Literary Agent of the Year

Literary Agent of the Year

Winner: Literary Agent of the Year

Cathryn Summerhayes

Cathryn Summerhayes

Curtis Brown

Literary agents sometimes strike it lucky with a hot author or on-trend book, and then take all the credit—but throughout her career, Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown has modestly made all her own good fortune.

That was apparent over a stellar 2018 in which her star author Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt became the TCM’s top non-fiction title, selling more than half a million copies. This isn’t a book that was built into a bestseller solely by its publisher or author, but one in which the agent played a pivotal creative and commercial role. Since it took off, her efforts to capitalise have gone way outside conventional agenting duties to take in a 50-date live tour, Sunday Times column and BBC comedy drama for Kay, as well as follow-up books for Pan Macmillan.

Beyond Kay, Summerhayes has built an eclectic but commercially successful list, with authors as diverse as Johanna Basford, Ranulph Fiennes, "Deliciously" Ella Mills and Kathy Reichs. She showed an instinct for steering authors towards new genres and new publishers, as with crime fiction writer turned Middle Grade children’s author Adam Baron.

Authors value her combination of sympathetic care and steely deal- making skills: “She’s resourceful, imaginative, hugely well-connected and brilliant at placing a book,” said one. Publishers, meanwhile, appreciate her collaborative approach and eye for trends. As one put it: “She is caring, capable, creative, clever, can-do and gloriously commercial... her successes are never accidental.”

Shortlist

  • Arabella Stein
    The Bright Agency
    From bookseller to publisher to agent, she has brought her in-depth knowledge of the children’s books market to bear on her list of authors and illustrators, and launched a new prize and in-house TV and film division last year
  • Chris Wellbelove
    Aitken Alexander Associates
    A director of the agency at 34, his stars of 2018 included the anonymous Secret Barrister, and he racked up around 50 translation deals; “an ambitious agent who goes the extra mile every time”, said one grateful writer
  • Jo Unwin
    Jo Unwin Literary Agency
    Shortlisted previously while at C+W but now running her own agency, she signed big deals for authors including Jenny Colgan, Charlie Brooker and A J Pearce in 2018 and nurtured fresh talent; “positivity personified”, said one client
  • Sophie Lambert
    C+W
    Built a pre-publication buzz for new authors including Guy Gunaratne and Jenny Quintana while managing the success of more established names such as Christie Watson and Karen Hamilton; “thoughtful, fair and meticulous”, said one of her authors