Thursday, 20 October 2016

Event Report: SCBWI Agents' Party 2016

On Friday 30 September, somewhere in central London, 12 literary agents met a roomful of budding children's writers. Agents' Party newbie Jo Dearden reports... 


Back in September I could think of plenty of reasons not to go to the SCBWI Agents' Party... 

 1) I'm a would-be Picture Book writer and only two of the 12 agents were open to Picture Book submissions. 

2) Money was tight and, even though the ticket was a bargainous £19.50, travel to London and back would cost £80. 

3) I'd never been before and had visions of being Nobby-no-mates and lurking in a corner, while everyone else air-kissed, clinked glasses and exchanged witticisms. 

4) My fridge needed defrosting (No, really – the freezer was so furry with ice, I could barely shut the door). 

All good solid reasons. Or were they just excuses, conjured up by my subconscious (if you never try, you never fail, right?). I gave it a little more thought... 

5) Only having two agents to approach would make the whole thing seem less daunting. 

6) I had a friend in London I could stay with and we could arrange to meet up with other friends the following day. Suddenly the £80 train fare didn't seem quite so steep. 

7) I might bump into some people I already 'virtually' know (from online critique groups and Facebook). 

8) If I got a butter knife I could carefully shave some of the ice off the freezer and get the door to shut properly again. 

Decision made, I booked my ticket. 

 The event itself took place at the rather swanky Royal Over-Seas League (just round the corner from The Ritz) and was an evening of two halves. The first (from 6.30pm to 8pm) consisted of two panel discussions, while the second (from 8pm to 10pm) was the 'meet the agents' part where writers could accost captive agents with a view to submitting work. 
The first panel
The first panel (chaired by Sara Grant, co-editor of SCBWI's Undiscovered Voices anthology) consisted of Elinor Cooper (DKW Literary), Kate Shaw (The Viney Agency), Jenny Savill (Andrew Nurnberg Associates) and Jo Williamson (Anthony Harwood Ltd). The agents shared some of their likes and dislikes (Kate Shaw loves a love story, but don't send Jenny Savill anything with talking animals or mermaids), gave general advice (make sure your covering letter/email is polite, succinct, professional and warm) and dropped in the occasional anecdote (it took Kate Shaw's client Holly Smale three years to perfect the first Geek Girl book, but she wrote another seven in less than four years). 
The second panel 
The second panel (also chaired by Sara Grant) consisted of Amber Caraveo (Skylark Literary), Jennifer Laughran (Andrew Brown Literary), Molly Ker Hawn (The Bent Agency) and Jodie Hodges (United Agents) and followed a similar format. During this panel the agents revealed subtle differences when it came to the submission process. Molly Ker Hawn always reads the synopsis before deciding whether or not to read the first three chapters of a submission (reasoning that a person who can write a well-crafted synopsis can probably write a well-crafted novel), whereas Jennifer Laughran would rather 'stab out her own eyes' than read a synopsis! This really brought home the importance of reading each individual agent's submission criteria. 

After the second panel discussion ended, the remaining agents who hadn't been part of a panel – Bryony Woods (DKW Literary), Catherine Pellegrino (Marjacq Scripts), Chloe Morgan (Plum Pudding Illustration) and Kate Nash (Kate Nash Literary) – said a little bit about themselves and what they were looking for. Then the chairs were cleared away... it was time for us to meet the agents face-to-face. ​ 
Irene, Samantha and Leonie wait to meet the agents
With Amber Caraveo's reassuring rallying-cry ringing in my ears – 'We want to find great writers. Do not be afraid of us. We need you!' – I grabbed a glass of wine and joined a queue. 

To my surprise I found I didn't feel nervous at all. I think this was because the panel discussions gave us the chance to familiarise ourselves with the agents. Hearing them speak in a fairly informal way made me feel like we'd already been introduced. Also, while waiting in the queue I met up with one of my online critique partners and got chatting to a lovely Picture Book writer. I just didn't have time to fret. 

When it came to actually speaking to the agents I decided not to go for the polished pitch/hard sell. Instead I opted for a more meandering approach, chatting generally about my love of rhyme before mentioning two of my Picture Book texts. I tried to keep things brief (around five minutes per chat, I think) as I was conscious of not 'hogging' the agents. I got the feeling the other writers in the room acted in a similar way – being supportive and respectful of their fellow Scoobies, as opposed to being uber competitive. 
Anand, Annette and Lynne - queuing has never been such fun!
By 9.30pm the room had thinned out, I'd approached the two agents I'd wanted to speak to and I'd chatted to some fellow writers too. I promised myself I'd email my submissions before the week was out, and felt a real sense of achievement when I finally pressed that 'send' button. Job done! 

It's easy to think of reasons/excuses not to do something. To put barriers in the way, to sabotage yourself. By not putting yourself out there, you protect yourself from rejection, but you also deny yourself something all aspiring writers need. Hope. 

Thanks to SCBWI, the super-duper organisational skills of Ashley, Miriam and Allison, and the patience of the dozen or so agents who took part, a roomful of aspiring writers now have their next fix of hope. And, for the time being at least, I've got spring in my step, a glint in my eye, and a twist of excitement in the pit of stomach. I've still got a freezer full of ice too but, on balance, it seems like a small price to pay.

Jo Dearden is a Lancashire lass who likes to write Picture Books and poems. She is also part of The FunEverse www.thefuneverse.com

8 comments:

  1. Fantastic report. Sounds like you had a really good time.

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  2. A great report. Thanks for this.

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  3. Lol, fab write up, and something I must keep for next year's event as moral support! ;)

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  4. That's a really great write up, Jo. You've entertained and inspired me :-)

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  5. Thanks! I enjoyed the event a lot and would definitely recommend going, especially if you've never been before.

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  6. Thank you very much for this Event Report. Before reading this post I attended event at similar event venue. I always prefer to attend such corporate events as they are very knowledgeable and help in various aspects of my business.

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