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Curtis Brown Australia submissions: your step by step guide

by | Jul 26, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

After editing a lot of query letters, opening chapters, and other materials for aspiring authors, I decided to publish this guide for those making a submission to Curtis Brown Australia. As an Australian expat living in Brooklyn, I review a lot of submissions materials for writers in Australia and the USA. As a former literary agent (in Australia), a developmental editor for publishing houses including Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Allen & Unwin, and a published author myself,  I’m always excited when my clients get agents and get published

While this guide is specific to Curtis Brown Australia’s submissions guidelines it’s relevant for submissions to other literary agencies too. Irrespective of where you live and write, most unrepresented writers face a similar set of challenges when querying agents. 

(If you’d like an experienced pair of eyes to look over your query prior to submission, I’m here to help.)

Curtis Brown Australia submissions guidelines

Established in 1899, Curtis Brown is one of the oldest literary agencies in the world. Its Australian subsidiary, which opened in 1967, is the oldest literary agency in the country. Four agents and two associate agents represent a large number of highly regarded and award-winning authors across several genres; Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper, and Stan Grant among them. 

Below I have written notes for each element of the Curtis Brown Australia submissions guidelines.

You’ll find most agents open and close their submissions window throughout the year. To manage the volume of submissions they receive, Curtis Brown Australia typically accepts submissions only during March, June, and October each year. So it’s important to pay close attention to their guidelines and make sure your work is the best it can be before submitting. 

You must be based in Australia or New Zealand

The Curtis Brown Australia submission guidelines clearly state that they’re only interested in writers who are based in Australia or New Zealand. The reason for that is that if you’re not physically living in the country, then it’s quite difficult for an agent to establish a relationship with you, or for a publishing company to plan and execute a publicity and marketing campaign that requires your physical availability to your potential audience. They need to be confident that you will be able to attend a writer’s festival, or an ABC radio interview, in real time. Yes, there are all sorts of ways that podcasts and Zoom meetings can defy time zones and the International Date Line, but a physically remote author limits the publisher’s opportunities when it comes to unexpected publicity or—best case scenario—to build on sales momentum. The writers’ festivals do not pay for Australian authors to attend them. Your publisher might foot the bill if you’re flying interstate, but that’s as much as you could expect. 

Excluded genres

The guidelines also explicitly list the genres that they are not interested in seeing. They are being honest and helpful here, and you must believe them. Your work will not be the exception to their rule excluding the genre your manuscript is written in, because such exclusions are a business decision. Most likely the business has made a data driven, commercial decision that books of certain types—I’m looking particularly at self-help and short stories—do not represent a profitable use of the agency’s time. Rail against it all you like but you will not change their corporate mind. Move on to the next agency.

A complete manuscript

You must have a complete manuscript. This is one area where the Australian market differs from that in the US, where—for nonfiction—it’s more common to have a partial manuscript or a proposal with sample chapters for a submission.

The reason Curtis Brown Australia would seek complete manuscripts is that in the event they love your work, they want to shop it (show it to a shortlist of relevant commissioning editors or publishers) as soon as possible. They only earn income from commission, and therefore need to make the sale on your behalf to start generating revenue for themselves. 

Formatting

The next area for the guidelines is formatting. Agents and agencies are particular about formatting requirements because it’s simply more efficient for submissions to be consistent in how they look on-screen or print out. Curtis Brown Australia asks that your manuscript and synopsis be in (publishing industry standard) 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced, in a Word or PDF document. It may not be your preferred font — it’s not mine — but that’s beside the point. And don’t think they’ll accept your Google doc because it can convert to Word. They won’t convert it for you. Why should they? Do as they ask. 

Email subject line

The Curtis Brown Australia submission guidelines are quite specific about the email subject line, which is good advice for any literary agent submission. The email subject line is a neglected but powerful piece of real estate in your communication with a prospective agent because you can get across a lot of information succinctly and save everybody time. 

The agency asks that you include your name, manuscript title, identify it as fiction or nonfiction, and then the genre. If you don’t know the genre of your work, you are not ready to submit it. Get some advice, do more research, or both.

If you have a particularly long title I would recommend you truncate it or summarise. If you have a subtitle in place, omit it from the subject line of your email. 

Body of your email: the cover letter or query letter

We’re now moving on to the body of the email of your submission to Curtis Brown Australia. Their requirements are very specific for the cover letter or the query letter, as it’s also known. You’re not attaching anything at the moment, you are writing directly into the body of your email.

