Ask an Agent - with Gemma Cooper and Molly Ker Hawn, from the Bent Agency

Are you looking for a query critique from those in the know? Or do you have a question you've always wanted to ask an agent? Each month, agents Gemma Cooper and Molly Ker Hawn from The Bent Agency will be offering just that.

This month they answer some questions sent to us by our readers.

If you've passed on a full, would you be prepared to see the manuscript again after a major revision (i.e. after receiving an editorial report)?

If I’ve given a personal response with some editorial concerns, AND you’ve gone away and done significant revisions (and by that, I don’t mean bouncing it back to me three weeks later), then I will consider another look. However, it’s worth remembering that I can only look at something for the first time once — if that makes sense.

If I decline a project after reading the full manuscript, I always make it clear in my letter if I’d be interested in seeing it again if it’s revised. If I don’t explicitly say so, it’s not a good use of your time and energy to re-query me.

Yes, it’s hard to be objective on a project you’ve already discounted — so ask yourself whether it might just be better to query me with a new project that might better suit my tastes.

Is it worth mentioning future ideas in covering letters or should you focus solely on your current project?

There’s no need. If, after I read your submission, I want to know what else you’ve got cooking, I’ll ask!

I’m not a fan of submissions loaded up with a list of other ideas, either. To me, it makes the author look unfocused, especially if they are querying a funny 7+, but also writing a heartbreaking YA romance. I just want to know about your best project and why it might be suitable for me. But if your book is the first in a series, you can put, ‘this book can standalone, but has series potential.’

I want to know about your best project and why it might be suitable for me.

Have you ever offered representation purely based on an idea and sample pages, or do you always need to see the full manuscript?

I always want to see a full manuscript, even if the pitch and opening chapters are fantastic. I need to know that your project has a solid ending.

Right, I always want to read the full manuscript before offering representation, too. I’ve contacted authors whose books I’ve loved as I was reading, saying something like ‘I’m up to chapter 10 and love this. Let me know if you have other interest. Perhaps we can set up a call?’ Both times this has resulted in offers of representation, but I did finish the books before talking to the authors!

Would errors in the covering letter put you off a manuscript even if the sample chapters were well-written?

We’ve all sent an email then had our stomach drop as we’ve notice a typo. I’m not going to hold a little mistake against you. But if your cover letter is littered with mistakes and your manuscript is very clean, I would find that a little odd.

Same here — lots of errors do give me pause, but the odd typo doesn’t bother me, no.

Have you noticed any increase in interest from publishers for graphic novels or comic books for children? My experience is that the general public are much more receptive and enthusiastic in conversation about this kind of book but are they buying and reading them?

Molly and I certainly noticed publishers at the Bologna and London Book Fairs talking more about illustrations in fiction to get boys reading – transitioning the Wimpy Kid generation into older books. Personally, I would love to see more illustrated fiction in my submissions.

Me too, and I’d love to see more UK publishers expanding their range of graphic novels, as many American publishers have.

Are there any genres that you are sick of seeing on the slush pile eg. Dystopian? And are there any genres/themes you would like to see more of?

I'd like to see more contemporary YA romance, mysteries and thrillers.

Personally I love a good dystopian world, but publishers have had their fill of them and are looking for other genres. Editors at the recent rights fairs were all talking about wanting contemporary fiction – books based in current reality. Based on what publishers are keen on right now, I’d like to see more contemporary YA romance, and more YA and 9+/11+ mysteries and thrillers – and in fact, I’d really like to see more 9+ and 11+ fiction in general. I get a great many high fantasy submissions, and I’ve admitted elsewhere to ‘fantasy fatigue’ – so a fantasy project has to be truly exceptional for me to take an interest in it.

It’s hard to just dismiss a whole genre off-hand, but I need a break from dystopian unless it’s a very different spin on the genre. I’m also wavering on sci-fi and high fantasy – I’m really into contemporary and historical at the moment. Like Molly, I’d also love to see more 9+ and 11+ especially books for boys, adventures, mysteries and weepies. Author/illustrators writing for 9+ would get immediate attention in my inbox. For YA, I’d like more thrillers that keep me turning the pages late into the night, and a contemporary romance that speaks to the teenage girl inside of me. I’d also love a 5+ series that is different enough to stand out in that busy market.

I'd love to see more 9+ and 11+ books for boys, adventures, mysteries and weepies.

If you are ready to start submitting to agents, but would like some feedback on your query from Gemma and Molly, then email your query to Submissions will be posted anonymously. Alternatively, if you have a question you would like to put to our agents, email us at the above address, or post them in the comments below. Molly and Gemma will be returning to critique your queries and answer your questions on the 5th June.

Gemma Cooper and  Molly Ker Hawn represent authors of books for children and young adults. For more information about Gemma and Molly see The Bent Agency website and blog. 


  1. This is so interesting - thank you both for your insight and honesty.

  2. This is so useful. I know it's not advisable to 'write to the market' as it's always changing, but it's great to have this sort of insight into where publishers' heads are right now and how agents have to feed into that. Great to hear you're forgiving of the odd tyop too.

  3. Alas, my YA dystopian sci-fi meets high fantasy romance The Dwagons of My Heart may be doomed to failure ;-)

    1. I dunno - how about a spoof? I'll start you off: 'The precious ring needs to be returned to the Starship Battlestar, and only martial arts expert Dogness and her starcrossed lover Peter can control the ancient Dwagon crafts, fly to the ship and kill President Sauronny. Can they succeed, while also falling in love and being filmed for 'The Only Way Is YA'

    2. Gemma, that's awesome! I'll have a manuscript for you by Thursday ;-)

    3. All this chat has made me crave a re-watch of Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest. Roll on spoof weekend!

  4. Thank you so much, Gemma and Molly! It's great to get insight from those on the inside! :)

  5. Some wonderful insights, thank you both!

  6. So no dystopian...I get that! What about paranormal romance? Is that dead too?

    1. Hi,
      Paranormal romance is a tough sell, I'm afraid. Readers still really like it, but it's hard to get publishers interested unless it offers something really different from what's already available.
      So be different!

    2. How different is really different? Warm bodies?

    3. Something unique. Warm Bodies was a fun concept and done well - but obviously we've had that now. It's impossible to say what the different thing should be (and I know this is frustrating to hear - but if I knew it, I'd have my clients writing it!) But just something that offers a new spin on an old idea, or doesn't follow the well worn path of 'normal girl falling for paranormal boy with another boy who also loves her' triangle.

      I will say write what you love and don't chase trends. If you are trying too hard to write the next big thing, it will show. Remember, writing should be fun!

  7. What are the chances of historical fiction from non-anglo histories after the success of Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys?

    1. Sorry for delay Candy! I LOVE historical fiction and you have mentioned two of my recent favourites. If it's an interesting enough time period with a great story and great voice, then I would sign a non-anglo historical as I feel I could get publisher interest. Voice is harder with historical as you want to get it authentic to the time period, but also relatable to readers. To me that is the biggest problem I see in submissions for historical, rather than the setting.

  8. 'Editors at the recent rights fairs were all talking about wanting contemporary fiction – books based in current reality.'

    I can't tell you how encouraging this is! Even though I haven't started querying yet, I've been worrying for the past few years I'd never get published because I despise all things vampire, and don't write either fantasy or dystopian. It's great to get a hint that there may be better scope for something different in the future. Thank you!


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