Here, Mandy Rabin and Terri Trimble tell us more about the event and the one-to-one experience.
What we learnt on the night
After time to grab a drink and a bite to eat, Amber and Jo talked to SCBWI members about the submission process and how to find and approach a literary agent. They stressed the importance of doing research before submitting to agents, both to get the facts right in your covering letter and to give yourself the best chance, by selecting agents who are most likely to be interested in what you are writing. Interestingly, they said that while ideally your covering letter and synopsis should be well written, strong and compelling opening chapters are far more important.
In terms of choosing an agent, both Amber and Jo felt that a dedicated children’s agent would probably have better connections within the children’s book world than an agent whose clients included writers of adult fiction.
Amber and Jo also discussed the impact of current trends in publishing, and while YA fantasy was in high demand a couple of years ago, publishers are now looking for middle grade novels. However, rather than following a trend, Amber and Jo said it was best to be true to yourself when it comes to writing, as by the time your novel is ready, the trends will probably have changed yet again. And even if your genre or subject matter is not what agents are looking for at the moment, a thoroughly original take on a subject written in a fresh voice will always be snapped up.
Writers listening intently to Amber and Joanna's advice.
The discussion then shifted to the topic of money, as even writers have to eat sometimes. According to Amber and Jo, an advance of £7000 or over for a children’s or YA novel would be deemed high, and while authors may fantasise about six-figure deals, these are rare and in fact create pressure on the writer, because if book sales do not meet expectations, and sales figures record a loss, this can dent a writer’s credibility.
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative afternoon and evening, spent in the company of SCBWI members old and new, and with two generous and knowledgeable agents who are passionate about YA and children’s fiction.
The one-to-one experience
I'd read about the Skylark agency tour in Words & Pictures so when I heard the same event would be held in London, I was keen to take part. Skylark seemed like a friendly and approachable agency and I thought this was the perfect opportunity for my first ever one-to-one.
Joanna was so warm and welcoming that I immediately felt at ease. She gave her impressions of my novel excerpt and characters and we talked about how I envisaged the rest of the story unfolding. Her feedback was both encouraging and constructive. She felt that the opening of my story was quiet and a bit slow, something members of my critique group had also mentioned, and that I needed to think about more dramatic action to kick the story off. “Grab your reader by the throat and don’t let them go,” she recommended, advice which I may tape to the wall above my computer!
The 15 minute session flew by and left me inspired, with new ideas about how to approach my opening scene and the structure of my story. It was a great opportunity to get a professional perspective on my work, as well as a taste of what it's like to work with an agent.
You can learn more about Amber and Joanna and their wish lists here:
Special Events Feature: Q&A With Children' s Literary Agent, Joanna Moult
Agent Confidential: Amber Caravéo
A M Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at email@example.com