Sabhbh Curran joined Curtis Brown in 2018, after working as the Literary Assistant at Sheil Land Associates. Prior to that, she studied for a Masters in Renaissance literature at Cambridge. She is on the hunt for literary, book club fiction, psychological suspense, and beautifully written, researched and evoked historical fiction.
We’re always encouraging our clients to submit to new-on-the-scene literary agents, so we’re excited to introduce you to Sabhbh, and if you’re not ready to submit you’ll still find plenty of helpful tips on editing your work below.
Congratulations on your recent promotion at Curtis Brown. What made you decide to become a literary agent?
I knew I wanted to be part of a creative world and always had my head in a book as a child – I’ve always loved audio too and would listen to tapes and CDs of my favourite stories for hours on end! For a while I really considered going into editorial but when I learned about agenting something clicked.
What I was particularly struck by was an agent’s ability to work with a writer over the course of many years and books, perhaps even an entire career. It’s such a creative role and we as agents are often lucky enough to be involved in a book from the first germ of an idea right through to publication and beyond. The sheer variety involved in the job was a real draw too; as I’m building a diverse list of fiction and non-fiction, no day ever looks quite the same.
Your profile says you’re looking for psychological suspense as well as literary and book club fiction. Are there any particular stories or perspectives on your wishlist at the moment?
My taste in fiction is ever-growing so I don’t want to be too prescriptive! What I can say is that I’m drawn to novels with a distinctive voice and an original, strong plot. I love meeting a character for a first time and feeling complete conviction in their reality and motivations, be they an Elena Greco, Reverend John Ames or Elizabeth Zott.
At the moment, I would really like to find some sharply observed contemporary fiction. I’m often drawn to stories with dark humour and that use wit to make sense of an unforgiving world. Also on my list is an epic and unusual ‘love’ story, something in the vein of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow or The Time Traveler’s Wife.
‘I’m often drawn to stories with dark humour and that use wit to make sense of an unforgiving world.’
I’m drawn to a nail-biting, elegantly constructed psychological thriller, especially anything with a domestic setting like Louise Candlish’s Our House or Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs. I’d also love to find a gripping international thriller with a killer hook!
Having recently devoured the recent Chicago-set series, The Bear, I am very much on the hunt for a novel set in a professional kitchen!
As an editorially focused agent, what advice do you have for writers looking to hone their work before seeking representation?
For me, editorial is one of the best bits of the job and it’s a real privilege to be able to work with authors on their books. In terms of advice, I think that continuing to read voraciously while writing is key. Immersing yourself in stories and storytelling not only helps you hone your craft but gives you a real sense of how your book fits into (or perhaps is doing something new and exciting with) current trends.
If you think you’re finished with a book and ready to submit, put the manuscript in a drawer for a few weeks and then re-read with fresh eyes before pressing send!
Do writers need to have a clear idea of their novel’s genre when they submit?
When I read a submission, the story and writing are key to the decision I make, so I won’t turn down a submission based on a genre label – or lack of one. Not all books sit easily in one genre or another so I can really appreciate that classifying your work in this way can be a challenge. If in doubt, pitching your novel in terms of comparison titles (books, TV shows, podcasts or anything else!) can be a really helpful way of showing where you think your particular story sits in the market.
‘Once the manuscript is the best it can possibly be, then it’s time to approach editors. I regularly have calls and meetings with editors to discuss books and authors I am working with, so I have an in-depth knowledge of what individual editors and imprints are looking for.’
Once you’ve signed an author, how do you decide which publishers to approach, and could you give us an idea of how long this process takes?
Once I take an author on, I spend time working with them editorially, offering structural and character notes that we discuss together. This process is then repeated until the novel feels really polished and ready to be submitted to editors. It’s impossible to put a timeframe on this process as it’s entirely unique to the demands of each book and the speed at which each author works! Once the manuscript is the best it can possibly be, then it’s time to approach editors. I regularly have calls and meetings with editors to discuss books and authors I am working with, so I have an in-depth knowledge of what individual editors and imprints are looking for.
What is the last novel you loved and why?
Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These has returned repeatedly to me since I read it. Jewel-like and utterly precise in its use of language, this is astonishingly well-crafted storytelling. Bill Furlong’s story and the decision he must take are devastating, haunting and hopeful.