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13 May 2021

Ciara Finan: ‘Clarity, conciseness and confidence. A pitch letter shouldn’t be long and rambling…’

by Katie Smart From the Agents, Writing Tips

Ciara Finan joined Curtis Brown in 2018 and currently assists top literary agent Jonny Geller. She is also currently accepting fiction submissions.

We caught up with Ciara to find out more about what it is like working at a literary agency, what she enjoys reading and her advice for writers submitting to agents to the first time.

You joined Curtis Brown in 2018 as the Book Department intern and now you assist Jonny Geller. You also have an MA in Literature and Publishing – what first inspired you to pursue a career in publishing?

Funnily enough, I didn’t really like reading when I was a child but thankfully, I grew out of that! I spent a lot of my time reading and writing as a teenager (when I should have been studying for exams!) so a career in publishing just seemed like the obvious choice to me.

The MA was a great experience, I learnt so much and made some wonderful friends. But I don’t think it’s necessary if you want to get into publishing. When I finished the MA, I applied for about fifty or so publishing-related jobs and internships before I was lucky enough to get offered the CB internship. So my advice to anyone who feels like there is no end to applications – there is! Just keep persevering, even when it’s disheartening – eventually you’ll get your foot in the door.  

You are currently building your own list of authors. Can you name one book you’d love to have represented? And what types of novels are currently on your wish list?

Definitely The Binding by Bridget Collins. I’ve made most people I know read it at this stage! It’s just so unique and enchanting.

I’m currently on the lookout for historical fiction like Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell or myth retellings like The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I’m also a huge fantasy fan and would love to find new voices in this space. Whether it’s adult or YA, I’m eager to find novels from underrepresented writers in this genre that showcase new cultures and histories and that have me reading into the early hours! Books like The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang or The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty are great examples.

Also, I would love to find a novel that is The Secret History crossed with The Craft – if someone out there is writing something like this, please send it to me!

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

I think the biggest misconception about literary agencies is that we spend all day, every day, sitting around solely reading submissions. As much as I wish this were the case, the job also involves quite a bit of admin.

A typical day includes a lot of emails, checking contracts and payments, responding to author queries, updating social media, responding to submissions and attending meetings with various people at publishing houses.

What’s been your favourite book of 2021 so far?

It’s hard to pick only one but The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore stands out. The fever and menace of the English witch trials are brilliantly depicted in this novel. The author is also a poet, and you can tell, the writing is so lyrical and simply a joy to read. 

Who is your favourite fictional character?

This is difficult, there are so many wonderful characters I adore but I’ll always have a soft spot for Will Parry from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. He is strong-willed and very stubborn, but he is also steadfast and loyal – a great example of a true literary hero.

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

Clarity, conciseness and confidence. A pitch letter shouldn’t be long and rambling. In three paragraphs talk about the premise of your book, who you are and why you think the agent you’re submitting to will be the right person to represent your work.

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers about to submit to agents for the first time?

Before submitting your work, make sure you’re 100% happy with it. You don’t want to have any doubts or hesitations once you press ‘send’.

Research the agents you want to submit to and spend time thinking about who would be the perfect fit for your work. Don’t do a blanket submission that will feel completely impersonal to whoever is going to receive it. And this might seem obvious, but please spell the agent’s name correctly/address your pitch letter to the correct agent. Of course, this won’t mean the difference between getting representation or not, but accuracy can never hurt!

Make sure your synopsis is succinct. Every agent is different, some prefer to read the synopsis either before or after the sample material but either way, you want it to be straightforward. I would say it doesn’t need to be longer than a page maximum.

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