking or deal-making at the Frankfurt Book Fair? Do you believe additional languages can be beneficial to a literary agent?
I did study English and German Literature at university and I spent a year living in Aachen, but the truth is that - sadly perhaps - almost all interactions I have at the Frankfurt Book Fair are in English. Given that the fair is the biggest and most significant of its kind in the world, English has become the default language at the fair for most business interactions. Of course Germans tend to speak excellent English too, which means that my now rusty German is barely used. All of that said, I continue to have an interest in Germany and have recently sold a wonderful debut novel that is partly set in the GDR and evokes a very strong sense of place and time. I suspect that having fluency in other languages is more beneficial to editors than it is to agents. As a British or American editor then it may be that you are able to pick up some fantastic gems that have been overlooked. Fiction in translation, while small in terms of the overall market in the UK, is - I think - of increasing interest and can do brilliantly as successes by authors such as Herman Koch, Jonas Jonasson and Gerbrand Bakker have proved.
When you worked as a director at a former agency, what lessons did you learn that have benefited your career as a literary agent?
I was a director at Tibor Jones & Associates. It was a fantastic experience being part of a small and vibrant team and being able to embrace and respond to certain things far more swiftly simply because there were fewer people to have to convinced, work and compromise with. I learnt a lot about the business and when you can't rely on perennial bestsellers by brand authors, you sometimes turn to novel and exciting ways to discover new talent such as setting up the Pageturner Prize as I did. Despite the invaluable experience of working as a director for a small company, I am now dedicated to spending my time doing what I love most which is working closely with the authors I represent and nurturing new authors.
What comparisons and contrasts have you noticed between working for a US literary agency in New York and a UK one in London?
I worked as an assistant at Janklow & Nesbit in New York and it was there that I learnt what being a literary agent entailed. I was fortunate to have learnt from some legendary agents there. Broadly speaking, literary agents - whether in the UK or the US - are looking for the same thing: stories that demand to be read and dazzling writing. Beyond obvious preferences that are relevant to their respective marketplaces, I don't think that the way in which UK and US agents do business is very different. Agencies vary in the same way that all companies vary and that is largely down to the people - we all operate differently regardless of where we come from. I suppose the most significant difference between the UK and the US is the sheer size of the market - the US is five times the size and a bestseller there means a different thing in terms of numbers than it would do in the UK. Some American bestsellers fail to resonate with a British audience and vice-versa.
Conville & Walsh have become a sister agency of the Curtis Brown Group. What exactly does this entail? Would the two agencies share submissions if they believed the tastes of their colleagues would be a better fit?
Curtis Brown took a 50% stake in Conville and Walsh. We have since moved into the Curtis Brown offices on Haymarket and we are lucky enough to be able to have access to their far larger back office systems as well as their film and TV department. While we retain a distinct identity, we each take the opportunity to discuss projects with the other and to simply take advantage of having more than double the number of book agents experience and expertise. In terms of submissions, we each operate slightly differently - as any agency differs from the next - but we certainly do share submissions if we feel as though a specific agent at the sister company might be a better fit for a project.
Has a publisher or yourself ever instigated a non-fiction project for one of your clients? Or does the book proposal always come from the author?
Where nonfiction is concerned, projects are sometimes instigated by an editor or an agent. I have had experience with both. I have approached writers when I think a particular subject has an urgency or when I have read something that has left me hungry for more and felt as though that sentiment would be shared. Editors tend to approach authors for the same reason. It can work brilliantly, but a writer has to feel equally passionate about the subject otherwise it can fall flat and be a frustration for all.
How does a literary agent gauge that a writer is capable of delivering a well written non-fiction book when they only have to prepare a book proposal and sample chapters to secure representation?
Approximately half of the authors I represent are writing nonfiction. While most of these books are sold to publishers on the basis of a proposal, they are usually extensive proposals (around 20,000 words) and almost always include completed chapters so I would expect these samples to show off the scope and style of the finished book. I work very closely with all authors to ensure that the submitted work is of the highest standard and shows off their ability as much as possible. It's then down to an editor to show faith that they believe in the author's ability to complete the book to the same standard. I have the same expectations in terms of the quality of the writing when it comes to nonfiction as I do with fiction.
Do you write rejections with the intention of encouraging the writer to resubmit to you and not another agent once they have completed their rewrite? How has your experience of rejecting writers changed over the years?
When it comes to writing rejection letters the short answer is that they vary so much and there is no way to generalise reasons for turning down a manuscript. If I feel drawn to something yet not confident enough that it will deliver to offer representation I provide what I hope to be constructive thoughts and offer to read future drafts of a book. I think that the more experienced you are as an agent, the more you trust your instinct. If you don't feel strongly enough about a project then the enthusiasm that you need to muster when selling the book to prospective publishers is unlikely to be sufficient either. More importantly, though, all authors deserve to be championed by an agent who is passionate.
How important is a writer's online platform or lack of publishing credits in the decision to represent them?
When it comes to making a decision about whether or not to offer an author representation, the single most significant factor is the writing. If an author has an extensive social media presence but the writing doesn't resonate then I wouldn't be any more likely to offer representation. Social media can simply be a distraction and authors can procrastinate horribly as a result of it. Having said that, there's no question that social media can help provide much needed visibility to new author.
If you could have represented one author who is no longer with us, who would you choose and why?
I'm going to be greedy and have two: J. G. Farrell because The Siege of Krishnapur is one of the best books I've ever read. It's so rare to be able to juggle such a serious subject (in this case the Indian Rebellion of the 1850's) with wit and humour. It begs to be reread. And I am going to choose Seamus Heaney because Death of a Naturalist had such a profound and lasting influence on me after I first read it at school.
What particular genres are you looking to represent and how should writers query you? And will you accept submissions from writers based outside of the UK?
The joy of being a literary agent is that I actively seek variety. I love literary fiction, reading group fiction and genre fiction. I sold my first book with monsters in it this year and I am about to submit a supernatural thriller as well as a slightly experimental, fantastically rich literary novel. Where fiction is concerned, my response is entirely personal - it needs to get under my skin. Where nonfiction is concerned, I am very interested in narrative nonfiction that offers up glimpses into other worlds, popular science and popular psychology that feels fresh and urgent, politics that seeks to be widely read, memoir and nature writing, popular culture and music. Nothing is off limits, with the exception - perhaps - of traditional history, simply because I don't read enough of it to be able to judge properly. I am happy for people to query me directly - email@example.com and I am very happy to receive submissions from outside of the UK. I represent many authors who live abroad, including in Germany, Spain, Belgium and the US.