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Struggling to Land a Literary Agent?

By Priyanka Joshi


The new Literary Agent course run by Curtis Brown Creative is a guide for aspiring authors to help them go about getting a literary agent. The main tutor for this course is Jonny Geller, the CEO of The Curtis Brown Group, who has twenty-eight years of experience as a literary agent. The course provides a student forum for participants to submit tasks for each module and get valuable feedback from Hannah Boursnell, an expert Editor at Curtis Brown. It also encourages a review of your coursemates’ work to provide constructive feedback. The course is divided into four modules and runs over the course of a month.


I found this course to be highly valuable, as it gave me in-depth insights into the world of agenting, specifically for authors. The informative videos, downloadable resources and tasks imparted the necessary knowledge in an interactive way. Moreover, the tasks are designed to be practical and to help an author through the process of acquiring an agent.


Module One: Demystifying the Agent's Role


The first module delves into the crucial role of literary agents, while highlighting the collaborative nature of the author-agent relationship. Jonny opens the course with a captivating story about his journey to becoming an agent at Curtis Brown and the thrill of his first deal. He then describes the numerous responsibilities and demanding workload literary agents handle on a day-to-day basis, using real-life examples from his career. He also unpacks an agent's thought process when evaluating manuscripts and the significance that rights play in it.


A particularly insightful point was the concept of the dual identity every author navigates between being the writer and being the author. Through this module, my understanding of the duties of an agent has expanded to cover the strategic thinking behind a book and the complex world of rights management beyond that.


Module Two: Creating a Debut Novel that Agents Adore


The second module provides a roadmap for crafting a debut novel that captures the attention of literary agents. Jonny unpacks the essential elements that agents seek, including a captivating story, a distinct voice and well-developed characters. He emphasises the importance of self-editing and crafting a powerful first page that hooks agents from the get-go.


Dissecting the agent's perspective on a submission, he provides a step-by-step breakdown of the editing process, from crafting a compelling opening and a satisfying ending to refining everything in between. This includes the agent's editorial role in tailoring the manuscript for the market and how agencies like Curtis Brown leverage in-house editors to offer fresh perspectives on the work. The module concludes by empowering authors with resources to find the perfect literary agent. It acknowledges the harsh reality of rejection in a saturated publishing landscape, emphasising resilience as a key factor in an author's growth. Before this module, I wasn’t aware that there was an ideal time of the year for debut novel submissions and that even notable authors’ works got rejected by their publishers.


Module Three: Crafting Your Perfect Pitch Package


The third module describes the elements of the pitch package, i.e. the opening of the book, the agent pitch letter and the synopsis. Recognising the ever-present agent workload, Jonny emphasises the ideal format for your query letter, complete with clear do’s and don'ts. He equips you with valuable tips for crafting a synopsis that avoids sounding dull and instead entices the reader to delve deeper.


Jonny then tackles the art of the elevator pitch, highlighting how it hinges on a captivating central premise or a unique structural element. Throughout these sections, he masterfully weaves in examples from popular books to solidify his point. Finally, he offers a glimpse into the agent's pitching process. Understanding Jonny's process of closing the sale with a publisher proves particularly insightful. It provides an interesting peek into how veteran agents employ subtle manoeuvring strategies to secure the right fit with different publishers, revealing a process remarkably similar to hooking an agent in the first place.


Module Four: Building a Lasting Author Career


In the final module, Jonny sheds light on how advances and royalties work, and what kind of arrangements are made for the representation of the writer and the agent commission. He talks about the fortune of having multiple publishing offers and how auctions are then conducted to choose the best, depending on the author’s priorities. Then he takes the participant through the publishing timeline, showcasing the collaborative efforts of editing, marketing and sales departments under the publisher's lead.


Beyond publication, the course explores how agents shape careers, emphasising brand building and the crucial second novel. It underscores the importance of a strong authorial identity for lasting success utilising book covers. I found it interesting to note that long-term success depends on the brand identity of the author.


By the end of the course, you'll have a deeper understanding of the agenting process, a roadmap to crafting a compelling query letter and the confidence to approach agents with a polished manuscript and a clear vision for your book.  If you're a debut author who is serious about securing representation, this course is a valuable investment for your writing career.


If you’re interested in enrolling in the Literary Agent course, you can do so here.



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