A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet Curtis Brown’s inspiring and enthusiastic Pippa Masson through Faber Writing Academy’s ‘Ready to Submit?’ course. The half hour session gave applicants the chance to have the synopsis and first few chapters of their manuscripts read by Pippa and then meet with her to get feedback on the pitch, hook, whether they’re ready to start sending out submissions and, indeed, if there’s even a germ of a book in there somewhere.
I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I booked in for the session, last autumn, was because Curtis Brown Australia – apart from being this country’s biggest and arguably best literary agency – seems a bit of a fortress when it comes to submitting work. Unlike many agencies, it still asks for submissions to be sent by post to a generic Submissions Department. And, well, we can all probably imagine what that means.
Another reason was because I knew the booking would give me a fixed, immovable deadline to finish the first draft of my WIP. And being a journo, I like – and need – a fixed, immovable deadline. Even though it gave me a flutter of panic and worry – constants throughout my working life – I figured that four months was enough time to finish off the last 50,000 words or so, have a little break, then dive straight into draft two.
I managed to meet the deadline, wrote the too long synopsis, hacked away until it was exactly a page long (as requested) and sent it off. Curtis Brown Australia’s MD, Fiona Inglis, was originally booked to take the session so when I received Faber Academy’s emailed response: ‘I have forwarded your files to Fiona Inglis’, I felt the inevitable pang of regret that I’d sent it off without having one more tiny little extra read through.
But it was too late and, really, I’d done my best: I’d edited and proofed the damn pages over and over again until I had reached that stage where you hate your work so much you could be sick.
The nerves were still jangling away when I arrived (early, obv) for my appointment at Faber Academy’s Allen and Unwin based HQ on a rainy Sydney morning. But Pippa’s bright smile and straight-down-to-business approach kicked me into gear and the advice she offered up was invaluable.
Of course every agent has a different shopping list for submissions so it pays to do your research, but Pippa’s was interesting because it included a number of things other agents are often very vocal about not wanting. First up, Pippa explained she doesn’t like a synopsis revealing the end of the story; secondly, I needed to include a market comparison – what authors did I see myself sitting next to in a book shop? – and finally, she wanted to know the story behind the story. Apparently publishers like to hear what prompted the idea in the first place. Oh and I needed to get myself a social media presence and, no, posting cat videos on Facebook doesn’t count. It’s all about branding when agents start pitching to publishers.
Pippa gave me lots of invaluable advice, including suggesting a major rework that will mean considerable chopping to the presence of a main character while bringing another into the fore. She also pointed out that a major plot point is probably not quite major enough at the moment. So, here comes draft number three…
In this era of ebooks and self-publishing there’s a lot of debate about the role of literary agents, but after just thirty golden minutes with one of these elusive creatures, I’m convinced that if you’re lucky enough to bag one, you might just have it made.