Escape From The Slushpile

I’ve been to a couple of talks by Curtis Brown agents. They seemed like passionate, committed people who know and love books. They represent a lot of talented writers, and (via Miss Daisy Frost) I find that the agency’s creative writing course has a fine teaching name in Jake Arnott – contrast this to the universities where it seems anyone with a chapbook produced in a shed somewhere can pick up a creative writing lectureship, regardless of their success or quality or whether anyone can really learn anything from them. It’s clear, from the Bookseller piece and Jonny Geller‘s response to the criticism it generated, that the agency is trying to break out of the slushpile model and has started this venture with the best of creative intentions.

So why am I sceptical? Get past the gloss and there is something that’s not quite right about someone paying money for the Curtis Brown course and then getting representation from Curtis Brown. (Carole Blake suggests that new clients could get a refund with their contract, but still.) Is it ‘vanity agenting’ as one Bookseller commenter has it? Could this be an Authonomy-style attempt to make the slushpile pay its way for once? Whatever it is, it leaves the wrong taste. Compounding this is the suspicion that in practical terms the pool of students will be restricted to people of a certain area and income bracket. I suppose the time-rich, trust-funded exhibitionists from the better part of North London have gone too long without artistic platform.

The reaction from Bookseller regulars is not great:

I find the price is an outrage! Especially as it’s only weekly sessions with one off ‘talks’! Who can afford that and not live in London?! In a recession too! With no guarantee of representation, I think this is more about them getting money quickly with no ties to taking the ‘lucky’ fifteen on! A writing school?! Whatever!

As a literary agent I am dismayed at this development. Agents should not be taking money from prospective clients up front. It goes against every principle of agenting and will just give agents a bad name. What were you thinking Jonny? Writers pay for the course and then have to give you 6 weeks exclusive option on their work? WOW! Make your money the old fashioned way – earn it!

This is nothing like an MA in creative writing. This is an agency taking money off unpublished writers while they suss them out, then taking 15% of their future earnings. I’d advise anyone to do a credited and credible MA in creative writing but this is outrageous, cynical commercialism and exploitation. Shame on you, Curtis Brown.

Instead of vanity publishing, we now have vanity agenting! Pay a part-time member of staff’s wages for three months and they’ll give you an insider’s view to publishing. Writers would be better off doing an unpaid internship at a publishing house or literary agent’s. Or finding respectable outreach programmes and writer development scemes, such as Inscribe by Peepal Tree Press, Signposts in South Yorkshire, The Writing Squad, etc. Sorry folks, but if you think £1,600 is a shortcut to getting published, and is even worth it, then you’re sadly deluded. If agents can’t make their money selling authors and their books any more, then I’d seriously doubt the qualifications of said agents to teach anything.

Undoubtedly there are a lot of bitter, talentless twats adding their voices to the controversy and condemnation. Still, I can’t help thinking that this sort of thing is best left to the universities.

Update: For a cheaper option than Curtis Brown’s offering you can do Jenn Ashworth’s online creative writing MA, or apply for a place on my own writing masterclass.

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One Response to “Escape From The Slushpile”

  1. Another Salvo « Shiny Book Says:

    […] mean, Curtis Brown wouldn’t do something so blatantly stupid that everyone would be laughing at them… oh. Oh yeah, forgot about that “vanity lit […]

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