Literary Agent: Ivan Mulcahy of MMB Creative

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Published | Submission Opportunities | Submission Tips
Ivan Mulcahy

Lucy O’Callaghan

Meeting Ivan Mulcahy on Zoom felt to me like I was meeting the Godfather of agents. His experience in the publishing world could be daunting. But it turns out he is the loveliest man who was so kind as to spend an hour on the first day of his holiday chatting with me. He has so much advice and wisdom to share with writers that I could have stayed chatting with him for much longer.

Many moons ago, Ivan did what many of us dream about, he left his steady, well-paid corporate job to set up a literary agency despite not having any experience or contacts in the publishing world.  He describes his radical job change into the literary world as a huge leap of faith. He had confidence but not much else! He wasn’t fazed by negotiating deals and contracts, he’d plenty of experience in that area, but he was wary of whether he had taste in books. Could he spot the potential in manuscripts? Would the books he liked sell? His business partner at the time had literary experience but not as an agent, so they were both learning together.

The agency, Mulcahy Associates, became Mulcahy Sweeney Associates when Sallyanne Sweeney became a director of the agency in 2020.  Now the agency comes under the umbrella of MMB Creative, as the book division, but its agents still see it as being boutique with the bonus of being able to crossover and work with clients who might be screenwriters or actors who are writing, and of course, the links with film and TV are there too. Ivan works alongside Sallyanne Sweeney and Edwina de Charnace.

Ivan is a diverse reader, and this is evident in this client list. He doesn’t confine himself to one or two genres but is open to all. He represents nonfiction – history, memoir, autobiography, biographies, commercial non-fiction, and his fiction list includes literary fiction, genre fiction, and commercial fiction too.

When it comes to non-fiction, Ivan loves a great subject brilliantly tackled, especially history, memoir, and self-help. Self-help books are becoming more tightly focused areas and he loves to see what people can bring to the table. With fiction, literary fiction is one of his favorite genres and he says the beauty of language gives a romantic power to those stories. But any genre that is well-written with a good story will catch his eye.

Ivan writes a SubStack blog called My Secret Agent where he shares fantastic insights into the publishing world and the role of agents, with lots of tips and advice for writers. You can subscribe to it here My Agent Secret | Ivan Mulcahy | Substack.

He is keen to tell me that being an agent isn’t an easy job. They work hard at building an author’s career and are there for both the good and bad times. They are your first readers within publishing. Routinely agents do quite a substantial editing job with an author on their book before approaching a publishing house. This is unpaid work by the agent until the book is sold which can take the best part of a year. Ivan and his colleagues at MMB stand out from other agencies in that they help authors find endorsements before sending books to publishers. It’s also worth noting that publishers can be quite conservative in their tastes. There is huge pressure on editors to perform, and trends often have to do with the way publishers think than the readers. Trends can tend to get heavily over-published and then everyone gets fed up with them.

So, what does the literary agent with over 20 years of experience look for in a submission? Ivan tells me that a writer’s work should obviously stand for itself but it’s also important to demonstrate that you understand the business. You need to read in the genre you’re writing and know where your book would sit on the bookshelf or Amazon’s website. Writers should show willingness to be involved in the process of editing and publishing too.

You are essentially trying to sell your book to the agent so you should demonstrate a self-awareness of your writing and the agency. The sales world can be vulgar, but you must grow some confidence and blow your own trumpet to a certain extent. Don’t send out submissions in the hope of getting some feedback. Make sure your manuscript is ready. Do your research on the agent you are sending to and don’t send to lots at once. Cherry pick the agents you want to submit to and only send to two or three at a time. Remember, you want someone who’s going to love your work, and who you think you can work with. This is going to be a close working relationship and someone who you’re going to need to be comfortable communicating your deepest fears with.

Demonstrating a social media presence and following may certainly help with presales. Especially for non-fiction. However, social media is a skill to hone to make it work. Ivan says you must be your authentic self. Pick a topic in your book or something that you’re interested in. Keep the content relevant and follow others who do the same. You can build a following in this way.

I asked Ivan about the current book trends, and he told me that COVID-19 caused people to move from dark to cozy stories. Escapist stories, speculative fantasy, and romantasy are very popular. He’s fascinated with the rise of BookToc and how it’s affecting the industry. It is the sharing and communal sharing of emotional moments readers might feel while reading the books that reach out to other readers. What’s interesting about BookToc, he says, is that it isn’t always newly published books that feature and that’s great as it causes a resurgence of older fiction and sales.

We started our chat by discussing the wide and eclectic range of books Ivan represents, and I ended by asking what he’s reading now, his answer illustrates his point about his range of interests. He is reading Detransition, Baby by Torres Peters (2021), and The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1760). Two very different books!

If you’d like to submit to Ivan or his colleagues at MMB Creative you can find out more here Book Submissions – MMB Creative Their submission process is very different from most agencies and the advice and guidelines given here are most useful.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

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, The Lies Beneath – to be published by Poolbeg in April 2024.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books