Lorella BelliLorella Belli Literary Agency
Passionate about people and books (and food), Lorella studied Languages and Literature at the University of Venice and has worked in publishing since 1996, for both publishers and literary agencies. She set up LBLA in London's Notting Hill in 2002. She represents bestselling, award-winning, self-published and debut authors worldwide (fiction, mainstream non-fiction and YA; both commercial and literary). The agency also sells UK rights on behalf of US and foreign literary agencies, and thanks to its wide international reach, very successfully sells translation and other sub-rights on behalf of publishers, authors and other literary agencies.
Lorella enjoys full-length adult fiction (from literary to genre - in particular women's fiction, historical and crime/thrillers) and general non-fiction (humour, popular music, popular science, history, business, personal finance, lifestyle, current affairs, self-help, travel, sport, women's issues, and food & wine).
She teaches a publishing seminar at the Portobello Business Centre and is an Ambassador for the Make Your Mark! campaign which aims to kick-start a more enterprising culture amongst young people in the UK.
Lorella doesn't handle fantasy and science fiction simply because they are not the kind of books she reads. She believes that an agent should love and understand what they represent. For Lorella, the most important aspect of a fiction submission is characterisation and the narrative voice. 'The characters must be original and memorable. If you look at the great literary works as well as successful commercial fiction, we still read them because of the characters. All the basic drivers of human life are still there, grief, love, desire are all still valid. Fiction should be relevant, so, particularly with historically-based work, make sure that it is topical. Authors should ask themselves why are they looking at this story, this period of history now? How does it relate or what does it say about the world today?'. Belli prefers novels with an international feel or focus to the claustrophobia of small village settings.
An Interview with Lorella Belli
Q. What books/authors do you love in commercial fiction? (Crime, women's) Give us some examples and say why you liked these books/authors.
Before I answer that, a brief note on commercial vs literary fiction as I am asked this a lot and it might help perspective authors wanting to submit to our agency. For me each book has a readership (primary and sometimes secondary, or more), and as long as the author writes something they are passionate about/enjoy which meets what readers want to read (AND buy), or will want to read if they knew it existed, then that's the real test of what works whether it's literary or commercial, and it is what I look for when I take on an author (ie. who will love and buy this book? does it work for its intended readership?). A Booker-prize winning novel is simply different from say the latest Jojo Moyes, each has its place and its readers, no point in comparing - you wouldn't go to the butcher's to buy bread or to the baker's and ask for meat, right? And you may even enjoy reading both ... I certainly do!
In commercial women's fiction, I love Emily Giffin, she has it all - she writes smart novels which deal with real life issues and dilemmas, offer an incredibly vast cast of characters, so that when you read her books you just have to root for one character or the other depending on your own experiences and taste. She was also incidentally the very first author I took on when I set up the agency back in 2002 and is now a n.1 New York Times bestselling author translated in over 25 languages, so an encouraging example for debut authors everywhere.
I must admit I love reading debuts. I've just finished reading a wonderful YA one, TROUBLE by Non Pratt - that's a good example of the kind of YA books I would love to represent. In crime, impressive debuts of recent years were CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith and Belinda Bauer's BLACKLANDS. And for me the best crime debut novel this year is SILENT SCREAM by Angela Marsons - great story, memorable and unconventional heroine, strong writing and fast pace - all this makes for a fantastic read which transcends borders - we have sold the series in several languages, despite the Black Country setting (not an obvious favourite location for novels which end up selling internationally).
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
Some of my favourite books include WUTHERING HEIGHTS (arguably the best romance ever) and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (arguable the best crime novel ever) - and they are both literary classics ... As for historicals, I'd mention THE NAME OF THE ROSE (just brilliant, and it can be read at so many levels) by Umberto Eco and the beautiful POSSESSION by AS Byatt. It seems that the publishing world is having an Elena Ferrante-worship moment, and I must agree. A book I'd have loved to represent? SMALL ISLAND by Andrea Levy. A debut I am particularly proud to represent? PP WONG's perfectly-formed first novel THE LIFE OF A BANANA - from our 'slush pile' to being shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize for Fiction 2015, with love!
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what's a big no?
Sci-fi, fantasy and horror probably not for me. Paranormal and YA dystopian has to be really exceptional these days with so much competition from bestselling series like HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT and brand-name authors - publishers have several already on their lists.
Erotic fiction: yes if the sex is part of a strong story and features a truly memorable protagonist (like the best New Adult fiction does); no, if the emphasis is on sex first and foremost, too niche.
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
I enjoy reading and representing non-fiction: for me it's the one area where you can really indulge your interests and couple them with the business side of things.
I enjoy memoirs, do some celeb autobiographies and biographies, and anything which is accessible and has a good hook in pop history, pop psychology, pop science, current affairs, sport (football, F1, athletics in particular), food, and books on/about Italy (on this note, looking forward to our Italian cookery book MAMMISSIMA by Elisabetta Minervini, which Bloomsbury are publishing in May next year); I also represent successful bloggers.
Q. Is there anything in particular you'd love to see at the moment?
I'd love to see more psychological crime and suspense, brilliant YA (real life rather than alternative reality), historicals preferably with a feisty heroine and set in times and places which have not been done to death (the brilliant things about historical novels is that they can make you travel in time and place), time slip novels, novels about other books/authors/real artists. And I love multicultural fiction and books which have international potential and appeal. My taste is broad though, so anything I love and I feel I can sell really.
Q. Would you take on an author who had self-published? What kind of self-pub sales would make you sit up?
Yes, and I have done so very successfully - whether helping them to sell sub-rights in their books or getting them deals with traditional publishers. Recent successes include Sophie Jackson's wonderful A POUND OF FLESH trilogy, originally published on Fanfic.net where it attracted over 4 million reads, which we have sold in big deals to S&S in the US, Headline in the UK, and so far in some 14 languages;
or the hugely successful indie author Kirsty Moseley, who also writes on Wattpad - we have just concluded a great six figure deal for her with a traditional publisher (deal not announced yet, so can't say more!) and will be looking a selling translation rights in it in Frankfurt this year.
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
Like it or not, social media has helped redefine the way books are discovered and promoted.
I wouldn't choose to represent a novelist based on this alone, but it does help to have an online presence and we encourage all our authors to do so, as publishers expect authors to do so much online these days. If you bear in mind that most sales of commercial fiction are digital these days, it makes sense for authors to engage with their readers online and on social media. It's up to the individual and some authors love it, others don't, but it's certainly a good way to showcase your books, allow your readers to discover the complete person behind work, to create ties with your audience and to interact directly with those who are going to buy your books (and get immediate feedback as to what might work or not).
When it comes to most non-fiction, it is actually a must I'd say. Non-fiction books are usually sold on partial text and a proposal, so the author's platform and existing reach is important, and can make a difference as to whether a book is commissioned in the first place, and even influence the level of the advance a publisher is prepared to a pay.
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