Literary Agent: Clare Coombes of Liverpool Literary Agency

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Clare Coombes

Lucy O’Callaghan

Liverpool literary agent, Clare Coombes, is a finalist in the Agent of the Year category for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) annual Industry Awards for 2022. The awards celebrate the hard work and talent of any person, group or organisation who has championed the broad genre of romantic fiction in a positive way.

To be shortlisted for this year’s Romantic Novelists Association Award of agent of the year has delighted Clare Coombes who set up the Liverpool Literary Agency in 2020. The award nominations come from the RNA membership and recognise those who support the genre and the association.

I interviewed Clare on Zoom and her enthusiasm for the agency and her client list shone through.  She told me that after more than 15 years’ experience of writing and editing professionally, including two novels, and a background in PR and marketing, she considered becoming a pre-agent – someone who prepares writers to be ready for the publishing industry. But, Caroline Corcoran, a psychological thriller writer, convinced her to go the whole hog and be an agent. Clare told me that she decided to set up the Liverpool Literary Agency to help address inequality and underrepresentation in the publishing industry. The report, Common People: Breaking the Class Ceiling in UK Publishing, was really significant for Clare as she felt there was something official there backing all the things she’d felt as a northern writer. Publishers weren’t represented in the north; everything was in and around London. ‘It’s been great to see the likes of Hachette and Harper North establish regional offices in recent times.’

When she announced the start up of her agency in The Bookseller, she was overwhelmed by the support she received from publishers and even agents who offered to mentor her. ‘It’s been a very liberal and welcoming place.’ Having never had the experience of an internship, Clare very much feels like she has been learning on the job, an apprenticeship of sorts. That, alongside her own experience as an author, has given her an in-depth knowledge of the publishing industry.

She told me that one of her first book deals was a romantic comedy called Stone Broke Heiress by Danielle Owen-Jones. It was the first rom-com to be set in Toxteth, Liverpool. Romantic fiction has been her main preference since she read Marian Keyes years ago. ‘Marian Keyes made me realise that you can write characters with an accent and embody the setting into your novel. This encouraged me to represent authors who do this. Not every romantic novel has to be set in London.’

Clare said ‘It was brilliant that this year, for the first time, there was a focus on romantic fiction from The Bookseller.’ She believes that romance is having its biggest boom since 50 Shades of Grey. ‘What I’ve always liked in romance is that you can go quite dark and in-depth with issues and that it can also have a healing side to it too. That’s the sort of thing I look for. I also love seeing strong women in romantic fiction and different depictions of older women.’

Clare is also championing diverse voices that are emerging in this genre. She loves a story that does something a bit different. ‘Don’t be afraid to do things differently and write what you want.’ She wants to ‘see more LGBTQ stories on the shelves in bookshops. Everyone needs the chance to be represented in fiction. Readers want to read about people like them.’

I asked Clare what advice she would give to writers submitting and at the top of her list is a great elevator pitch. ‘Sum up what it is that stands out about your story in a line or two.’ Don’t sweat about the synopsis, keep it simple and just bullet plot points. ‘Don’t make it elaborate or do anything fancy with it.’ In the querying letter, Clare likes a blurb and she advises comparing yourself to other authors but say why, is it the theme, a style of writing, or characterisation? Her biggest tip for what to avoid doing when submitting is sending a manuscript in too early. ‘A book will need several drafts and rewrites before it’s ready. Make it as good as it can be.’

When I asked her about forthcoming trends, Clare told me that romantasy (romance with fantasy) is emerging as a favourite of the moment in the industry, as are stories of any genre set in a workplace setting.

The RNA award ceremony is being held on the 11th of November and we wish Clare the very best in her category.

Clare is currently closed to submissions but you can keep an eye out for when she opens again and find out more about the LLA here https://www.liverpool-literary.agency/.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

RNA logo

The RNA Industry Awards
Launched in 2015, the annual RNA Industry Awards is one of the UK publishing industry’s highlights and is designed to acknowledge and recognise the many professionals whose work supports and promotes the genre of romantic fiction. The award nominations come from the entire RNA membership and is our way of saying not only thank you but shining a spotlight on those considered the best in the business, enabling us to acknowledge and recognise the wide range of professionals who support our work, the genre and the association at large.

Romantic fiction is a world-wide, multi-billion dollar business of which the life force is thousands of writers and their readers. The Romantic Novelists’ Association is the UK’s largest professional body for the industry and benefits from the support, through membership and friendship, of many people including publishers, editors, agents and other industry professionals. Everyone involved in the industry fully appreciates that a book is not just the work of the author but the work of many and once a work has been produced, many more people become involved in what is a truly collaborative process.

The RNA Industry Award winners are solely decided by the membership. All members are eligible to nominate in each and every category, and nominations can be made online or via the printed form which appears as an insert in Romance Matters, the RNA magazine. The awards ceremony takes place each year at the RNA Winter Party in November.

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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