Tuesday 14 February 2012

SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2012: The Launch Party, or The Tale Of The Level Playing Field

by Jo Wyton and Maureen Lynas

Thursday evening saw the launch party of the third Undiscovered Voices anthology. In the anthology are twelve novel extracts (written by thirteen unpublished, unagented authors - including both myself and Maureen) and gorgeous illustrations by six very talented illustrators. Katie Dale has already blogged about the event here, and we don't want to get repetitive! So instead we'll focus on something else, something which came up in conversation a few times during the night.

It seems that one thing agents and editors want, what they really, really want is...

A level playing field.

Or at least they'd like, every now and then, for writers to act as though they're on one.

Because here's a secret (shh... don't tell anyone): agents and editors are people too. I know, shocking news.

The thing is, as writers we are used to sitting behind our laptops and sweating over every sentence, every word, until we don't think we get it any better. Then we send it out, and although we hope against hope for something positive, we inevitably expect to be rejected. If there is the merest sign of anything positive, we climb up to the nearest rooftop and dance a jig.

Now the UV launch party was great for a lot of reasons, but the main one for me was the intermingling of agent, editor and writer. There were no barriers in that room. If we wanted to approach people, we could. If people wanted to approach us, that was even better. So many surprises were had because of that breakdown of the neuroses which normally get the better of writers. Conversations were had that bore no relation to writing, or at least the anthology to hand, and more than that, they were enjoyed. This was a very different world than the one we are used to.

And here’s why. To a writer, the Industry Professional seems a mysterious creature. When we submit work, we think about what the person on the other end might say if they do like it, if they don't, and if they detest it with everything they have. Even if we know what the Professional looks like, we don't tend to think of them in that way when we know they have our work in their hands. We don't think of the person sitting at the other end of the e-mail, we only think about their reaction.

Will they like it, or won't they?

A number of times during the launch party, conversation turned to not only how intense the evening was for both writer and agent/editor, but to how much they were enjoying themselves. Partly, we imagine, this was due to the copious amounts of Prosecco that disappeared strangely fast. But it was also because agents and editors were surrounded by writers who weren’t afraid to talk to them.

Think about things from their point of view. Every month they receive hundreds of submissions. They know that with most of them, they either won't fall in love, or won't think that the book is ready to move on to the next stage. And yet they continue to fight through those slushpiles, because somewhere in there is the writer they would love to represent.

The reason we say 'love' is that for somebody to represent you, they have to LOVE your writing. Agents have to be able to walk in to a room and convince somebody to put money behind you and your book. Editors have to be able to face an acquisitions meeting and convince them all that your book is worth backing. You don't want somebody who likes your book, you want somebody who loves it.

And that's all agents and editors are looking for - writing they love. They want to find writers as badly as writers want to find them.

We wouldn't mind betting that when an agent or editor finds something they can get behind - something they LOVE - they look for the nearest jig-worthy rooftop as quickly as we do.

So next time you are at a conference or workshop, and you are avoiding eye contact with an agent or an editor in the desperate hope that they won't talk to you, go and say hello. You don't have to pitch (although don't tell anybody we said that). You really can just say hello. Act like there's a level playing field, and you never know, one might appear as if from nowhere.


  1. That's nice to hear. Totally agree. Had a similar experience with an agent - she was lovely and it was nice to talk in a relaxed way on this level field.

  2. This is so true. For a long time I thought agents and editors were gods. Actually I thought published writers were deity as well. And, while I spoke to published writers with a mixture of awe and nervousness as a mere unpublished mortal, the thought of speaking to a real live agent terrified me.

    That's why it's so important to get yourself out there, go to events and meet these professionals in the flesh. And then you'll see they're only human after all! And normally jolly nice people to boot. And they love talking about children's books! And, something else you may not realise - they are often as nervous about the approach as you are.

  3. Absolutely right, Jo! Being able to a fun chat is pretty important and I'm very comfortable with that. I find pitching horrible and the pressure to pitch horrible. In an ideal world, I'd rather let my work sort of slide out within the fun chat. Probably says more about me than anything else. Many thanks for a great insight.

  4. It' strange how you get your head into that particular space isn't it Jackie?! The party was so much fun though, and so many agents were enjoying it too! So unusual to get all those different people in one space. And lots of fun.

  5. I liked the people I met in publishing so much that I decided to become one of them. So far, it's one of the best decisions I've ever made!


  6. Great advice I think I’d be fine talking to anyone – agents included. But as soon as I think about pitching I clam up. So maybe I should take baby step – setting achievable goals, like saying hello!

  7. Jo mentioned that agents have to LOVE your work. Which can be a bit confusing for an new author who has been approached by a number of publishing houses. The assumption is that, because editors love your work you will be able to get an agent to represent you. But it doesn't work this way, agents have to represent the authors who are right for them to represent. They have to love the voice of the author. So in a weird twist in these days of 'please submit through an agency' you can end up with no agent and multiple deal offers. If you're lucky!


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