The Not So Secret Agent – Talking to Harry Illingworth.


Today I’m having a chat with book agent and all round nice guy Harry Illingworth about his role  and what he is looking for right now – so if you have the next great novel in your drawer and are thinking of submitting it  this may contain some hot tips for you. I’m almost tempted to try and write one myself.

Nope ok I’ll leave that up to the more creative amongst you.  Here’s what Harry had to say…


Tell us a little about the DHH Literary Agency and your specific role within it?

We are an agency connected to independent bookshop, Goldsboro Books (where I’m Marketing and Events Manager), and we represent books across all genres. With our connection to the bookselling industry, we’re in a very fortunate position to see exactly what is currently selling, but also what is coming up, so we try and put this knowledge to practice when we’re looking at taking books on. I myself am a literary agent at DHH and specialise in genre fiction. I particularly love fantasy and science fiction, but I’m a huge fan of anything high-concept and genre-bending, and am especially on the lookout for these kinds of books at the moment. Because I’m fairly new to the game, I’m actively trying to build my list of authors up at the moment so have got my eyes peeled on all submissions and I work very closely with my authors.

Out of all the books you’ve represented so far, what made them stand out for you – a tip perhaps for anyone who is thinking of submitting to you?

I think, firstly, a strong cover letter is absolutely essential. It’s your first contact with your chosen agent and you can tell a lot about what might be in the book from the strength of the accompanying cover letter. Know your own book and where it might stand in the market; who it compares to, and how best to pitch it. But that’s just the first step. Then there’s the writing. I’m drawn (like everyone else) to a strong opening, a powerful voice and I want to feel like I’m reading something fresh. And actually all the novels I’ve taken on so far have in common an underlying sense of dry, dark or witty humour. I’m also an absolute sucker for an anti-hero. A submission has to immediately grab me to draw me in and make me continue reading. Everything I’ve taken on so far has hit all of these spots.

When you are not reading submissions, which authors are you likely to pick up just for pleasure. And no you are not allowed to choose ones you look after!

Where to begin… I read so widely that it’s hard to pin me down so I’m just going to throw a long list out. Some of my favourite authors include Joe Abercrombie, Pierce Brown, Hanya Yanagihara, Emily St John Mandel, Anthony Ryan, Cormac McCarthy, Scott Lynch, Ryan Gattis, David Mitchell, Raymond Chandler and so many more. You see how varied it is. But they’re all amazing storytellers. Plus there’s so many fantastic debut authors around at the moment (and I keep a very close eye on all the debuts published) that there’s many more to be added to that list soon.

And right now? What are you looking for specifically at the moment?

I touched upon high-concept and genre-bending books, and that’s certainly something I’m eagerly on the lookout for; ambitious, concept-driven crime, and thrillers with big ideas behind them. I want to be completely compelled, and also disturbed, especially in a thriller and I love morally ambiguous characters and blurred lines. I’m always looking for epic fantasy, and I do like it dark and gritty, but not gratuitously so, and certainly not exclusively. I need to be transported straight into that world. But I definitely want books that are crossing over and mashing genres, giving a fresh take on something that may have been done before. I’ll look at YA too, but it really does have to be crossing over into adult territory so you’re barely even considering it YA at all.

So if someone out there has read the answer to the above question and gone “hey that’s MY book” how would they go about getting it in front of you?

Easy! Go on to the DHH Literary Agency website and you can find all our submission guidelines there. If you visit my page there’s some more information about me and you can send your submissions to me at We’ve got four other agents as well just waiting for you to get in touch and everyone has different interests. I always recommend following agents on twitter (I’m @harryillers) as you can really get a gauge for everything from their personality, to what they’re reading and taking on. I’d love to hear from anyone who thinks their book might tickle my fancy!

Thanks so much Harry!

So do you think you have what Harry is looking for? Here are those handy links again..

DHH Literary Agency

Harry on Twitter

Submissions Guidelines

Happy Writing!




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One Response to The Not So Secret Agent – Talking to Harry Illingworth.

  1. Geoff Hill says:

    Do you require writers to specify which category e.g. Literary, YA etc. they belong to? Surely agents themselves would be better judges… (?)

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