Q and A with April’s speaker, Elinor Cooper

1/Please give us a brief biog.
I grew up in Brighton, studied English & American Literature at the University of Manchester and then worked as a bookseller for Blackwell’s in Manchester, Brighton and London before joining literary agency AP Watt in 2004. Whilst there, I worked with Caradoc King and started to build my own client list. I joined Rochelle Stevens & Co in January 2013, founding a new books department to add to their roster of screenwriters and directors.  I represent authors of literary and quality commercial fiction, narrative non-fiction and books for children (from picture-books to Young Adult novels).  I also represent illustrators of children’s books and graphic novels but I am generally only open to considering illustrators who also write.
2/What are you working on at the moment?
I’m just about to give one last read through to a YA novel – it’s very exciting to have that ready to go out to editors!  I’ll then be editing a very funny, inventive, madcap middle grade book by my client Carol Walsh, and helping a writer and illustrator put the final touches to her picture book.  Next week I’m meeting another client to talk about edits to his debut novel – so quite a nice spread!
3/Who was your first and most recent client?
The first client I ever took on was someone I found on the slush pile, who hadn’t finished writing his novel at that point.  He’s a wonderfully talented writer, but sadly he still hasn’t finished that novel. I do now hesitate before taking on an author who hasn’t yet finished their book.  That only applies to fiction, as non-fiction is generally sold on a proposal, but while fiction can be sold on an incomplete manuscript it’s very rare, so I would encourage the author to finish a draft and give it a good edit before I formally sign them up.  My most recent client is Carol Walsh – see above!
4/What top tip would you give to an aspiring writer?
There is a lot of writing advice on the web – some good, some bad and some that just won’t apply to you.  If you want inspiration, camaraderie or advice, then it’s all there – and joining something like the London Writer’s Club is a good way to do that ‘in real life’ too.  But ultimately there are no rules, there is no formula.  I’d say read everything, absorb everything but don’t be afraid to discard it, too.  Trust your instincts and find out who you are as a writer; what story you want to tell, and how you want to tell it.  Ultimately, what you really need is passion, for reading and writing, and dedication to your craft.
5/What are you looking for in a submission letter?
My ideal submission letter is clearly written, above all.  I’d advise steering clear of any gimmicks, and please do avoid getting overly personal. I want to know a bit about you, the author: how old you are, what you do, where you live – just an outline, so I have a sense of who you are.  And I want to know why you’re writing to me, particularly, though I don’t expect you to write to me exclusively.  In a synopsis, I want all the major plot points and that does include the ending.  And I want authors to follow my submission guidelines.  They’re on our website and we wrote them after lots of thought about our experience of what we do need, and what is not useful, so any deviation from them is not helpful.
6/Finally, which three writers would you invite for tea?
I’m assuming I can bring people back from the dead, here!  I think PG Wodehouse and Tove Jansson would make a fun tea party…  I think I associate them both with tea, one way or another!  I’d also love to meet Jennifer Egan – her A Visit From The Goon Squad was one of my favourite books of the past few years, and I have a feeling we’d have a lot to talk about.

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