Saturday 1 October 2011

What agents want: the SCBWI Agents Party

By Addy Farmer, Candy Gourlay and Teri Terry

A video warm up for the party

Three of us came to the recent Agent's Party organized by SCBWI British Isles at the Theodore Bullfrog in Charing Cross. It's one of the key events of the SCBWI calendar and though two of us already had agents, we just couldn't bring outselves to sit out the buzz of what is always a consciousness raising evening (plus one gets a free glass of wine ... what more can one ask for?).

Jeannette Towey has posted a detailed report of last Thursday's steamy Agent's Party on her blog (and Julie Day blogged about it here) - this is just a photo caption report. And remember, all submission details are on the websites of the agents - and they find it "extremely annoying" when submissions are sent clearly without consulting the guidelines! You have been warned!

Our panel of literary agents included: Zoe King of the Blair Partnership, Julian Friedman of Blake Friedman,  Alice Williams of David Highams Associates, Vicki Willden-Lebrecht of The Bright Agency,  Gillie Russell of Aitken Alexander, Claire Wilson from Rogers Coleridge and White

Zoe: looking for sci-fi ... space ... dystopia ...historical fiction, Phillippa Gregory for young readers. She also expressed a liking for trolls! She said she is, 'open for business' and her ethos is to provide eidtorial guidance and 'brand development'. Zoe is keen to see all the submissions. She says that when she finds something outstanding, her work is easy. She will talk to the author and stresses that the relationship must be something they are both happy with, a positive experience for both. She further advised that a writer cannot underestimate an online presence!

Standing room crowd included one bestselling children's author and several soon-to-be debuts still shopping for representation plus some people who already had agents but had no other social life

Julian: If we have a choice between a good story and a good writer, we would go with the good writer. Write like an angel he says and any holes in the story can be sorted ... absolutely not interested in very young fiction ... especially interested in work with film potential and working with 'transmedia' . If you need to chase, it's a good idea to chase the assistant! He's unlikely to take on any unpublished writers. Has worked with adults for the past 40 years and is now the newbie children's agent. Julian advised that many people send their stories in too early, in an unpolished state. Check yourself and make it the best it can be. Save yourself some heartache by checking that you're submitting the right kind of stuff e.g. Julian says he already has one chinese chef and he doesn't need another! When it comes to a choice between writers, Julian says promotability' is important - the willingness to get out and sell your books on and off line is can give one writer an edge over another.

Alice: no sci-fi or retellings please ... burgeoning interest in graphic novels .... would love to see humour for mid-grade boys and something literary (!!!)Alice is keen to see stuff across the range from picture books to YA but not illustrators although she's happy to look at writer/illustrators

Busy bee Vicki's been all over the world setting up outposts of the Bright Agency ... agency style is 'strategic management', like matchmaking between authors and agents ... a former senior editor at Penguin. Like Zoe, Vicki likes to read everything herself and like Zoe, she finds the outstanding writers easy to find, it's the '50-50' writers she spends the most time over. Writers are relatively new to the Bright Agency and she's VERY interested in finding new talent. For Vicki, her work is all about 'relationships and faith', like falling in love. You start a wonderful relationship with a new author in the hope that it will be a positive experience for both. She spends a great deal of her time nuturing these relationships.

Gillie: former publishing director for children's fiction at Harper Collins  still at the beginning of a new career in agenting ... worked with Michael Morpurgo and would love to find a new Michael Morpurgo. Not fantasy! For Gillie, voice is all important and this quality was what everyone was keen to see. She brought along examples of great voice, Moira Young's 'Blood Red Road' and David Lowne's funny, 'Socks are not Enough' - humour for boys again!

Claire: Works alongside Pat White ... please don't patronise the reader. She's quite open as to subject she wants to see, fantasy, sci-fi, humour... Claire agrees that voice is all important! Claire showed us 'Moon Hare' as an example of a brilliant book for younger readers, full of humour.

What advice would you give an author who's been waiting nine months for a response from an agent? "Chase us! We get busy"

Thank you to Liz de Jager for organizing the thing, and to Benjamin Scott for being such an excellent moderator!


  1. Thanks for the blog plug ladies and an excellent write-up, not least because you've covered stuff I remember but didn't record in my notes!


  2. We tried not to overlap! Relieved you got everything else down!

  3. Did we mention it was hot? Fever pitch hot and Benjamin was cucumber cool in the lead with an absolutely great, enthusiastic, generous bunch of agents!

  4. @Addy, @Teri - Did Julian really say he was unlikely to take on any unpublished writers? I don't remember that.

    ... and yes, REALLY hot!

  5. @Candy @Teri - yes, he did. I remember thinking it was noteworthy and making a worthy note. Course, there's always the possibility that the heat made me hallucinate with my ears.

  6. I remember attending this event for the first time many years ago and all the agents were giving instructions about double spacing and not spraying the manuscript with perfume etc. This lot just wanted emails to save time and paper.Year on year the agents get less and less clueless about the internet but this year is the first time I've heard them say explicitly how important it was for children's authors to have an online presence. How times have changed.

  7. Almost as good as being there. Thanks for sharing, ladies!

  8. Great post, Candy. It was an excellent evening. Thanks to Liz & Benjamin for organising/hosting. I can also confirm that Addy wasn't hallucinating about Julian's comment - I made the same note!

  9. Great wrap up of the evening. Great photos and I love that video. I'm headed over to the other blog to read the post there!

  10. Thanks totally should be to Candy & Addy for this post: I mostly wilted in the heat. And I would like to point out that I had water instead of wine!
    And yes, Julian really did say that he was unlikely to take on unpublished writers. I seem to remember he also had a staggering 50 authors already (just a few of whom were children's writers)!

  11. Thanks for this! Several agents represented less than 10 authors. Does that mean they have more time to devote to those they represent or do they want to spread their bets wider? Hum. Hope to see Erzsi of Hen & Ink on the panel next year - she'd liven up the cross-cultural talk I reckon.

  12. Thanks so much for this - really helpful for those of us who couldn't make it (sob).

  13. The manager was very supportive and he also organizing all of the things that we had to take home at the end of the night (cake knife, card box, photos, etc).


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