For Books’ Sake Talks To: Juliet Pickering

19th Feb 2014

For Books' Sake Talks To: Juliet Pickering
Juliet Pickering is a literary agent who represents some of For Books' Sake's favourite writers. We chatted to her about e-publishing, the slush pile and which books she is most looking forward to in 2014...

Before working her way up to the role of associate agent, Juliet Pickering began work at AP Watt combing the slush pile, and she is still extremely enthusiastic about finding new writers this way. Currently working at Blake Friedmann, Pickering says that she still reads every submission which arrives on her desk, in search of those coveted hidden gems.

“It’s one of the biggest thrills of the job!” she says. ”When I begin reading the first few pages of a submission and discover a strong idea and good writing, it sparks a bit of excitement. Then, when I’ve asked for the full manuscript (or carry on reading the full proposal) and the excitement keeps growing, it’s the best feeling.”

“If I can picture at least a couple of editors who might love what I’m reading, even at that early stage, then that’s a book to be genuinely thrilled by...” “If I can picture at least a couple of editors who might love what I’m reading, even at that early stage, then that’s a book to be genuinely thrilled by,” she adds.

Although some in the literary world seem fearful and pessimistic about the future of books in the digital age, Pickering has spoken out many times about the positive aspects of e-books and e-publishing.

Questioned on this, she says, “Using my own family and friends as a fairly questionable template, I do think that they’re all reading more and are more curious about what’s out there because they’re reading on e-readers.

Books are seemingly more accessible to them, and for people who don’t take an interest in what’s being published beyond their favourite authors, buying books for their Kindle and devices online has perhaps led them towards more choice and variety.”

She notes that for authors, e-readers offer a wealth of possibility for enhanced e-books and interactivity, and the speed at which e-books can be published compared to traditional print creates opportunities for books which are, in Pickering’s word “more urgent and experimental.”

She offers Laurie Penny’s Discordia as an example, which was written and published quickly in response to the Greek protests in 2012, and was illustrated by Molly Crabapple (an unusual choice for non-fiction of this kind.)

Pickering is a frequent tweeter herself, and many of the writers she represents are big social media users. I ask how important it is when she is considering taking on a writer that they are willing to build or maintain a social media platform.

“Social media can be a great help to authors,” she replies. “Some of my non-fiction writers use platforms such as Twitter to sound out ideas and get feedback, and social media generally can be a good support to all kinds of writers who might otherwise feel quite isolated … but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker if an author wasn’t able or willing to participate.”

I ask whether Pickering has to adjust her technique when representing men and women writers; whether she has ever found it difficult to get a book taken seriously because of the author’s gender, but her experiences of an industry often criticised for its underlying sexism seem largely positive.

“I’ve never had to broach the subject of a female author disguising their gender with initials, but then I don’t often represent authors in genres where this might be deemed more necessary,” she says, before quoting novelist Sharon Bolton (previously S J Bolton) after she recently decided to use her full name on the cover of her books; “I believe the quality of my books will speak for itself and if you, dear reader, are put off by my name then – you know what – I can do without your custom.”

When asked about which books she is most looking forward to in 2014, she names three from some of her most outspokenly feminist clients; Girls Will Be Girls from Emer O’Toole, Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things and Kerry Hudson’s second novel Thirst. If your to-read pile is ever looking a little small (as if), Pickering’s client list is probably a pretty good place to start.