The close involvement of the literary agents at Curtis Brown and C+W are what makes our creative writing courses unique. Whether the agents are taking part in lively visiting speaker sessions on our London writing courses, or becoming honorary members of our online writing courses during Q&A sessions, they are always keen to share their breadth of knowledge and experience to our students. Alice Lutyens – who represents former Curtis Brown Creative students Jane Harper, Kate Hamer and Catherine Bennetto – talks pitch letters, what makes her glaze over and ‘going for debut authors’.
I know you first joined Curtis Brown as an intern – could you tell us a little bit about how you started as an agent? When was it that you first felt that this was something you wanted to do?
It was an organic process. I gained a real knowledge of our authors, books and how to sell by launching the Curtis Brown audio side of things. For years I didn’t think I wanted to be an agent, and then I started to realise that I knew how to spot talent and, best of all, how to get a manuscript from quite good to very good (ie, saleable!). That’s why I so often go for debut authors.
What are the kinds of qualities you look for in a new writer – is it the story or the prose which is likely to draw you in first?
The quality of the writing is my first draw. It’s harder to write beautifully than it is to come up with a great story – in MY opinion, I know some agents don’t agree. And, of course, there are quite a few bestsellers out there which don’t have the most amazing writing, so…
For writers submitting to agents, do you have any advice on how to make a pitch letter stand out from the crowd?
Clarity, brevity, quality. Don’t waffle on. Tell me why I might like your book. Tell me about anything in your past that helps your writing career – story publications, writing courses, prizes, etc. And don’t give away the ending of your story.
Are you someone who likes to work closely with an author during the editing process, before you consider submitting to a publisher?
ABSOLUTELY. I find it very odd not to!
Is there a piece of advice you regularly give to writers at the beginning of their career?
Do what I tell you to do (joke). No, not really. Every author and client is different. My advice is tailored.
Do you have any pet hates when you’re reading new submissions – anything likely to make your eyes glaze over?
What makes my eyes glaze over is an overly long synopsis of the story and/or proclamations of ‘this IS the next bestseller, you’ll regret it if you don’t take me on!’
What is your proudest moment as an agent so far?
Gosh, I have a few because I am lucky enough to have such lovely and good authors. Kate Hamer is my first ‘big’ author so I am always especially excited when it comes to her. The Girl in the Red Coat was shortlisted for two major prizes and she received such generous reviews – the whole experience was a PROUD MOMENT.
Are there any books you represent coming out this year which you are particularly excited about?
Yes, two. I Know My Name by C J Cooke (Harper Collins, 17 June) – it’s a psychological drama, and is wonderful because it deals with mental-health issues all wrapped up in the most engaging suspenseful tale. The other one is An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato – the most astonishing writing. It’s the story of a daughter investigating her mother’s death using the post-mortem report as a device to explore all the areas of her mother’s life – heart=love, brain=intellect, stomach=birth and so on.
You are currently the Curtis Brown agent with the most ex-CBC students as clients. From your experience, what can the courses at CBC offer to writers who are keen to get publishing deals? What are the advantages to having an ‘agent-led’ course?
Apart from expertise and helping authors to form their stories into something publishable – they are naturally going to have more exposure to agents. We read their opening chapters and meet them at drinks evenings so chances are, if something good is there, any agent worth their salt will see it and want to at least meet the author.
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Sunday 21 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Sunday 28 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sunday 4 February).
We are also offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ online courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).
Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).
Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).