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    Interview with Richard Curtis
Interview by Ciara Grey


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.

Fiction 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?

Richard 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!

FF: Do 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.

FF: 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.

FF: 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.

FF: E-books, 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 them down.

FF: 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 would be?

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.

FF: 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.

FF: 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 sales tactic?

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!

FF: 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.

FF: 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.

FF: 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.

FF: 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 money.


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