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Eugenie Furniss: MD Of Literary Agency Furniss Lawton


Eugenie Furniss, 39, is managing director of literary agency Furniss Lawton. She lives in Notting Hill with her husband, Guy Nixon, who owns a property business, their two sons, and her two stepsons

"I have no need for an alarm clock. In a house full of boys I am the sole force for order and will be woken by their noisiness at about 7am. I’m big on breakfast so I’ll have an enormous bowl of cereal before jumping in the car to drive 25 minutes to the Furniss Lawton offices in Kew. On the way, I’ll always tune in to Radio 4 as it’s a great source of ideas for new books or new writers and I’ll keep an ear out for anyone interesting who hasn’t yet written a book.

As a literary agent, it’s my job to represent writers and sell their books to publishers both in the UK and abroad. We also look to sell rights to film and TV companies and take a standard 15% commission.

I became a literary agent after reading a day-in-the-life article about another literary agent, Cat Ledger, in Tatler. I thought, ‘sounds good’, so I wrote to every agency I could find and got work experience. Now, I represent about 30 published authors including Alexandra Schulman, Piers Morgan and women’s fiction author Tasmina Perry. With new writers I’ll help edit their material, negotiate contracts and oversee publication, marketing and publicity, guiding them throughout the whole process.

The very first thing I do when I get into the office at 9.30am is have a cup of tea (I need the caffeine). I try not to plan too many meetings in the morning because I find that’s when I’m at my best mentally, so I’ll look over contracts, make editorial notes on transcripts and write submission letters. If I’m sending out a new piece of work to publishers I’ll call them first to tell them how marvellous it is and then send them a submission letter selling the book’s merits.

We are sent three or four unsolicited submissions a day, although most deals come out of approaches I make to new authors. These manuscripts get placed in what’s called the ‘slush pile’. We probably only sign about one writer a year who comes to our attention this way but when it does happen, it’s very exciting. You get practised at reading manuscripts and I can probably discount 80% of books by reading just the first few pages – you can sense almost immediately whether someone can write and whether they can create pace and tension. I remember back when chick-lit was really booming, we got a manuscript through from a then-unknown Alexandra Potter. She went on to become a best-selling, internationally renowned author. It’s always thrilling to be the person to discover a new talent like that.

A lot of ‘lunching’ goes on in publishing. So unless my lunchtime meetings with authors or editors take place at the office, we’ll meet in Soho, somewhere like Polpo or Quo Vadis.

Back in the office my afternoon will be filled with appointments. These can be anything from taking an author to meet their publisher to discuss their next book, or to brainstorm the concept for a new novel. That, for me, is the best part of the job. I love adding value. I know what publishers want, so if an author comes to me with three new ideas, I can say which option is most marketable and help give them a steer on angles.

There’s also no better feeling than ringing up a first-time author and telling them they have a book deal. Their response is just undiluted joy; you feel like some sort of fairy godmother. Telling someone no, on the other hand, isn’t so fun, but I hope I do it gently and give as much editorial feedback as I can.

I’ll leave the office at about 5.30pm in order to get back in time to do homework with my sons and put them to bed. I make it a rule not to miss more than one dinner time a week because of work. Once the boys have been fed and are asleep I’ll go back out, often for dinner with friends locally or for drinks at The Groucho, where I’ll grab a quick hamburger before heading back at about 11pm.

I read manuscripts late into the night, although I also like to wind down with a Philippa Gregory or Rose Tremain novel before finally drifting off to sleep at about midnight."



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