An Agency Offers Paid Services—With Strings Attached

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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:

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Undoubtedly, any unpublished, unagented writer would be thrilled to be considered by Curtis Brown UK.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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