Ms. Laura Blake Peterson is a literary agent at the prominent New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. She is a graduate of Vassar College and has been with Curtis Brown since 1987, representing a wide range of fiction, non-fiction and books for children.
Her client list reflects a wide range of interests – including memoir and biography, natural history, literary fiction, mystery, suspense, women’s fiction, health and fitness, children’s and young adult, faith issues and popular culture.
She lives in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.
What would you say was the most memorable part of your growing up years and how did it impact your career path as a literary agent?
I loved to read, so making my plans as a student and a career path were always going to include books. When I learned being a literary agent meant you could read novels for a living I thought, “That’s for me!” Turns out that’s not entirely an accurate description of the job. J
What period in your career will you describe as your most successful?
Ah, the definition of “success”. . . it’s hard to choose one moment over another. I’ve felt extremely gratified in placing a great book with the perfect editor for very modest amount of money, and just as much sense of accomplishment when a book appears on a national best seller list.
What fun things do you like to do in your free time?
I am a very active parent, so time off means time spent with my family, doing simple things like gardening and traveling and relaxing in the country.
Since joining Curtis Brown in 1987, you have built up client representation that ranges across Romantic Suspense to Health and Fitness, which interest is your personal favourite and in which have you recorded the most success?
I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. Like most people, my tastes range from one end of the book store to the other. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to indulge my tastes in books in the clients I represent. I get to surround myself with very smart, talented people.
What is the number one pet peeve you consistently come across on the queries writers submit to you?
Misspellings and grammatical errors are the most common fatal mistakes. In this day and age there’s no excuse for it. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, take your writing seriously.
What are the ingredients that you like to find in a manuscript? When do you get that eureka moment?
I can tell early on if I am in the hands of a master storyteller, which is what I look for in both fiction and nonfiction. I want to be immersed in the subject or storyline, and I can usually tell very quickly if the writing has integrity or not.
What has been your winning strategy in pitching accepted manuscripts to editors?
The material must sell on its own merits. No agent can sell mediocre work – it has to answer every possible concern that an editor or an editorial board might have about its prospects both as a piece of writing as well as its chances in the marketplace.
You obviously get your share of queries and submissions from previously published authors and award-winning manuscripts; will you say representation is basically a function of writer credits especially with regard to your own personal experience?
I take on clients based upon the following criteria, whether they are first timers with a debut novel or if they have been previously published with a long resume of accomplishments and awards: Can I get behind their writing and feel passionate about promoting it? Do I see a strategy for moving their career forward? Do I think we will work well together?
The advent of the digital age is increasingly ensuring that more e-querying is done by writers. From your personal perspective, in what way has this trend affected the quality and volume of representation by literary agents?
It’s very easy for a writer to send a query to a thousand different agents simultaneously by pressing one button without regard for those agents’ particular interests or specialties, so it does clutter up my inbox with a lot of queries from writers in whose work I’m not likely to be interested.
E-publishing, which is increasingly being touted as the future, has redefined the norm in the publishing industry: writers can now afford to bypass the traditional writer-agent-publisher structure by pushing their works to readers cum buyers directly on the web. Against this backdrop, do you see literary agents becoming irrelevant in the publishing industry in the near or distant future?
Of course not. Authors are finding new outlets for their work, to be sure. But there are millions of books that are available in e-format that no reader is ever going to stumble across. Very, very few authors can accomplish what publishers can. As long as there are authors, they will need advocates in navigating the world of publishing, no matter what shape the industry takes in the future.