Juliet Pickering’s literary career began at Waterstones before she joined the AP Watt Literary Agency in 2003. Ten years later, she moved to Blake Friedmann, and became Vice Head of the Book Department in 2017, and later a Director in 2020. She represents a wide range of authors, including Diane Abbott MP, Sue Cook, Lucy Mangan, and Sue Moorcroft. In the past, she has judged the Bristol Short Story Prize, the Manchester Fiction Prize, and she’s also on the board of the Working Class Writers’ Festival. In addition to representing literary, bookclub, and commercial fiction, Juliet also represents authors of pop culture, social history, food and memoir.
What is it that you enjoy about being an agent?
I love the variety of each day—no two days are the same! And I relish often being the first person to read a newly written book. It’s a real privilege!
You’ve been an agent since 2003. How has the job/role changed in the last 20 years?
The nature of our meetings and networking has moved largely online, especially since 2020, and it feels as if the volume of communication from everyone we work with has increased hugely. Writers are much more savvy about publishing because so much information is available to them online, and we are (hopefully!) more accessible via social media and websites. Reading tastes have kept us guessing throughout, but it was ever thus! It does feel more costly to both publisher and reader to buy a book these days, so that’s an impact on advance levels for our authors.
You represent several memoir authors. What is it about the memoir genre that appeals to you?
I love the idea of someone telling their life story and opening up conversation, awareness, and possibility to others. I represent a lot of authors who didn’t find their own life stories in books as they were growing up—or even now—and it’s important to all of us that publishing affords space to every story that can make a difference to readers. Some of the most beautiful, clever, and inspiring writing is to be found in memoir.
What are the challenges when it comes to selling memoirs to publishers?
That there is so much memoir published already. How does your (the author’s) story stand out from the rest, and why would people want to read it? There’s a lot of competition, and publishers are often concerned by an author’s ‘platform’, i.e., do they already have a potential readership on social media or via a public profile of some kind? It’s hard to publish a memoir writer successfully if they aren’t comfortable with being publicly visible.
There are also considerations such as protecting a writer legally if they’re writing around real people and real events, especially with issues of trauma or abuse.
How easy it is to interest publishers in non-celebrity/ordinary people’s memoirs?
It’s fair to say that ‘easy’ is not the word! Memoir has to have something very special about it, and be both unique (as we all are!) and universal. I represent authors such as Kerry Hudson (LOWBORN), Natasha Carthew (UNDERCURRENT) and Kat Lister (THE ELEMENTS) and all three authors were telling deeply personal experiences but with the intention of bringing a shared experience to the readership, whether that be growing up in poverty, or dealing with trauma, loss and grief. When I submit a memoir to a publisher, I make it very clear what the author is offering to a reader that will never have heard of them previously.
What common mistakes have you seen memoir writers make in their submissions?
Making the narrative too narrow: if you focus only on your own story without pausing to include or consider the reader along the way, it’s going to be too insular to publish.
How is the memoir market changing? What sort of memoirs are publishers looking for these days?
There was a real boom in memoir a few years ago, but it started to struggle during the first couple of years of the pandemic when (understandably) many readers would turn to more escapist stories during a time that was difficult in their own lives. Memoir can be an escape and a comfort too, but readers more often went to fiction, and it’s proved trickier to publish ever since.
Juliet Pickering’s Top Tip
Consider the reader. What are you offering them when they read your story? How might you be making your book a more universal experience, or how are you adding to a conversation that should or may already exist?
Juliet is NOT open to submissions at present. However, full details of the agents at Blake Friedman who are open to submissions, along with details of how to submit, can be found on the agency website at http://blakefriedmann.co.uk/submissions