Sunday, 31 October 2021

Curtis Brown

During lockdown, I wrote the first draft of a novel. Now I’m doing an online course called ‘Edit and Pitch your Novel’. The course is run by Curtis Brown, a large and well respected London agency founded in 1899. They have represented Margaret Atwood, Daphne du Maurier, John le Carre and AA Milne, amongst many others. The course is for writers who already have the first draft of a novel. And the purpose is to help a writer improve their first draft into something that is publishable and to guide them through the process of pitching their novel to an agent. The reason being, that most publishers of novels do not accept manuscripts direct from writers, they have to be presented by an agent.

The first half of the course taught you how to analyse your first draft like an editor. We were shown how to go through our manuscripts scene by scene: examining how well a scene moved the story on, whether it needed revising, repositioning or cutting. This has been hard work and has exposed many flaws in my first draft. But the reassuring message we were given is that all first drafts are flawed and that good novels are always made in the rewrite.

The second part of the course is about how to write a pitch letter to an agent and how to write a synopsis (a one page summary of your novel). I’ve found both of these difficult to do. First off, you have to find an agent who is open to the type of novel you have written. The letter needs to summarise the novel in a couple of sentences and explain where your novel fits in relation to the books that are already published in the genre or market that you are writing for. The synopsis has been even harder. You have to distill a book of 100,000 words or so into just one page.

The course has been very intensive too, hence my relative absence from social media. Each week we have been given several writing tasks to complete. And you must then post your work in an online forum, where it receives comments. As the course was entirely online, there were participants from Europe, the UK and the USA. Most of them had a good publishing record. So the comments given and received have been mostly very thoughtful and helpful.

I’d highly recommend this course and Curtis Brown, who have a range of other courses for writers. Not only has the course been very professional, but I’ve learned a great deal in a short time. I can now see that I’m going to be rewriting parts of my novel for a while yet. But I’m hoping to get to a place where I feel it is ready to send out to an agent sometime early next year. The most recent part of the course was a series of well-known agents explaining what they were looking for. They cautioned us to keep on editing until we were absolutely sure that the novel was polished enough to send out to an agent. It’s going to be a long winter!