Madeleine MilburnMadeleine Milburn Literary TV and Film Agency
Madeleine has built a voice-driven list across all genres She has a particular passion for reading-club fiction or books that 'make you think', anything from suspense, thrillers and crime to contemporary women's, high concept and literary.
Like most agents, Madeleine is on the lookout for a manuscript that hits all the sellable aspects of a given genre while having a certain uniqueness that sets it apart. Many of Madeleine's clients have been first-time published writers, as well as previously self-published, that she has helped find bestselling success.
She loves so many, varied genres it's hard to narrow down what would be best to send her way. According to the tips on her agency's website, Madeleine usually can tell whether something will 'grab' her from the pitch in the covering letter, so make it strong! She loves a great hook that would look at home on the back of a bestseller. Be concise, clear, and snappy. Try to get your voice and the unique angle of your book through in that ever-important cover letter.
The Madeleine Milburn Agency receives around 80 submissions per day. While they do read every submission they receive, do ensure you follow their submission guidelines on the website.
Madeleine is a Literary Agent and the Director of Madeleine Milburn Ltd. She formed the agency at the beginning of 2012 and it has quickly become one of the top literary agencies in the UK. Madeleine represents a wide range of authors writing literary and bestsellling fiction including crime and thrillers, psychological suspense, literary, upmarket women’s fiction, comedy, science-fiction, high-concept and crossover fiction. She represents authors based all around the world and has a reputation for launching writing careers internationally.
Madeleine has a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of St Andrews and started her career at a small independent publisher based in Berlin. She then established herself in foreign rights at the oldest Literary Agency in the UK. She later became the Head of Rights and Deputy MD of Children’s Books at the most commercial agency in the UK, handling the rights to three No.1 bestselling authors, and building a strong list of authors.
Here are some of my personal favourites!
APPLE TREE YARD by Louise Doughty, HE SAID SHE SAID by Erin Kelly, THE FACT OF A BODY by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, THE CHILD IN TIME by Ian McEwan, ONE DAY by David Nicholls, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hosseini, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE by Maggie O'Farrell, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout, THE WOODS by Harlan Coben, ONE SHOT by Lee Child, INTO THE DARKEST CORNER by Elizabeth Haynes, THE LIKENESS by Tana French, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS by John Boyne, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, GOOD ME BAD ME by Ali Land, BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty, SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn, ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes, STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
I'd love to represent an epic literary novel. I recently devoured A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara and THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH by Richard Flanagan.
Pitch your book in your cover letter / email rather than your synopsis! When writing this introductory letter, imagine you are talking to the literary agent in person about your book. Summarise your story in one line that will make people want to read it immediately. Tell me why you would like me to be your agent. Keep your synopsis under a page in length - this is good practice to make it as concise as possible and as interesting as possible.
An Interview with Madeleine Milburn
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.
I love contemporary fiction with big talking points for instance HE SAID, SHE SAID by Erin Kelly which had completely unexpected twists and kept me thinking long after I'd finished reading!
I love books I can relate to, for instance David Nicholls is one of my favourite authors. I love his conversational voice in ONE DAY and how he manages to get to the heart of a relationship, exploring how people think and what makes them tick.
I always love a good tearjerker – for instance Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. I like books that enable me to really empathise with the characters. John Green is another author who had me sobbing into my pillow!
I read a lot of popular commercial fiction including books by Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Clare Makintosh, Tana French, Liane Moriarty, Matt Haig and so on – basically the books that are working in today’s market.
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and The Goldfinch (though I think the latter could have had a tighter edit!) I love everything written by Maggie O’Farrell, Elizabeth Strout and Ian McEwan (the audio edition of The Child in Time is truly fabulous), and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of my favourite books. I love books that have a strong talking point; that leave you desperate to discuss with and recommend to other people. Recently, I've been completely engrossed in A Little Life and The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
We are looking for serious memoirs and quirky narrative nonfiction.
Q. What (very roughly) is the balance of your list between literary fiction / commercial fiction / non-fiction?
I represent upmarket and accessible literary fiction: high concept, strong hooks, epic stories with huge international appeal – beautifully written, but still accessible. I'd like more books like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief, The Kite Runner, Life of Pi and The Time Traveler’s Wife. I'm also really looking for strong crime in the vein of Tana French, Erin Kelly or Susie Steiner.
I'm keen on finding more literary, prize winning fiction, like my favourite reads this year: A little Life and The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
I am actively seeking upmarket adult fiction that has a strong talking point and is suitable for book club discussion. Also a strong crime / thriller and, as always, contemporary fiction that combines a fresh voice with memorable characters. But I’m always open to anything!
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
When the focus is on the writer rather than the book that is being submitted. I am interested in people, but because of the sheer volume of submissions I receive, I want to get straight to the point and read the pitch first. If I love the opening chapters I’ll request the rest and will then want to know everything about the writer behind it!
Q. What are your biggest peeves in an opening page or opening chapter? And what do you love to see?
I’m a bit of an impatient reader because I read SO many submissions (and this is often done in snatched moments between meetings, on the train – all outside of typical working hours), so I just love to be gripped instantly by a voice or by a character. I don’t want a single excuse to put down a book when I start reading. Sounds brutal, but the industry is so competitive that something needs to be truly excellent to make a splash in the pond.
Q. Would you take on an author who had self-published? What kind of self-pub sales would make you sit up?
Yes definitely, I represent a number of previously self-published authors for instance Mel Sherratt, Leah Mercer and Janet MacLeod Trotter. We sold Russian rights in a book by Janet and it has sold 150,000 copies over there! I handle international and Film & TV rights for self-published authors but also strive to take self-published works to new levels in the UK & US, thereby reaching a much wider audience.
Q. What single piece of advice would you most want to give writers?
Read other books that are working in your area. First you need to prove that there is a market for your book and second, that your book is different and better. A big ask, I know. But by reading books that have been a huge success, you can see what publishers are looking for and it will really help you position your work.
Q. How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?
I get between 30 and 60 submissions a day. So we’re looking, at the very least, at 10,950 submissions in a year. I might take on ten new writers a year, but I have no set limit. Some months I don’t find anything, but then I might spot a couple of exciting manuscripts in one week!
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
No, not to start with. This is something I discuss with my clients in the run up to publication when we need to create a buzz and pave the way for a wide-reaching launch.
Q. When people are pitching the concept for a book to you, what do you find is the most common failing?
Not being specific enough or not having a hook that immediately wants to make you discuss the story with the person next to you. As the best tool in publicity for books is word of mouth, it’s the books that really have a strong talking point that travel the most widely.
Q: Which 3 famous people (alive or deceased) would you invite to a dinner party and why?
I think it would have to be the people who really inspired me to start my own literary agency:
Steve Jobs with his mesmerising commencement speech at Stanford University saying ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do….’ Watch the rest here: http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_jobs_how_to_live_before_you_die
Jordan Belfort because he's a salesman! Being a great agent is about finding the talent but it’s also about pitching and doing the best deals possible with publishers and film companies all over the world. I am a very tough negotiator for my clients because I really care about each and every one of them and I believe that the higher the investment publishers make from the outset, the more commitment they have and the better the publishing.
Oh, and Oscar Wilde for his wit and wisdom…. ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
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