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Friday Five: Matthew Cole, Non-Fiction Agent at Northbank


Answering the #FridayFive today is Matthew Cole, Non-Fiction Agent at Northbank Talent Management.


Tell us a bit about your job?

I have recently joined Northbank Talent Management as the non-fiction literary agent. I work with clients to come up with market-leading book ideas, pitch to publishers, negotiate deals and help guide clients through the publishing process, which can be particularly bewildering for a first-time author. I look after clients’ interests with publishers and help realise the full value of their work in all territories around the world. I work across all genres of non-fiction: history, science, true crime, memoir, politics, food, and everything in between. 


What are the key ingredients for success?

Books are tens if not hundreds of thousands of words long, but the few words that make up the oneline pitch are probably the single most important thing that determines success. Once you have that, strong teamwork, creativity throughout the publishing process, and good communication between all parties are vital. 


Could you describe a normal day?

Days can be incredibly varied: negotiating contracts, discussing a new cover, working with an author on a new proposal, or submitting proposals to publishers and if there is more than one publisher interested, running auctions. You might also be approaching potential new clients, having meetings with publishers to hear what they are looking for, or to find out their publication plans are for a book that is soon to be released. You are there every step of the way with an author from the first idea through to publication and beyond. 


For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?

I took quite a circuitous route into the industry. Having first studied physics at university, I somewhat belatedly decided that I would like to work in publishing, and to help me do so I undertook a masters degree in English literature. Afterwards, I secured a first job in production at a major commercial publisher in London and after a year I hopped into editorial at the same company, eventually working my way up to senior commissioning editor. 

Editorial jobs are always very popular, and I would always recommend that people consider roles in other departments, especially when first starting out. It can give you an excellent overview of how publishing works from the inside, and the knowledge and skills gained will put you in good stead for the rest of your career. 


What are you reading, watching and listening to right now?

I am currently reading the always-excellent Jared Diamond’s Collapse, which is about how various human civilizations have succeeded in the face of adversity while others have failed, often with catastrophic results. I am catching up on Happy Valley from the beginning, which passed me by when it first came out and I am finding Adam Curtis’s Russia 1985–1999: TraumaZone grimly fascinating as it shows the conditions that led to Putin’s rise. I thought Tár was one of the best things I’ve seen at the cinema in recent memory. I am listening to whatever is on my Spotify, which varies quite a lot! 

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