19 September 2012

Submission tips from Curtis Brown agents

by Jack Hadley From the Agents, Writing Tips

We asked Curtis Brown literary agents for their submission tips for new writers planning to send in their books. Here is a selection of their responses:

  • Good writing is the best way to grab our attention. We are not interested in tricks, gimmicks or marketing ideas. If you write well, you will stand out.
  • We don’t take kindly to grammatical and spelling mistakes. Make sure you proofread your work before submitting it.
  • Pitch your book concisely, elegantly, punchily. Avoid too many adverbs.
  • Keep your synopsis short and to the point. We want a glimpse into your story and an idea of the plot and characters, not a five-page blow-by-blow account of each chapter and scene. That is what the novel itself is for.
  • Don’t confuse a synopsis with a blurb. A synopsis is an outline of the book’s themes and plot. A blurb is written by the publisher to attract readers to the book. A blurb will feature words like ‘exhilarating’ and ‘exquisite’. One shouldn’t find them in a synopsis.
  • Avoid disingenuous self-deprecation in a covering letter (‘I know you won’t have the time for a lowly writer like me…’). We want to work with writers who value their work and are not embarrassed to say so.
  • Show knowledge of the agent’s existing list – and spell their authors’ names correctly.
  • Avoid pitching your book as something meets something else as you might send the agent down the wrong path.
  • Your pitch/cover letter should be no longer than a page.
  • It is not wise to brag. Let the agent be the judge of the quality of the material. But do highlight in your covering letter why you think your book is distinctive and special.
  • Think carefully about who your target audience is and what books your work would sit alongside – don’t just randomly pick an author we represent in an attempt to flatter us.
  • Please don’t attempt to fashion your own book jacket cover or marketing material: a team of professionals will address that when your work is published.
  • Think about whether your book idea is suited to be a novel; it might work better as a blog or an article.
  • Only send through relevant CV information. We do not need to know about your A-level results, no matter how brilliant.
  • If you have been referred to a Curtis Brown agent by a contact at a publishing house please let us know in your letter.
  • Please do mention if you have submitted to or been in touch with one of our agents before.
  • If your work is rejected then please do not reply pointing out that we have made a mistake. Reading is subjective and there are all kinds of reasons for agents turning down proposals. Don’t be down heartened. Other agents might feel differently.
  • Target people who would be appropriate for your work rather than submitting to all agents at Curtis Brown or selecting somebody at random.
  • Do not address a submission to Mr Curtis Brown. He died some time ago. When researching who to submit to, you should have discovered that.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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