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25 November 2020

Hannah Beer: ‘Have faith that what you’ve written is worth being read’

Hannah Beer, Curtis Brown
by Katie Smart From the Agents, Writing Tips

Hannah Beer joined Curtis Brown in 2019 and currently assists Jonathan Lloyd. She is also building her own list of fiction and non-fiction authors.

We caught up with Hannah to find out more about what she enjoys reading and what she’s looking for from debut authors…

You joined Curtis Brown in 2019 as Jonathan Lloyd’s assistant after previously working in Foreign Rights at United Agents. You got into the industry with internships and Granta and Pushkin press. What first inspired you to pursue a career in publishing?

I’ve always been an obsessive reader, and because of that I’ve always wanted work with words in some capacity. As a teenager I thought I might want to be a journalist, but when I got to university I found I actually had far more fun working with other people’s writing than with my own, so there seemed no better way than to work with books.

I remember looking at the logos on the spines of the books I loved, furiously googling all of them to figure out what they meant and how I could get there. I knew nothing at all about the publishing industry, and even less about literary agencies. But then completely by chance I met a literary agent on holiday. Hearing them talk about their job was like this lightbulb moment, when I just thought ‘that’s exactly what I want to be doing’.

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

Is it cliched to say A Little Life? It probably is but I’m going with it anyway. That book completely took over my life when I was reading it. I accidentally dropped my copy on a train track, didn’t realise until I got home, and I was so distraught at the idea of not finishing it that I went back early the next morning and asked the guard to help me retrieve it from the tracks! I’m definitely looking for that sort of novel – something I don’t want to put down, can’t wait to get back to, and need to discuss with everyone I know.

I’m nosy to a fault, so what I’m really after are characters so vividly drawn it feels like I’m getting an illicit glimpse into a real person’s life. Excellent prose, whether it’s sharp and clean like Tessa Hadley and Sally Rooney or juicy and lyrical like Lauren Groff and Sandra Newman. And in terms of genre, I’m interested in literary and upmarket book club, and I’d love to find an astute satirical horror like Boy Parts by Eliza Clark.

What is the best part of your job?

Working collaboratively with authors on their manuscripts and proposals. It feels like such a privilege to be privy to a manuscript before it’s a “real” book, so actually getting involved in it, working with the author to make it the best it can be, is so rewarding.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

I’m not sure that I have a ‘favourite’ exactly, but there’s a certain quality shared between a few characters across different books that I love. The protagonist of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Theo’s friend Boris in The Goldfinch, Paul/Polly in Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl – all of them have this fiendish slipperiness to them that I just completely delight in reading.  

What’s been your favourite book of 2020?

I loved Real Life by Brandon Taylor, which is such a wonderful, claustrophobic, painful novel. It’s one of those novels that I can’t believe is the author’s first, it feels so accomplished. It swam around my head long after I’d finished reading it.

Can you name some common mistake writers should avoid when pitching to an agent?

Not doing your homework on who you’re submitting to! Make sure you’ve really researched the agent’s list, and read their bio carefully to make sure they’d be a good fit for you. E.g. don’t send your middle grade fiction to an agent whose list is full of commercial non-fiction and is looking for more of the same, as you won’t be giving yourself a fair shot.

What advice would you give to a debut writer submitting to agents for the first time?

Be confident and clear in why you’re submitting to them – if you’ve done your research then this should be the easy part!

Keep the pitch short and succinct – you will probably have to spend ages crafting a perfectly succinct synopsis, but it pays off.

And don’t apologise for taking up the agent’s time! Have faith that what you’ve written is worth being read.

If you’re looking for more in-depth industry advice from publishing professionals take a look at the creative writing courses we currently have open for enrolment or application.

We have also just launched The Breakthrough Writers’ Programme, and outreach initiative for under-represented writers made up of funded courses, mentoring and scholarships – supported by the literary agents at Curtis Brown and C&W.

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