Oliver MunsonAM Heath and Co
In 2012, Oli Munson joined AM Heath from the well-established mid-size Blake Friedmann, where he had been for nine years. His list has a strong commercial emphasis, with a particular bias towards crime and thrillers. He also however has an interest in horror, steampunk and paranormal suspense.
It’s very well worth reading his entire interview on the site below, but useful nuggets include:
• All time favourite books include Donna Tartt’s Secret History, Graeme Greene’s Brighton Rock, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. (All, by the way, arguably genre novels, albeit by outstanding writers.)
• In crime writing, Oli cites some of his own authors (Mari Hannah, David Mark) as well as the “spare” writing of US-author and screenwriter, George Pelecanos and Malcolm Mackay. He also praises the way Michael Crichton pushed the thriller form to its boundaries with his string of techno-thrillers in the 1990s.
• He’s got a particular fondness for cross-genre novels – he cites his own Lauren Beukes, who writes about a time-travelling serial killer, by way of example. Another example would be his ‘steampunk’ author, Liesel Schwarz.
• As a rough guide, he wants his speculative fiction to have at least one toehold in our ordinary reality, so high space opera or homages to Tolkein aren’t right for Oli.
In non-fiction, Oli has a smallish list, but he has an interest in reportage and sports-related material. The balance of his list is, however, firmly fiction and firmly commercial – in his interview below, he reckons that 85% of his list is commercial fiction, 10% non-fiction and just 5% literary.
Do also check his peeves below: don’t write and spell poorly; don’t make stupid boasts; and keep the writing spare and your decriptions minimal.
Oli Munson joined A.M. Heath in 2012 having spent nine years at Blake Friedmann. He completed an English Literature degree at the University of Edinburgh and has an MA in Publishing Studies from City University. He has given talks to various writers' groups, City University, and UCL and has been a speaker at the London Book Fair. Oli is a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow and commitee member of the Association of Authors' Agents.
I'm interested in a variety of commercial fiction and non-fiction writers with a special interest in crime, thrillers and high concept novels. As founder (with fellow agent, Euan Thorneycroft) of the AMH crime prize, he has a particular interestin in that area.
Obviously before I'm an agent, I'm a reader and here are just a few of the books I loved reading: THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tart BRIGHTON ROCK by Graham Greene GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro
Little things like spelling mistakes, poor punctuation, etc is a definite turn off. The old adage of first impressions lasting is definitely true when you receive 20+ submissions a day.
Read Oli's Crime themed Q&A with us here...
Q. What books/authors do you love in crime and thrillers? Give us some examples and say why you liked these books/authors.
Nobody pushed the definition of thriller to its boundaries quite like Michael Crichton, particularly his ‘90s books like RISING SUN and of course JURRASIC PARK. Gripping, clever, with great twists too.
In terms of crime I love the spare style of authors like George Pelecanos , Malcolm Mackay or my own Sam Hawken. They keep it short and punchy which allows the action to flow. The trick is doing that while still creating fully fleshed-out, real characters.
Dennis Lehane and Gillian Flynn of course aren’t stylistically spare but they write incredibly human characters. The reader always has a vested interest in their outcome.
Q. Why did you launch the Criminal Lines contest? What would you really love it to achieve?
Easy question: to discover new, original voices writing in the crime and thriller genre and launch them to super-stardom! Long term, we want A.M.Heath to be the first port of call for any crime and thriller writer.
Q. What are the most exciting frontiers in crime & thriller fiction at the moment? What themes / approaches really appeal?
I love cross genre books which have an easy buy-in. For example Lauren Beukes wrote THE SHINING GIRLS which was about a time travelling serial killer. There’s a million ways you could write that but what keeps it firmly in the thriller category is the fact that Lauren doesn’t get into quantum physics about why this guy can travel through time. The reader just has to accept this is fact and go along with it. It’s a subtle thing to do because the second an author tells a reader “Suspend your disbelief and don’t think about the fact that I’m not explaining time travel” that’s all they’re going to be thinking about.
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
So many commercial novels take place on a grand scale, I quite like my literary books to be painted on a smaller canvas. I read Jim Crace’s HARVEST over Christmas and thought it was a perfect study of a changing time, suffused both with melancholy and a deep foreboding.
Same goes for John Darnielle’s WOLF WITH WHITE VAN which Granta published last year. It’s unsettling but incredibly atmospheric.
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
I’m a big horror fan but again, I’m looking for books which are thriller/horror hybrids so on the whole a pure ghost story wouldn’t be right for me.
I gave an interview for the Tor Blog which explains a bit more about what interests me on that front: http://torbooks.co.uk/2015/01/26/sff-literary-agent/
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
Memoir, sports writing, investigative journalism, some quirky humour, fact based books (That’s the slant)
Q. And are there any areas of zero interest to you in non-fiction? What would you NOT want to see?
Heavy political biographies and serious historical aren’t my kind of thing
Q. What (very roughly) is the balance of your list between literary fiction / commercial fiction / non-fiction?
85% commercial fiction
5% literary fiction
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
A fast-paced thriller with a killer hook and compelling characters.
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
Poor spelling, grammar are obvious turn-offs. Ludicrous ambitions and boasts also not good. “I really think this would make a great movie” is also about as convincing as “my mother has read and thinks it’s good”
Q. What’s the best premise of a novel you’ve seen recently?
Q. What are your biggest peeves in an opening page or opening chapter?
Too much description is an immediate turn-off. I hate it when people feel the need to use every adjective in the dictionary. Less is more.
Q. Why is crime fiction cool?
Because it holds a mirror up to society and shows us our flaws in an entertaining rather than preachy manner.
Q. Do you have any unpredictable loves?
I love unpredictability but I don’t think I have one weird stand-out craving
Q. Would you take on an author who had self-published? What kind of self-pub sales would make you sit up?
Sure, if the writing is good enough. 50,000 plus is very impressive.
Q. What single piece of advice would you most want to give writers?
Don’t forget your duty to the reader.
Q. How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?
Loads and probably one or two.
Q. Do you look for social media and online presence? Do you care?
I don’t really care but once you know someone is on there, obviously you’ll check them out. So if people do have an online presence, keep it professional. Or have one presence for work and another for your social life.
Q. When people are pitching the concept for a book to you, what do you find is the most common failing?
Having no real idea what the book is about or who it’s aimed at
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