Guest blog: Pippa Masson

Meet Pippa Masson; she works for Curtis Brown literary agents. Here she tells us what goes on behind the scenes in the attempt to get a book published. It’s not an easy job, filled with exciting highs and desperate lows.

Thanks for joining us Pippa!

Pippa: What is the life of an agent like? Well, in a nutshell, the life of an agent is an interesting one, an exciting one, and at times, a disappointing one.

Interesting because we work in many varied ways; I have clients that write adult fiction, some who write children’s books, others who illustrate picture books and some who are chefs’ creating cookbooks. Of course, I also have people writing non-fiction, in all its many and varied forms, as well as writers who ghost write other people’s books. Every time I send out a project or do a deal for one of these clients, it’s a different experience with different issues to get your head around and different types of contracts to negotiate!  Life as an agent is particularly interesting right now because of the huge changes underway in our industry: e-Books, digital marketing, print on demand, enhanced e-Books, electronic book serials, apps, you name it, it’s changing. With all these changes, of course, comes the excitement/headache of working out the rights issues surrounding the various new developments, trying to keep on top of the almost daily changes and a litany of other curly tasks.

The best part of the job, the excitement, happens because of various reasons. It can be reading a book that sends chills up your spine, or makes you laugh uncontrollably, having that incredible and privileged access to someone’s soul on a page, and then going ahead and doing a deal for that book. Realizing people’s dreams, and your own, and being a part of something that will touch and/or affect many people’s lives. Selling rights internationally for one of your babies, always exciting! As you can see, a big part of the job is exciting. Lucky me!

Disappointment, of course, comes with the territory and it’s something we have to accept. Rejection of our client’s books always fills us with a terrible sense of disappointment, or having to accept that no-one quite gets and believes in the book as much as you and your client. Seeing royalty statements that you’re never quite sure whether or not to pass on to your client, as in the excruciatingly bad ones, are always disappointing as invariably that author has worked hard and now has nothing to show for it. These are the things that disappoint.

The back story: here’s the nuts and bolts back story to a book.

  1. We read a manuscript, either by an existing client or someone we’ve been talking to about their work, and then if we think it’s ready, we draw up a list of the best publishers to send it to. This will depend on who the writer is, whether they’ve been published before, and what style their writing is.
  2. Once we have our list (or just one publisher if that’s the case) we send it off to them and specify a date for them to get back to us (which often doesn’t happen on time, c’est la vie!).
  3. We wait, and wait, and wait. And answer emails/calls from our client who is also waiting the same hideous wait.
  4. Finally, someone gets back to us. It might be a no, but then it might be a yes. Sometimes they’ll want to meet the author, other times they’re happy to offer without meeting. Generally speaking, it’s never a $1 million offer. Shame.
  5. Once we have the offer/offers we discuss them with our client and he/she makes a decision based on the publisher and their company, money, rights, royalties, pub dates and other such things. It’s also integral that they feel they can get on with that person: they’re going to be co-parenting their baby.
  6. Once a deal is decided, we’ll draft contracts and then when everyone is happy with them, they’ll sign!
  7. From here, our job covers a multitude of roles but that’s a different story for another day.

READING/BUYING, why you must do both!

Given the publishing industry has taken a bit of a bashing the last year for a variety of reasons, it’s important YOU support it and buy people books for Christmas presents (Fleur told me to say that, but its true, please buy books for Christmas!). You can buy one for every member of the family (see and follow on Twitter @Booktopia’s gift guide), it’s that easy. I will, of course, be buying books for my family. My starter list includes:

  1. Life, Keith Richards, for my dear ?10 Pom Dad;
  2. How To Make Gravy, memoir and A-Z music set, Paul Kelly, for my PK obsessed husband;
  3. Pork & Sons, Stephane Reynaud, for my step-father who wants a pig to keep on his farm;
  4. A selection of Penguin classics, various authors, for my thespian brother;
  5. Things Bogans Like, for my less thespian brother;
  6. At Home with the Templetons, Monica McInerney, for my step-mother who has many a family saga in her own family;
  7. Sunday’s Kitchen, Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan, for my eclectic very clever mother;
  8. The Happiest Refugee, Anh Do, for my aunt who was a refugee to Australia

I am sure to tack more on to the end of that but in the meantime the books piled up next to my bed for Christmas reading include:

  1. Brooklyn, Colm Tobin
  2. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
  3. At Home With The Templetons, Monica McInerney
  4. What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
  5. Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain
  6. Plus, PLENTY of my client’s manuscripts all loaded up on my Kindle!

Comments 6

  1. Thanks Fleur and thanks Pippa. Such a privilege to see, no holes barred, what actually happens. Will be stocking up on books for presents as am yet to do Christmas shopping. 5 days out, clearly I like living on the edge. Bern x

  2. Great post, Pippa and Fleur!
    Very interesting…and detailed!
    Pippa, I loved ‘What Alice Forgot’ It was an unexpected delight earlier this year. I can’t wait for her next one!
    Am just about to dive into Freedom.
    Lisa xx

  3. Great to see one of the faces behind the name. After the holidays I’ll be flogging marketing my first book to agents, and Curtis Brown tops my list.

    Conceptually I understand that even if an agent likes (and more importantly, thinks they can sell) my novel, it can take an incredibly long time to get any kind of traction so to keep from going insane, I’ve got two others on the go.

    And I like the recommendations. Life, particularly, was a great read.

  4. Nice post!

    I’m curious, since Ms. Masson is willing to discuss what a lot of authors believe to be deep, dark secrets,–how do you advertise? Do you let people find you or do you scout?

    I’d love to hear more (as I’m sure many would!)


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