Industry Insider: Pippa Masson on the role of literary agents today

INDUSTRY INSIDER- THE ROLE OF A LITERARY AGENTWhat do agents want? Do I need one? How do I get one? Where are they hiding?

I’m often asked these questions and my answer is usually “I have no idea” (well, not really, I point people here and here and even here, but that’s not a good story opener, now is it?)

The truth is that the best way to find out what an agent is looking for is to ask them. So I invited Pippa Masson, who has been with literary agency Curtis Brown since 2001, and represents writers such as Kerri Sackville, Kylie Ladd, Hannah Kent, and many other fabulous authors, to pop in for a chat. (That’s her, on the left – see how friendly she looks? Not scary at all.) Pippa represents a comprehensive client list of adult fiction and non-fiction, illustrated titles and children’s books and is currently Treasurer of the Australian Literary Agent’s Association. So she knows her stuff. 

Given the changing nature of publishing, what do you think the role of the agent is today?
Pippa Masson: “The role of an agent is constantly changing and evolving. Things are a lot more hands-on than ever before for agents and some agents are now acting as publishers themselves – this is not something Curtis Brown Australia is doing but it gives you an idea of how the agency is changing. Today we have to be more strategic than ever before, more on top of the trends than ever before and experts in all models of publishing – of which there are new ones every month it seems!”

How many manuscripts do you see a year? How many new clients do you take on?
PM: “I see probably about 100 fully completed manuscripts a year and probably take on two to three. But then I probably see more like 1,500 – 2,000 sample manuscripts a year and I’d probably only take on the same amount as the fully completed manuscripts! That, of course, doesn’t take into account the manuscripts I am reading that my existing clients are sending to me.”

How long does it take you to realise you’re reading something that you’d be willing to represent? What is it that speaks to you?
PM: “I know I am going to take something on if I can’t stop reading it. If I take off my professional hat and just wear my readers hat I know it’s something for me. Voice is probably the key thing for me – but also the ability to tell a great story incredibly well.”

What happens if you can’t place a manuscript, despite your best efforts? Has it ever happened?
PM: “Sadly it does (and has) happened. We would always encourage the writer to put the unsold manuscript aside and focus on a new one.”

Will you work with a writer to get a manuscript to publishable standard if it’s almost there? Or do you reject outright if it’s not right?
PM: “Yes, if we see a diamond in the rough we’ll always work with an author if we think it’s nearly there! There are not many manuscripts we take on that we feel are fully formed and ready to send out straight away.”

You’ll find more information about Pippa here, or you can follow her on Twitter

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