Moving in the Right Direction by Jo Thomas

Jo Thomas entered our January Slush Pile challenge set by Gemma Cooper. Jo was one of the two winners of this challenge with her submission of a chapter from Betsy Beeble Has No Beard and she explains why this win tells her she is moving in the right direction.

I’ve been focused on writing stories for children for about five years now and the slushpile challenges are one of the main reasons I joined SCBWI almost two years ago. 

I follow Gemma on twitter and it’s clear she’s a great agent with an excellent reputation and successful clients. She’s very high up the list of agents I want to submit my book to when it’s ready. When I saw the callout for the January challenge, I was about halfway through a rewrite with a target to get it finished by the start of February.

I’d given my first chapter a good polish and was happy it was working better, but I wasn’t sure it was ready to go out into the world. I’m very lucky to have writer Marie Phillips as my mentor through the wonderful WoMentoring project (, so I emailed her my redrafted first chapter and asked for her advice on whether I should enter or wait and just submit to Gemma when the whole redraft was complete. 

Marie’s email back had loads of exclamation marks and gave me the confidence that it was ready.

When I heard that I’d won I was already on a bit of a high because I’d finished the redraft the week before. That had been the goal I’d been aiming towards, so I’d gone out for a slap up meal to celebrate achieving it. 

To then hear Gemma had picked my chapter (alongside Alison’s) to win the challenge was incredible. I screamed the house down!
That's not Jo screaming the house down. 
Here, she's reading a short story at Port Eliot literature festival.

It feels like winning the challenge is a pointer that I’m gradually moving in the right direction.

I worked really hard on that first chapter and the sense that it’s paying off is the best feeling. But I know I wouldn’t have got to that point without going through the process of letting the first draft rest, plucking up the courage to show it to a few trusted readers, listening to their feedback and not just tinkering with the story to get it working, but taking out whole characters and storylines. I tend to be impatient, but this is a reminder that taking your time and seeking help from others really does work!

Gemma talked me through how she would’ve responded to my first chapter if she’d got it in her submissions, what she would be thinking and looking out for and what else would need to be in place in the next few chapters, and rest of the book, to keep up her interest. 

There’s so much advice online it’s sometimes hard to know what to listen to, so to hear direct from someone whose opinion I really respect has helped give me clarity and confidence. 

Apart from the fact that this kind of feedback is gold dust, it was also just great to chat with Gemma and be reminded that agents are normal, lovely people who love books just as much as writers do!

I know there’s still a lot of work to do and hurdles to jump on the road to becoming a published author, but this is a terrific boost to help keep me going.

We wish you the very best, Jo, with Betsy Beeble Has No Beard and hope to find it in bookshops one day.


  1. Well done Jo. We are avidly watching your progress.

  2. Fabulous to read about your win! Congratulations, and all the very best for what's to come...

  3. Thanks so much, not only for this great opportunity, but for the cheerleading too! It's a huge help to know people are rooting for me :)

  4. Really pleased to read about your win, Jo - it's a great story! Have fun making it sparkle on the page...

  5. Wonderful story! Good luck with your writing! Thanks for sharing! Greets, Man With Van Acton Ltd.


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