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Sabhbh Curran: 'A smart, engaging pitch letter will stand you in good stead to get attention'

BY Katie Smart
4th Nov 2020

Sabhbh Curran joined Curtis Brown in 2018 and currently assists Sheila Crowley. She is also building her own list of fiction and non-fiction authors.

We caught up with Sabhbh to find out more about what she enjoys reading and what she'd love to see from a debut author…

You joined Curtis Brown in 2018 as Jonathan Lloyd’s assistant after previously working with literary agents Sonia Land and Vivien Green. Now you assist Sheila Crowley and you are also building your own list across fiction and non-fiction. What drew you to work in the world of agenting?

I always loved the thought of being in environments where people were excited about books. I think agenting tempted me because the work is so eclectic – no day is the same. I did summer work experience placements while at university at various literary and talent agencies and though I was mainly sitting with the slush pile, there was a certain buzz in the idea that the next submission could be something exciting.

Though I briefly dabbled with the idea of going into editorial I was, and am, drawn to the idea of working with writers from the start of their career and developing a relationship that could span many years and a whole host of books.

That said, I really enjoy the editorial side of the job and working with authors to get their manuscripts into the best possible shape to send out to publishers!

What are some common misconceptions people have about literary agents? In reality, what does a typical day of work look like for you?

Before getting into the industry, the perception of agents I’d picked up from popular culture is that they're are unapproachable, even terrifying figures. In reality, most of the agents I’ve met and worked with have been compassionate and thoughtful individuals with a drive to sell books and work for their authors.

Another misconception is that agents only broker deals when in fact day-to-day work in a literary agency is incredibly varied: working on deals, drafting contracts, author admin, events, publicity, and reading new work.

There is no typical day, particularly in 2020! A lot of any given day is spent working on contracts and keeping on top of emails, but I always make time to read (even if it's on my Kindle in the bath in the evening).

Do you remember the book that made you fall in love with reading?

I don't think there was any one book but there were definitely stepping-stone books; I Capture the Castle, Gormenghast, The Secret History, A Little Life, Nora Webster, The Sea, The Sea. I can tell you exactly where I was when I was reading each of these books and each one reminded me of how much a brilliant novel can transport you. 

What’s been your favourite book of 2020 so far?

I think this has to be Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light. I'd spent so long looking forward to it (I’ve never pre-ordered anything so far in advance!) and it didn't let me down. From Austin Friars and the chaotic streets of London to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the court, Mantel has created one of the most immersive worlds and the sharpest psychological portraits in any fiction I’ve read.

I’m a real fan of audiobooks, particularly during lockdown, and found myself particularly lost in Hamnet and Rodham. Both books offered up thoughtful and surprising perspectives on individuals and families we all think we know.

Next on my list areMeanwhile in Dopamine City, The Vanishing Half and The Wild Silence.

What do you look for in a submission and pitch from a debut writer?

Conviction – it’s wonderful to read a submission where the author is confident and excited about what they are sending to you!

My tastes are fairly broad, but I would love to read a unique debut novel with a strong voice and beautiful writing that hooks me from the first page.

Could you share your top three tips for a writer looking to submit to agents for the first time?

Do your research it makes such a difference to read a personalised proposal and where it is clear why an author has chosen that particular agent.

Nail your pitch a smart, engaging pitch letter will stand you in good stead to get attention. It's always worth doing a final spell check too as mistakes, particularly with names (though I appreciate mine can be tricky!), can be really off-putting.

Shape your MS in the end, we're looking at your writing so make sure you're happy with your manuscript before sending it out. If you still have any lingering doubts about the plot or character progression, then it's likely that we'll feel that too.

What types for novels are currently on your wish list?

I would particularly like to find an accessible literary or book club novel that makes me want to drop everything. Fresh writing with sharply observed characters and a dark heart is likely to entice me.

I would love to find a historical novelist like Sarah Waters and some hilarious and subversive non-fiction in the vein of Priestdaddy or anything by David Sedaris.

I’m always on the look-out for authors who write about art or food, either in fiction or non-fiction.

I can be reached directly at sabhbh.curran@curtisbrown.co.uk or via @SabhbhC on Twitter.