02 May 2017

Laura Marshall: How I got my literary agent

by Jack Hadley From Our Students

What can an aspiring author do to get a literary agent? Laura Marshall, who took one of our creative writing courses in 2015, explains how she managed to attract the attention of Curtis Brown agent Felicity Blunt, which led to her securing a six-figure advance from Little, Brown last year. To read this post on Laura’s personal blog, take a look here.

Before I secured agent representation, I devoured these kinds of posts like a dieter demolishing a packet of chocolate hobnobs. I couldn’t get enough of them, those fairy tales for aspiring writers: How I Found My Agent And Lived Happily Ever After. I pored over them, looking for clues, tips, rules. Of course there are no rules, and there is certainly an element of luck involved – my particular luck being that the genre I love to read and have always written in, is currently very hot. However, there are a couple of specific things that I did which contributed to me getting my agent:

  1. I took a creative writing course. The value or otherwise of these courses is always a hotly debated topic (in fact it’s a whole blog post on its own), but the Curtis Brown Creative course was life-changing for me. As well as improving my writing, it gave me (as a person who knew nothing about publishing, and nobody in it) a proper understanding of how the industry works, and also offered the opportunity to get my work seen by all the agents at Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh.
  2. I entered writing competitions. The advice I got on the CBC course was to be wary of competitions where the prize is representation by a certain agent or a publishing deal. The thinking is that this might not be the right agent or deal for you. If your book is good enough to win such a competition, you might be able to get a much better deal by approaching agents yourself. So I only entered those which promised glory (and cash prizes!). I was shortlisted for both the competitions I entered – the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and the Bath Novel Award. Because of the timing, the Lucy Cavendish prize was particularly instrumental in me getting my agent. Part of the prize for being shortlisted was a consultation with one of the judges, a leading literary agent. Armed with this, I contacted the agent who had always been top of my wishlist at Curtis Brown (who had already read and liked my first chapter, thanks to the CBC course), and asked if she would take a look at my MS. She did, liked it and agreed to represent me. It’s not that I would never have got representation without my success in the competitions, but I certainly wouldn’t have got it so quickly. I didn’t even think the book was ready to query at that stage, so wouldn’t have been sending it out as it was. By the time I was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award, I already had my agent, but the other three shortlistees didn’t; however, they now all have agent representation, as do the majority of my fellow shortlistees on the Lucy Cavendish prize. Agents really do look to these competitions for potential clients.

These two things helped me, but it doesn’t mean they are the right routes for everyone. The most important things you can do are to make sure your book is as good as you can possibly get it before querying agents, and then send it to the right agents: research them first – don’t send your sci-fi epic to an agent that specialises in very literary fiction. Read about them on their websites, google them, follow them on twitter. When it comes to query letters, I can’t improve on this wonderful, illuminating post by author and former Curtis Brown Creative student Jessie Burton – in which she and her agent deconstruct Jessie’s query letter for The Miniaturist.

One thing I have realised since being allowed through the hallowed doors of publishing is that agents are actually looking for good books all the time. I know it doesn’t feel like that from the other side, but it’s true. If your book is good, and you send it to the right agent and they think they can sell it, there is a good chance they will take you on.

Laura Marshall’s debut Friend Request will be published on July 27 (Little, Brown), you can pre-order a copy here.

To get expert help on writing your novel, join one of our courses…

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 Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Sunday 21 January).

Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Sunday 28 January).

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

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sunday 4 February).

We are also offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ online courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:

Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).

Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).

Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).


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