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An Agency Offers Paid Services—With Strings Attached

Categories: Agents, Getting Published, Industry News & Trends.

I’ve written frequently on agents and innovation of their model, twice for Writer’s Digest, and twice for Digital Book World:

Also, here’s a Q&A with Jungle Red Writers, “How Literary Agents Are Adapting to Survive.”

Point is, this is an issue I watch and talk to people about.

So it was with some enthusiasm that I initially read news of literary agency Curtis Brown UK offering a writing school, hosted at their offices. According to their site, they’ll launch with a 3-month novel-writing course, open to 15 writers. Courses will be taught by published authors (one is a Curtis Brown agent).

They are charging 1,600 pounds, which in my mind is a fair and reasonable fee for the apparent quality of what they are offering.

But there are strings attached, which in my mind is unconscionable considering that this is a FEE-based service. The site says in the FAQ:

Students will be asked to sign a covenant covering the “ground-rules” of
the course which are crucial to the successful and happy operation of
Curtis Brown Creative.

Then, in the application itself:

If
I am offered and choose to accept a place on a CBC writing course, I
agree to submit my novel to Curtis Brown when it is ready for
submission, and will give Curtis Brown an exclusive six week opportunity
to read and consider before sending to any other agencies or publishers

Excuse me?

Undoubtedly, any unpublished, unagented writer would be thrilled to be considered by Curtis Brown UK. But an imperative to submit to them? An exclusive 6-week opportunity?

If you’re going to charge someone, then charge them, and leave them obligation free. Why should writers be further beholden to Curtis Brown UK after the course is over? I hope this practice does not become widespread at agencies who start pay-based services for writers.

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9 Responses to An Agency Offers Paid Services—With Strings Attached

  1. Funny thing- first time I see things differently than you do. I know a lot of unsigned writers who would pay for an opportunity not only to have their writing edited and nurtured by an agency like this one, but also for them to take six weeks to seriously consider representing it.

    But on the same subject of agencies adapting, I learned of an agent recently who ‘consults’ as well as ‘represents’ The trouble is he’s not been clear when he says he’ll "Take a look" at people’s work whether he is looking to get paid for a consultation or whether he is considering representation. I do understand that agents need to be more flexible in this time of flux, but so far, overall,the ‘hybrid agencies’ models I see out there are not in the best interest of the writers…

  2. Mary Tod says:

    I can understand why new models are evolving in all aspects of the writing – the money is shifting. Writers are taking on new roles, so are agents, publishers and readers, for that matter. The challenge for agents is to find service offerings that are profitable, particularly when profits are being squeezed at every step. As you said in an earlier article, “the agent’s limited role as link between author and publisher is going the way of the dodo”.

    If the primary objective is to connect those who write content – fiction and non-fiction and ancillary content – to those who wish to pay for it, then everyone in the production and distribution chain will strive for (1) great content, (2) mechanisms to quickly bring content to market, (3) cost-effective processes and (4) ways to drive customer loyalty and engagement. I’m sure there’s a 5, 6 and 7!

    One possible way to look at the Curtis Brown situation is that the agency is focusing on objectives 1 and 2 and possibly 3. They are leveraging their skills at recognizing good talent with their knowledge of excellent writing, and leveraging their time by teaching many students at once, rather than one on one. Sounds innovative to me!

  3. Bob Mayer says:

    The lines are blurring. Wylie had Random House go crazy over his plan. But agents as publishers is going to be a trend with a lot of gray area until it’s sorted out. Since agents are the quality control around the Big 6, the day will come when they’re going to wonder what the Big 6 do for them, since distribution with the burgeoning eBook market is no longer the stranglehold those publishers used to have.
    I don’t think 6 weeks is unreasonable and since the agency has already gone through the work, it makes sense they’d like first crack at it. Except what’s the line between doing this and a fee-charging agent? Oh, that’s right, it’s blurred.
    I think money should flow toward authors. But, to be honest, I’m offering a series of on-line workshops next year. So are my lines blurred? I haven’t heard much howling about Westbow and whatever vanity line Harlequin launched, with the dangling possibility of being picked up if the book did well. Did that die out?
    As I’ve been saying at Write It Forward: Authors, keep your head on a swivel, always staying up to date, or else face getting it chopped off.
    By the way, that goes for agents, editors, publishers, bookstore owners, bookstore workers, etc. etc. It’s changing faster that 99% of people believe it is.

  4. JLOakley says:

    Jane, definitely a unpleasant trend. I’ve met so many unhappy writers at conferences, just desperate to get published. It’s a growing industry and for newbies, overwhelming. When I see fee, I tend to back off. I gladly pay for my writer’s retreats and conference, knowing what I expect to get out my successful pitch or industry contact.

  5. Porter Anderson says:

    I wondered the same thing, John. The Association of Authors’ Agents in London has this Code of Practice page on its site: http://ht.ly/3pSnx The Curtis Brown Group is listed as a member agency. So on the face of it, I suppose we have to assume the program’s stipulations are acceptable to association policy.

  6. John Cusick says:

    I saw this as well and wondered whether there is a U.K. branch of the Association of Authors Representatives and whether Curtis Brown’s fee and exclusive consideration would conflict with the Association’s policy against charging writers to read their work.

  7. Gee a six week first-look option seems so fair to me. When I work with writers developing material in my Art of Story workshops, I don’t ask for that but any of my writers would be thrilled to give me a shot at getting their work published as a book or, more likely, optioned as a film. It seems like a great way for CB to nurture new talent, and a great way for new writers to make contact with agents.

  8. Having been through the nightmare of being published by Bantam Books and later by Atheneum, and an equal nightmare of having been grossly mistreated by one of New York’s "top" literary agents, I can’t understand why anyone wants to have anything to do with trade publishers and agents anymore when self-publishing no longer brands one as not worth reading. More and more trade publishers and agents are now about money exclusively, and authors now have to do their own marketing anyway.

    Get out of the squirrel cage, folks! Get to print much faster, have complete control over every aspect of the process, invest the time to learn marketing, spend some money to hire a publicist, and take advantage of free avenues of advertising and promotion (YouTube especially). Yeah, a LOT more work and you’ll lack the advantage of being backed by powerful established entities, but in my view, that’s more than compensated for by avoidance of abuse.

  9. Porter Anderson says:

    Agree completely, Jane, thanks for this post. The transaction is a fee paid for a stated service, the course. CB is overreaching in requiring any control of material, let alone right of first consideration/refusal. I wonder how many participants in the program will be as aware as they should be of that clause. Yet another "buyer beware" instance doesn’t do much to move forward the idea of healthy expansions of agency services, does it?

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