04 December 2013

Candid candour: our agents’ Q&A

by Rufus Purdy From the Agents, Writing Tips

Our Six-Month Novel-Writing Course and Online Six-Month Novel-Writing Course are currently open for applications. Great, you may think. Here’s an opportunity to perfect that novel I’ve been working on and possibly follow in the footsteps of the 32 former Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing students who’ve gone on to secure book deals with major publishers.

But our courses aren’t just about honing your dialogue technique or learning more about characterisation. One of the reasons they’ve proved so successful is the literary agents from Curtis Brown and C+W are intimately involved throughout – providing invaluable tips and advice on how to make your work as successful as possible.

Students on our London-based Six-Month Novel-Writing Course not only meet the agents and some of their most successful clients during special Thursday-evening sessions, but they are also invited to submit their work to the agent teams at the end of the course. The agents then read these submissions and meet with the students at an informal drinks evening to discuss their novels face-to-face.

But what about the students on the Six-Month Online Course? As they’re scattered all over the world – the current three-month course includes students from Australia, New Zealand and Singapore – an agent meet-up just isn’t realistic. But we’ve come up with a cunning way to get around this. We get the agents of Curtis Brown and C+W to go online throughout a 12-hour period and allow the students to ask them anything they want. Here are just a few of the questions fielded in the last online Ask the Agents session:

Q: Is there any particular genre that is increasing in popularity at the moment?
Carrie Plitt, C+W:
Publishers are always looking for the next big trend, and I find it’s often hardest to sell genres that have recently been ‘hot’ but are perceived to be past their moment. This is true now, for instance, with erotic fiction and dystopian YA. That said, I really believe that if your story and writing are great, it doesn’t matter. I have no idea what the next big thing is going to be, and I don’t think anyone else does either. So write what you love.

Q: How much of your decision to represent a writer’s work is based on personal taste?
Gordon Wise, Curtis Brown:
I’ve got ‘personal professional’ taste – things I enjoy and think I can sell and that the market is looking for – and a ‘personal taste’ which comes out on holiday. If an agent in an agency thinks something is plain bad, then that will pretty much go for anyone there – we all know why we do what we do. If it’s clearly well-written and the author seems to have potential but simply not my bag or something I have the frame of reference for, then I would discuss it with a colleague.

Q: What are the main mistakes new authors make when looking for representation?
Sophie Lambert, C+W:
Common mistakes include failing to address the submission to a specific agent (most agents have biogs on the company website so there’s no excuse); including a five-page synopsis (keep it crisp and to two or three paragraphs); sending dull biographical information (I don’t need to know if you like ping-pong); submitting hand written pages; and telephoning and being pushy. I’m sure none of you would do any of these things though.

Q: How important is it that the author be marketable as well as the book?
Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown:
It depends what you mean by marketable? Good looking? No. Eloquent and engaged? Yes. Everyone loves a story behind a book – EL James self-published; JK Rowling wrote it in a café as a penniless single mother; Stieg Larsson delivered all three manuscripts and then died (not recommending that one). So we have to think about the whole package of launching a new writer.

Q: Do you Google potential new clients? Do you ever turn writers down because of a detrimental online presence?
Patrick Walsh, C+W:
A few years back, we interviewed a potential assistant for a job. We liked him at interview, then we Googled him and found a picture of him dancing on a podium at a nightclub. We hired him immediately! So it can work in your favour. But if you do have embarrassing profiles out there, I’d recommend cleaning them up – not least because if/when you’re published, people will definitely type your name into a search engine to find your books.

For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:

Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Sun 2 July).

Six-Month London-Based Novel-Writing Course with Simon Wroe (deadline for applications is Sun 25 June).

For a dedicated online course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) for people writing for young adults or children, with a top children’s author, apply for: 

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 17 Sept).

We also offer two low-cost ‘taster’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:

Starting to Write Your Novel course (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 11 September).

Write to the End of Your Novel course (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 18 September).

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