It is with great pleasure to introduce Justine Barker, literary agent at the up and coming Mayfair Literary Agency. Justine has a keen passion for travel, children’s writing and reading, and this all emanates from her company’s dedication to cultivating bestselling, long term client careers with a focus on exceptional children’s and young adult’s fiction. So, Justine is here today to talk about her role as agent and what Mayfair Literary Agency can offer children’s authors. 😊
It was actually quite accidental that I became a literary agent. Most literary agents have a publishing or bookseller background. I have neither. I was a lawyer. A commercial lawyer then a contracts advisor, to be precise. So this a very big career change for me.
I love children’s books and writing. A few years ago, I started attending the CYA Conference and became drawn to the commercial side of publishing. The rest is history.
What do you love most about the role? What are your biggest challenges?
I love that I get to read manuscripts before anyone else. It’s so exciting to find something new and unique. I also have to read a lot of current children’s books so I know what’s on the market. Basically, I’m reading all the time. It’s awesome.
Books changed my life as a child and brought me so much joy. Hopefully, the stories that I represent will do the same for kiddies now.
By far the biggest challenge is writing rejection emails. It makes me feel like Cruella Deville. I should say to authors that getting a no doesn’t mean you are a bad writer. Most successful authors have received a lot of ‘no’s’ before they were published. Do not be disheartened. Keep writing!
What, do you believe, are the benefits for authors in acquiring an agent?
There are so many benefits to having a good agent.
• The agent tells publishers how awesome you are. Who wouldn’t want that!
• You get a second opinion on your work before it’s seen by a publisher.
• The agent has your best interests at heart. They only make money if you make money.
• The agent will try to optimise every revenue stream, which means more money for the author.
• A good agent will keep up-to-date with the constantly changing market.
• The agent takes care of negotiating the contract, which means the author has one less thing to worry about. I personally love contracts but most people seem to find contracts really boring and painful.
• The agent promotes their authors, which means more publicity for the author. Always a good thing.
I could keep going but I think that is plenty to think about.
What is Mayfair Literary Agency looking for in terms of writers?
I am looking for people who are easy to work with and have a passion for writing. I’m interested in people who are planning on a career as an author as opposed to writing for a hobby.
I do prefer to know the authors I represent. In fact, I’m much more likely to represent someone that I’ve met in person. I’ll be at the SCBWI conference and the CYA Conference in 2019, if you want to say hello.
How much guidance do you offer in manuscript editing / restructuring?
As much as needed. I’m only taking on a few authors so I can give them each time and attention.
How do you go about submitting to Mayfair Literary Agency?
1. Unpublished authors
I really wanted my literary agency to be a bit different from the others. Most literary agencies only want submissions when your manuscript is complete and polished. I felt like that wasn’t the best process for new authors.
Say an author writes a whole manuscript, then sends it to an agent but only receives a generic rejection letter. The author has no idea what they have done wrong. The answer could be a number of different things, e.g. the quality of writing, the storyline, the agent’s taste, the market, etc. But it can be really difficult for the poor author who just has no idea why they are getting rejected.
So I came up with ‘The Pitch’ process. It’s a new, innovative pre-submission option for aspiring unpublished authors. You have the opportunity to email Mayfair Literary Agency with your pitch at any stage during writing your manuscript. And we’ll give you feedback.
2. Published authors
If you are a published author, you can just submit directly via our submissions process.
What are your top tips for writers wanting to be represented by an agent like yourself?
• Approach agents first, before submitting to publishers
• Find a gap in the market
• Read lots of current children’s books
• Be professional and polite
• Follow the submission guidelines
On the Mayfair Literary Agency website, there is a page titled ‘What we are looking for.’ It’s worth a read if you are considering submitting:
What are your personal favourite books? Why?
My list of favourite Australian books is literally a page long, so this is my non-Australian favourite books list:
Caraval – the plot and writing was so riveting that I read it in one night.
The Selection – dystopian meets the bachelor. It’s just so unique.
The Fault in Our Stars – because it’s beautiful.
Percy Jackson – the writing is so, so, so funny, with a fascinating plot.
Dork Diaries – it reminds me of me.
Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja – it actually has a very sweet message and it’s funny.
Timmy Failure – good, stupid fun.
The Maisy series – my kids love these books.
Guess How Much I Love You – heartstrings.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be – double heartstrings.
Spot – a classic. So fun.
Muddypaws and the Birthday Surprise – the illustrations are amazing.
Hug by Jez Alborough – it’s just a really special story.
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Justine! 😊