We are delighted to announce that our October #LWCLIVE speaker is Ben Illis of the Ben Illis Literary Agency. We caught up with Ben recently for some quick fire Q and A:
1/Please could you give us a brief biog.
I have been lucky enough to work in many guises in the publishing industry over the past almost two decades. As part of the branch management team of Books Etc, I bought kids and YA books in stores across the whole of London. I was a co-founder of Old Street Publishing. I have been both sales director and marketing director of small publishers. I have acquired, commissioned and edited; done picture research and ghost-written, all ahead of turning my hand to agenting. I am a published writer in my own right and have had the experience of working with agents both good and bad from the other (your) side of the fence.
2/What are you working on now?
I am currently negotiating a new series deal for the wonderful HL Dennis with her publisher, Hodder and am going out on first submission with my Autumn list: an eclectic mix of books for younger readers, middle grade and YA that spans selkies, spies, spooks, dragons, time travel, early suffragettes, WW2 derring do and a pinch of pagan witchery. All in a day’s work. Behind the scenes I am working with a list of new writers, helping (I hope) to shape their ideas into that perfect marriage of originality, great writing and commercial potential.
3/Very briefly, what are you looking for?
I hate this one! There are so many things I think am specifically looking for and then am blind-sided by something stunning and unexpected which blows all my sin lists out the water. Right now, I feel there is a movement in the industry towards real lives and real stories. With that in mind,m I am on the lookout for a book about emerging sexuality and especially a sensitively drawn LGBT voice. A really chilling spooky story is always great fun to sell; likewise a strong female action heroine. I’d dearly love to find the next generation of Willard Price animal-based adventures, being a jungle fan myself. I also love horror and world-building fantasy though and real sidesplittingly silly humour for the younger end of the market. Originality is key though and anything new and fresh is likely to grab my attention.
4/What book/author would you have loved to have represented?
Where do I start?! I think it would have to be Philip Pullman. I love his originality of concept and his ability to build a convincing world with myriad layers. I also know His Dark Materials was a tricky pitch in a pre-crossover world and I relish that sort of challenge. For similar reasons also Lian Hearn for the Tales of the Otori and just for being mind-blowingly ace, Neil Gaiman.
5/Which three authors would you invite round for tea and cake?
Cliff McNish, Cassandra Clare and Neil Gaiman
6/Finally, what top tip would you give to an unpublished author?
On the writing side, get into the heads of your characters and show us the world through their eyes, from their height and filtered through their life experience. On the business side, be patient, be persistent and stick to your guns.