Friday, 1 September 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with agent Julia Silk

Welcome to my new feature, MY PUBLISHING LIFE, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


Literary Agent
(in association with MBA Literary and Script Agents)

What and when was your first job in publishing?
As an production editor  on medical journals at Chapman & Hall. I had no medical background at all but I learned a lot and got very good at diagnosing the patients on Casualty and ER before the characters themselves did!

How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I’ve been an agent for 14 months, working in association with MBA Literary and Script Agents.

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
The books I’ve sold in my first year include a pregnancy book that will empower women to advocate for their rights in pregnancy and childbirth; a brilliant dual-timeline reimagining of Wuthering Heights; and the first two titles in a heartwarming new women’s commercial fiction series by an author I’d been watching for ages and who became my first client when I made the move from publishing to agenting. I also have a client who’s writing a thriller that I’m really excited about – we’re describing it as Apple Tree Yard meets The Night Manager. She’ll be delivering her first full draft in September and I can’t wait to read the whole thing!  And I have two completely amazing literary fiction titles out on submission at the moment, about which editors are so far saying lovely things, so fingers crossed.

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
Mostly perseverance. Also learning to just go ahead and do stuff, rather than asking permission; learning to exceed my remit, to take the initiative. I’ve worked in lots of different areas of publishing – bookselling, production, editorial – as a result of which I can usually see situations from all sides, and I really enjoying finding solutions to the kind of problems that often arise from people not seeing things from all sides! And I’m very sociable, which is pretty crucial in this business, and equally interested in the detail and big picture.

How do you relax after a busy working day?
Ah yes, relaxing, I remember it well. I have two small(ish) children and by the time the oldest is in bed I don’t have a huge amount of evening left. I’m often catching up on work reading as I’m always behind on submissions but I’m also addicted to Netflix, and will often stay up too late watching my latest fixation – this week I’ve been mainlining season one of Top of the Lake so I can catch up with season two on iPlayer next week.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I’ve just been reading Lucy Caldwell’s linked short stories, Multitudes, and I’m recommending it to everyone – it exposes so much we prefer to keep hidden about ourselves. It feels almost as if she’s in your head – quite painful but also compulsively readable. Also, I finally read Renée Knight’s Disclaimer, which I thought was so clever and multi-layered, and the way she constructed the ending was masterful; a lesser author would have left off earlier, but she just kept building and building to it. It pleased me greatly. Non-work reading is just as important as reading submissions and client work – your judgement is compromised if you don’t have context.

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Reader, editor, business manager, hand-holder, catalyst.

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far?
One highlight was launching Orion’s digital crime imprint The Murder Room – it folded after three years or so, but I learnt SO much in both practical terms and about myself. But the best thing for me was probably making my first sale as an agent in a six-way auction to Penguin; I always finish that story ‘and then I woke up’.

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
Dressmaker. I love the magic of a well-cut garment, how it can change the way you feel, transform your whole day. Imagine having the skill to do that for people.

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
It would be called Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. Publishing people love to quote Samuel Beckett’s famous line, because this industry is as much about failure and rejection as it is about success – and each enhances the other.

Thanks so much for taking part, Julia!

Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. Another agent one coming up plus hopefully some editors and publicists in the future too.

  2. Love this new series idea and this is a great kick-off interview!

  3. Great idea and very helpful for those of us that are thinking of looking for an agent.