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Literary Agent Interview: Laura Blake Peterson of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

This installment features Laura Blake Peterson of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Laura began her career in publishing at Curtis Brown as a summer intern. She is a graduate of Vassar College and has been with Curtis Brown since 1987, representing a wide range of fiction, nonfiction and books for children. She lives in Hunterdon County, N.J. She is seeking: Her client list reflects a wide range of interests—including memoir and biography, natural history, literary fiction, mystery, suspense, women’s fiction, health and fitness, children’s and young adult, faith issues and popular culture.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Laura Blake Peterson of Curtis Brown) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Laura Blake Peterson of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Laura began her career in publishing at Curtis Brown as a summer intern. She is a graduate of Vassar College and has been with Curtis Brown since 1987, representing a wide range of fiction, nonfiction and books for children. She lives in Hunterdon County, N.J.

She is seeking: Her client list reflects a wide range of interests—including memoir and biography, natural history, literary fiction, mystery, suspense, women’s fiction, health and fitness, children’s and young adult, faith issues and popular culture.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

LBP: I was an English major at Vassar, so I knew whatever I did would have something to do with books. I’d never really investigated the role of a literary agent. What I knew of agents was from the perspective of my boyfriend at the time, an (oft-rejected) unpublished writer who was endlessly querying literary agents, characterizing them as parasites that lived off the creative juices of talented writers. So I thought to myself, “That’s for me!”. I wrote to Perry Knowlton, CEO of Curtis Brown, Ltd., who offered me a job as a summer intern. I came back to Curtis Brown two weeks after graduation and I’ve been here ever since.

(Read an interview with Curtis Brown agent Sarah LaPolla.)

GLA: What’s something coming out now that you repped and are excited about?

LBP: I’m thrilled to see both Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road; and Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, edited by Kathleen D. Moore and Michael P. Nelson come out this fall.

GLA: You’ve been with Curtis Brown since 1987. Overall, how has the industry changed in this time, and has your approach to agenting shifted as a result?

LBP: It would be much easier to describe what has remained the same since so much has changed in the last 25 years. Obviously electronic publishing has introduced an entirely new economic landscape for authors, agents, publishers and readers, and Curtis Brown remains at the forefront of ensuring our authors’ rights are protected in a time when many issues related to ePublishing are still evolving. As well, I think there are many more agents than there used to be—many of them former editors who bring their editorial skills, contacts and knowledge of the business to bear—so the competition for talented writers can be tough. I think we have an edge, however, as the breadth of our experience and expertise has kept Curtis Brown a leader in our industry for nearly 100 years.

GLA: You represent both literary fiction and women’s fiction. How would you describe the difference between the two, and where do they overlap?

LBP: Literary fiction has a high caliber of stylistic expression; women’s fiction is a large category covering all fiction which is geared toward women. Some women’s fiction can be considered literary, but obviously the reverse is not the case.

(Look over our growing list of literary fiction agents.)

GLA: You represent young adult novels. Specifically, do you specialize in or seek any subgenres?

LBP: No I do not.

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GLA: Curtis Brown requests a synopsis with manuscript submissions. What are the three most common mistakes a writer makes when composing a synopsis?

LBP: 1. Spelling errors. 2. Grammatical errors. 3. Spelling and grammatical errors. (Personally, I am not a huge fan of synopses. I’m not sure I’ve ever read one and thought it was all that helpful or well-written.)

GLA: Say you’re reading a partial—where are writers going wrong in the first twenty pages of a novel?

LBP: Many novels don’t actually get going until about page 75 since many less-skilled writers spend that many pages on exposition. Start the book on page one. Let the characters drive the plot. Stay away from contrived, over-wrought and cliché plot lines.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where people can meet/pitch you?

LBP: Not at this time.

GLA: Best way to contact you?

LBP: E-mail lbp[at]cbltd[dot]com, or snail mail.

GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to know?

LBP: I represented the boyfriend I mentioned earlier, who went on to write many books for Grand Central and Random House, and was translated into many different languages (even though we broke up).

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?

LBP: There’s a difference between writing and publishing. Writing is an individual sport; publishing is all about team play. Never confuse the two.

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Agent interview by Donna Gambale,
who works an office job by day, writes young
adult novels by night, and travels when possible.
She blogs at the First Novels Club and is the
author of a mini kit, Magnetic Kama Sutra.


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