Maximum word counts

The agency seeks a maximum of 300 words for your email. This is a test of your concision as a writer and your respect for the volume of submissions they receive. 

They also ask you to include the total word count of your manuscript. Now, if you are a debut writer, I strongly encourage you to reduce the word count of your book to less than 100,000 words. It’s a big red flag for agents. If you declare your work is complete at 120,000 words, the agent will not believe you. Most likely the agent will suspect your work needs a tough edit, and that you are submitting it too soon. They will very likely move on to the next submission.

There are basic economic reasons why most books these days fall between 80,000 and 90,000 words. 

Your words translate into a specific number of pages and therefore the cost of paper to print them. Print costs are just one of many line items on the balance sheet for any book being published. Each book acquired by a publisher has a profit and loss (P&L) sheet. So a work of 120,000 words, irrespective of its artistic merit, is expensive to produce. 

Deny it as much as you like, but publishing is a for-profit business. And when you’re querying as an aspiring debut author, you really would do yourself a favor to reduce your word count to 80,000-90,000 words.

Relevant biographical information

In the section on biographical information, Curtis Brown Australia has italicized the word relevant. You would not believe the relevant details I’ve seen writers omit from their queries, and the irrelevant details they include. 

Relevant bio: You’ve written a rural mystery—and you grew up on a farm. 

Irrelevant bio: You won a writing prize in sixth grade. 

Memoir and personal narrative nonfiction operate on the assumption that you have written at least in part from direct personal experience. In this case, relevant detail could comprise: 

  • your previous writing experience (see section below)
  • your related professional life (journalist, juggler, lawyer, teacher, undertaker), or 
  • where you’ve landed—in terms of location, profession, relationship status—since the events you describe in the memoir. 

Attachments to your email submission to Curtis Brown Australia

Synopsis

The agency asks you to attach a short synopsis — a maximum of two double-spaced pages. This translates to 600 words and is consistent with what is typically requested by US literary agents too. 

The main point you need to know about a synopsis is that it is not a blurb about your book. It’s not going to appear on the back cover of your book. (Avoid any summarising phrases like “a classic tale of love and redemption” or “a sweeping saga”.)

The purpose of the synopsis is to show the agent that you can manage a book-length story. What you need in the synopsis therefore is a fairly dry and clinical setting out of what happens in chronological order, ideally providing a sense of events and consequences, cause and effect.

Include all spoilers!

First three chapters or 50 pages

So you’ve attached your synopsis, you’ve finished your cover letter, and now you must attach your first three chapters.

Remember to double-space your lines and use 12 point Times New Roman. 

I strongly advise you to indent your paragraphs. Think about your reader. Your future literary agent might be reading, so you want to make it as easy as possible for that person to physically connect with your writing. So indent your paragraphs, give your reader plenty of white space. 

The main thing is the quality of your writing.

In my experience, most unrepresented writers send out their agent query well before their manuscript is ready. They don’t hear back from the agents they query, they don’t know why their query was unsuccessful, and it’s all incredibly frustrating. 

Frankly, if your manuscript wows them, you could get away with a poor query. But a poor query sets up the expectation of a manuscript that is not ready for agenting. 

If any of the following apply, you’re not ready to submit. 

  • Your manuscript opens with the weather.
  • It opens with a dream.
  • You don’t know your genre.
  • It’s your first draft with a spell-check.
  • You haven’t sought a third-party (non-family member) to read your manuscript and provide constructive feedback.
  • You can’t name any comparison or competitor titles for your manuscript.

Previous writing/publishing history

Don’t sweat this one. Books are published every year from writers without any prior published work, so don’t panic if you don’t have any previous writing history. 

However, if you kept a blog, or write a newsletter, or had a regular column in an industry magazine or even the most niche website you could think of, you should include that in your submission. Similarly, if you have self-published a book you should include that too, even if it’s in a different genre.

Are you ready to submit to Curtis Brown Australia? 

I hope you’ve found some useful tips here on finalising your agent submission to Curtis Brown Australia. Let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed. 

If you’re interested in me reviewing your materials before submitting, consider booking an Author Strategy Session with me. That includes my high-level response to your submission materials and a Zoom to discuss my feedback and your questions about the publishing process you have. A no-obligation discovery call is a useful first step for those with questions. Or you could simply ask

And if you submit to Curtis Brown Australia and don’t hear back, consult my regularly updated list of Australian based agents, which includes their respective submission guidelines. 

Good luck with your submissions and your path to publication!

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