Wednesday, 16 October 2013

SCBWI Agents' Party 2013 - or 'how to make someone fancy your book'

by Addy Farmer

Hear what the lovely writers' agents said at the SCBWI Agents' Party 2013. It's all about the love ...

Vicki Le Feuvre of Darley Anderson
Hannah Shepherd of DHH literary agency
Emma Herdman of Curtis Brown
Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates

So, once the crammed masses had settled down, we listened and learned...
Here's what all those agents want. It's easy.
'Brilliant story, fantastic characters and a great voice.'
Got all three? Then sub away to any of the agents who attended the Agent Party...

BUT wait! Take a step back, a deep breath and a firm grip on your running trousers and ask yourself - are you sure you're ready? Let's take a closer look at what those agents said...

How NOT to start a story and other introductions
Sallyanne said do not use 'loads of alarm clocks' and get rid of all that panicky exposition. You're the one in charge, you can let the story reveal itself gradually. As we all know, sometimes it's best to start at the second chapter.

Emma talked of 'cover letter frustration'. To anybody who is in doubt about how to address a female agent... use Ms or first name. Make a small effort and it's not difficult to find the right person and spell their name properly.

For your own sake, 'no generic subs!' Tailor it to match.

Everybody agreed that multiple submissions (although The Blair Partnership prefers exclusive subs) are fine but be up front about who you've subbed to.

Vicki was firm in her starting no-nos
'No mirrors and no weather and be careful of prologues.'
Prologues can be used as 'info-dumps' and this WRONG. A prologue can establish a world, a prologue can even be chapter one because it is something out of the timeline of the story e.g. Harry Potter.

When is a Work-in-Progress ready?

Emma said that the book should be complete! Not just the first three chapters and a synopsis. If an agent reads something and gets excited about it, she will want the rest of it NOW and not when you get round to completing it in six months time.

Do yourself a favour and resist sending in your work before it's complete because if nothing else, 'there are so many others who have finished the whole thing.'
Sallyanne pointed out that you should treat the remainder of your story just as you would the first three chapters - the shine should extend to all of your work!

Ask yourself - do you love every piece of your book? Are you ignoring the annoyance you feel with those floppy flabby passages or the thin, twiggy words? You've got to love all of this work because as all our agents said in one way or another,
If I take something on, it's got to be something I absolutely love.
Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester - love is blind?

The Synopsis
What's the role it plays and who reads it?

No synopsis is necessary for picture books. For longer work,
All the lovely agents agreed that they were more interested in the actual writing and that they,want the first read to be the reader's experience
The synopsis should be as short as possible (less than one side). You should treat it as a check to see where the story is going and that means including spoilers. Tell the story as straight as you can and try to reflect the genre and age.
Oh, Heathcliffe! Oh, Cathy!

How Quickly do you Make up your Mind?

Title - no
First sentence - no
First paragraph - no
First page - probably.

It's like seeing someone you fancy... you know if you don't fancy your book.
It can't just be sellable but it has to have a voice which sings. As well, it can't just have a voice, it also has to be sellable. Then again, all our agents were keen to let us know that they were with their clients for the long haul. Emma worked for three years on a book with a client. Then she subbed and sold it!

Romeo, Romeo - wherefore art thou, Romeo?

Top Tips

Sallyanne said

Write the story you want to write and not to the marketplace

Hannah said

Be persistent and be wary of jumping at the first agent because you need to get on with them

But most of all, remember that agents are human beings too. Emma always wakes up thinking,

Is there anything good? It's never a chore.

They actually want your story to be brilliant. Do your best and make sure that you can't do any more.
So, now you're good to sub. Good luck (that helps too) and remember it's all about the love. What else matters?


  1. Great report, Addy. Thanks. (You're not writing a romance by any chance, are you?)

    1. Thanks, Rowena. Actually I think I'm just a big old softy!

  2. Great advice, Addy and good luck to everyone who is now subbing away!!

    1. Thanks, Jackie. Be great to hear of someone finding their dream agent because of the party...

    2. Hey I saw on FB that somebody did get an agent after the party!

    3. oh yay! You gotta love that!

  3. Fantastic report! Seeking an agent is a lot like dating ... with one party ever so slightly (well maybe a lot) more desperate to be loved than the other.

  4. Thanks for writing up the event for those of us that couldn't be there. :0)

  5. Lovely art works, they are fantastic.

    1. Thanks, Kulwant - sadly I'm not responsible for any of them.

  6. This place is great, and my mom's preferred venue in the city. You really can't beat the food; they have the best vegetarian meals and the most adorable dishes for the kids.


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