Tara Wynne – Literary Agent Interview

Bitter GreensA Changing LandBeneath the ShadowsMatildaAs You Like it (Wordsworth Classics)The Canterbury TalesBreakfast at Tiffany'S: A Short Novel and Three StoriesWhen Courage Came to Call

Your work as a literary agent with Curtis Brown entails not just approaching publishers on behalf of writers but also helping writers assess the commercial viability of their ideas; helping them sell a range of rights related to each book, such as publication rights for various languages and regions of the world, audiobook rights, film rights, etc; and generally helping your writers build their careers. What is one of your favourite parts of your job and why?

Probably the most exciting thing is finding a new voice amongst the unsoliciteds or reading something by one of your existing clients that is almost word perfect – when an author delivers a story that makes you fall in love with their writing all over again. Relating to that is the feeling of excitement when you know that a narrative has far reaching potential – that manuscript that is so hot that it’s burning a hole in your desk. Achieving a good sale for your client is definitely one of the most satisfying parts of the job – particularly if you have put a lot of work into it prior to submission.

What would be your top piece of advice for new novelists about to submit to Curtis Brown, beyond what is in the submission guidelines?

Read, read, read would be my advice. It’s vital that someone writing a novel and I guess that’s what we’re talking about here, is well versed in the genre that they have chosen as their own. You need a benchmark to know whether or not your writing is good enough. If you read those that have received not just sales but critical acclaim, it should become clear.

Curtis Brown has a range of agents who each have their own list of clients, and you would have different judgement or tastes than another agent, like Pippa Masson. How would you describe the kinds of novels you love to discover or that you are best suited to representing as an agent?

It’s hard to specifically define our point of difference, Pippa and I particularly have some overlap. I guess my list reflects my passions and interests – food and lifestyle, history, memoir and some self help on the non-fiction side as well as historical narrative, commercial women’s fiction, sf and fantasy and crossover/young adult. Being a mum I also represent some gorgeous junior fiction and picture books.

Beyond the content of a novel, what do you love to find in a novelist that makes them a good person to represent as an agent?

Content is the most important thing, however, someone who is proactive and prepared to put themselves out there to help promote their work is also an attractive proposition. It’s also helpful for someone to have a clear idea of what they love to write.

You represent novelists such as Kate Forsyth, Nicole Alexander and Sara Foster. What makes novelists such as Kate, Nicole and Sara stand out?

Their voice – their skill as storytellers not only in the clever way that they construct their narratives but the way in which their stories are conveyed. All three are born writers. They’ve always written. It’s not something that they ‘decided’ to do, it was something that they ‘had’ to do. That passion comes through not only in the writing but in how they promote it too.

What are some of the most common things aspiring novelists who submit to Curtis Brown do that they probably shouldn’t?

They submit their work too soon, they haven’t read through their submission carefully or they haven’t completed their novel but want a second opinion. We’re not interested in partially completed work. We want to know that a writer has the staying power and ambition to have completed their first novel – and edited it – before submitting to CB. I’m not saying that we won’t rework it with them once we’ve taken something on but we are almost always going to reject something that’s 250,000 words in length….

Honestly, I also think that people put too much pressure on themselves to have their work published, what’s wrong with writing as a hobby? Curtis Brown New York Agent, Ginger Clark, made a very good point when we met recently. She said that people need to change their perception of writing in society. I think that’s true. More should be allowed to just writing for pleasure, for catharsis, to share with their family. Not everyone has to be published and not everyone should be published. In the same way that people play the guitar or paint as a ‘hobby’ but are never world famous artists or musicians – it’s just something that they do because they enjoy it. Why can’t writing viewed in a similar way? I remember reading an article about Margaret Atwood at a dinner. A doctor sat next to her and said that he’d decided to write a novel next year. She responded by saying that she’d decided she was going to become a brain surgeon or something along those lines. World class writing is not something that you choose to do, it’s a talent that you are born with. You can certainly attend creative writing courses and learn how to craft a novel but how you put it together is something that cannot be taught.

You used to work as a literary agent with Curtis Brown UK. How would you describe the Australia & New Zealand novel market in comparison to the UK?

From within it’s much harder in a way because it’s so much smaller, the choice of publishers and publishing houses are more limited – it can make it harder to find a good home for someone’s work that you believe in but for a small market we produce a very high standard of writing. When Australian authors break through locally and internationally they really succeed.

From a more general market perspective – Australian and NZ writers have to compete with the New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller lists and prize winners here – there are only a few who can match international author titles in terms of sheer volume sales. Readers often look to other markets when deciding what to read. I’m not sure how we can change that?

Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?

Gosh this is exceptionally hard to answer and impossible really as there are so many brilliant characters across the ages but as a woman those that immediately sprint to mind are probably:

Matilda in Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name for her cleverness and compassion against all odds

Rosalind in As You Like It (Shakespeare) and The Wife of Bath (Chaucer) for their wit and assertion in the patriarchal societies of their times

And Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s simply because when I was a teenager I just wanted to be her. She was so alternative, so cool.

***

Curtis Brown Australia site: www.curtisbrown.com.au

Bitter GreensA Changing LandBeneath the ShadowsMatildaAs You Like it (Wordsworth Classics)The Canterbury TalesBreakfast at Tiffany'S: A Short Novel and Three StoriesWhen Courage Came to Call

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7 Responses to Tara Wynne – Literary Agent Interview

  1. Michael Grey says:

    Fantastically useful post! It’s always welcome to read the inside track on Australian publishing. Thank you so much for it.

  2. Steven says:

    Interesting article. I was rejected by Curtis Brown once (at the very start of my career, more than 15 years ago), and never heard back from them 4 years ago. So while this was interesting, it would still help to know just what they look for. Vague genre listings is all well and good, but not enough nowadays.

    • auslit says:

      Hi Steven. Some of the other interviews on the site (at https://auslit.net/literary-interviews/other-interviews-on-literature) address more directly the details of what particular agents or publishers look for or love to find in manuscripts submitted to them.

      A common phrase you have probably heard from agents and publishers before is that they like “good stories well told”. It is difficult to articulate what constitutes a good story well told, as it comes down to how a whole lot of variable are all brought together in an original and satifying way in a unique piece of fiction. However, you can look at the clients someone takes on and compare the novels of those authors to what a particular agent or publisher says about what they are looking for, what their favourite stories are and why, etc, and come to some understanding about what that person might like.

      If you have a reasonable understanding of a range of individual agents and individual publishers, you can build up a picture of who might like what and who might buy what.

      Of course, most of these agents and publishers would likely tell you that your time is better spent honing your craft and writing stories you are proud of, and which other people will want to read, instead of researching their preferences.

      Another common thread in agent and publisher advice is the importance of reading and writing a lot, which helps build the subtleties of skilled writing which cannot be picked up simply by listening to other people’s advice, over activities such as promotion and networking. While promotion and networking can help, it is much better to have a great story people will recommend through word-of-mouth because they loved the reading experience than something which is just OK but is coupled with a lot of promotion by the author.

      I hope you have found some useful points from the interview and that the other interviews also have some useful points for you.

  3. lisaheidke says:

    Interesting, informative post. I know Kate Forsyth, Sara Foster and Nicole Alexander. Beyond being born writers, all three are gorgeous, generous women to boot!

  4. Reblogged this on e-motion and commented:
    This made me think and re-think!

  5. Pingback: Friday Fry-Up — Speakeasy

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