Thursday 27 September 2012

The Curtis Brown Discovery Day at Foyles - Writers and Industry coming together

Update! A detailed report of British SCBWI's yearly Agent's Party appears on Jeannette Towey's blog. Oh, and here's our report on last year's Agent's Party New - So you've got an agent, now what? A checklist

by Sally Poyton

On Saturday, I, along with 270 other budding writers, convened at Foyles for the much-anticipated Curtis Brown Discovery Day. The day was billed as giving ‘aspiring novelists the chance to pitch their book ideas directly to award-winning literary agents, Curtis Brown.’ Those lucky enough to bag a free ticket recieved a seven minute one-two-one session with an agent - 30 seconds to deliver your pitch and then six and a half minutes to brace yourself for some feedback!

We all love a good queue...

With much trepidation and a vision of Agent-Author speed-dating, I arrived at Foyles and joined the queue. Despite attending without any expectations, and going with the sole purpose of practicing pitching, when I was confronted by rows of desks with agents on one side and writers on the other, my nerves began to surface.

But then the first revelation of the day was unveiled...

Revelation 1: Agents are people too! Who knew?!

After the pitch and the useful ask-anh-question-you-like surgery that followed, I met up with fellow SCWBI writers to catch up, calm down and await the panel talk. The panel was chaired by Curtis Brown Agent Karolina Sutton, and consisted of author Sally Vickers, Sam Humphreys, publisher at Michael Joseph, Curtis Brown book agent and Joint CEO Jonny Geller, plus Tim Glencross, a debut author discovered through Curtis Brown Creative.

See - more queuing!
The discussions centred on how to be discovered and author's debut books, from both the author and agent/editor point of views, followed by a Q&A session. As the day wore on, more revelations were revealed...

Revelation Two: Agents want to say yes! Jonny Geller equated authors to actors, explaining that all actors want rejection; they go into an audition ready for rejection, believing that the casting director want to say no. But really, everybody just wants to say YES.

Revelation Three: The myth of Originality, as broken by Jonny Geller, who said that agents are not looking for originality but ‘something that bridges the gap between originality and the familiar so that we know how to sell it’.

Revelation four: Falling in love with an MS is not enough. When Sam Humphreys was asked about debuts, she said she's looking for something ‘remarkable that catches me quickly.’ But she also added that she has turned down novels she loved when she couldn't see how to sell them.

Revelation Five: Agents don’t take no for an answer. When talking about rejection, Jonny said that ‘as an agent, if you believe in a writer, you don’t accept rejection. A decent agent is not going to rest until you get published.’

Revelation Six: Cross genre = Yes Please! In answer to a question from the audience on cross genre, Johnny said, The agent and editors will work out how to sell them. And Karolina added that ‘Now is the time for cross genre: it’s what publishers want.’

It was a day of discovery, honesty, great feedback and A LOT of queuing. Just what this writer needed!

Sally Poyton is a YA writer of dark, contemporary fairy tales. She was short-listed in this year's Undsicovered Voices, and is seemingly incapable of stopping writing. She blogs about all things writing and fairy tales at


  1. Sounds like a very informative and useful day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Terrific wrap up! Good one, Sally.

  3. Sounds like a great, but nervewracking day. I think I might have to run my 'an agent walks into a bar' workshop again.

    1. Jackie, that sounds like a great workshop, although being dyslexic I read it as 'An agent walks into a BRA!'

    2. No reason why an agent can't walk into a bra. It would have to be a colossal one though.

  4. Actually, I just wanted to say ... I remember the day I realized that agents (and editors) were human. Quite a revelation. But even after that I still spent a lot of time hiding when I spotted one in the neighbourhood.

  5. Excellent summing up Sally and thanks, Slushpile team, for the plug at the top!

  6. It was a day of revelations. I had a lovely time. Thank you for reminding me, Sally!


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