President of the AAR (Association of Author's
Representatives), Richard Curtis (http://www.curtisagency.com/) is a leading New York agent. He
has been a literary agent for over twenty-five years and
his agency currently represents over 100 authors in all
fields. Thank you again, Mr. Curtis for taking time out
of your busy schedule to answer our questions.
Factor: How have the terrorist attacks of September 11th
affected the marketplace? Is it making a difference in
the type and style of fiction that is being purchased by
the major publishing houses?
Curtis: It's always a
mistake for writers to key their submissions to world
events, because they move so quickly and unpredictably,
as has certainly proven the case in Afghanistan. We
are taking a business-as-usual position at my agency,
though business before 9/11 wasn't that hot either!
you feel the attacks have contributed to the current slow
down in the market or is this more of a result of the
downturn in the economy? Do you see this to be a
continuing problem or one that is resolved quickly?
RC: The publishing industry has been
slowing down for several decades because of the economics
of the book business, which demand guaranteed sales,
meaning an ever-increasing reliance on bestselling
authors and formula books and a diminishment of
initiatives for new authors.
How have the Anthrax scares affected the way you do
business? Many of the larger publishing houses are
reporting that they are no longer opening their slush
piles. Is your agency planning to take similar action?
RC: We now open our mail with gloves
and mask, though I can't imagine why anyone would target
a literary agency! But we try to respond to queries
and submissions as efficiently as ever.
With the heart of the American publishing industry being
physically located so close to the WTC, has day to day
business been disrupted by the destruction of the towers
and the subsequent clean up?
RC: Except for a few small presses,
most publishers are north of Ground Zero. The real effect
of the WTC calamity has been depressed spirits, anxiety,
and uncertainty among publishers, and of course those
emotions are not restricted to publishers.
while slow to take off, have not faded away. They
continue to build a faithful following. The market is
becoming leaner, tougher and more professional. What do
you see as an agent's role in
this new market? Would you consider representing a
book that has been previously e-published or would you
consider marketing a book to e-publishers?
RC: You have to remember that in
addition to running a literary agency, I am also an ebook
publisher. I founded e-reads three years ago and we have
acquired over 1500 previously published books of which
close to 500 are in print in e-book format. So I'm
a huge believer in e-books (you can visit our site: www.ereads.com) . However, as an agent I
look at things a bit differently. We are forced by
the major publishers to include electronic rights in the
contracts we make with publishers for new books.
And there's very little we can do about that.
I tend to turn down books originally published as e-books.
As for selling books directly to e-book publishers, I
would do so only if all traditional publishers had turned
POD technology has allowed for cheaper and easier self-publishing.
Would you consider representing a book that has been self-published?
Would the book have to reach a certain level of sales
before you would consider representing it to major
traditional publishers and how receptive do you feel they
RC: Again, we turn down most books
that have been self-published unless they have a special
track record. We have taken a small number on,
however, and sold them to major publishers for a nice sum.
But that is an exception to the rule.
Fiction Factor recently did an interview with Steve
Sullivan. How open are you and the market in general to
dealing with franchises like TSR Inc.? Are there agents
that specialize in dealing with franchises and what are
the major differences between dealing with a writing
group as compared to a solitary author?
RC: I have no problem selling books to
media franchises and we do it all the time. The author
must understand that he/she is a writer for hire and has
no control over copyright or over editorial changes made
to the text.
When you send out a rejection, you also send a flyer or
two advertising your own how-to books that you wrote
about the publishing business. Has this been an effective
RC: I do send out information about
my books. Very few people buy the books that way,
but I always feel that if they want to know more about
the process, they can get the information from my books.
Luckily, I don't depend on my book sales to make a living!
For our readers who are not familiar with your agency,
what genres do you represent? Also, how open are you to
representing first time authors?
RC: We are pretty well known for
fantasy and science fiction, romance, horror, westerns,
and thrillers. But due to an extremely toxic
market for fiction we're being forced to close our doors
to first time authors. It kills me to say it, but
we just can't sell new fiction, and are concentrating on
non-fiction at this time.
When looking at submissions from unknown writers, do you
look solely at the quality of their work or are you
looking at the author as commercial package?
RC: Quality is the first criterion, but
because publishing has become more of a multimedia event,
one has to look at the other factors an author brings to
the table that make him or her promotable.
There are lots of books and articles in the marketplace
that tell what to avoid in an agent; up-front fees,
rights grabs etc. Where is the best place for an
inexperienced writer to find legitimate agents and to how
can they verify their ability to sell a novel?
RC: The key factor is whether the
agent is a member of the Association of Authors'
Representatives, which screens its members and requires
them to uphold a Canon of Ethics.
The question we end the majority of our interviews with:
What would be your best advice to aspiring writers?
RC: Authors must be Net-savvy.
The future of publishing is online, and though that
future is a little cloudy right now, in time it will
clarify and new ways will emerge for authors to make