The Hook - One Year On

 Of all the opportunities SCBWI offers members to bring their work into the light and get professional feedback, The Hook pitching competition is my favourite. Winning the Hook 2015 gave me a huge boost when I needed it most, and if you have a project that’s ready for agents to consider, consider applying to The Hook first. 
Of course the prospect of pitching in front of a live audience is sick-making – that’s because you’re a human, not a robot. But remember why you began creating children’s books? You wanted to share your stories with the world, and the SCBWI British Isles national conference audience is as supportive a slice of the world as you’ll ever encounter. 

That’s what I told myself as I looked for the courage to go for The Hook 2015. For a decade I’d tried to write children’s fiction, and since 2012 I’d been writing and submitting to agents seriously, but without luck. My 2014 submissions had nearly killed me: 29 rejections on the same manuscript. But I threw myself into deep revisions and work on my query letter, and when the Hook rolled around, I was getting ready to re-submit to agents. 

 I knew I could adapt my query letter to use as a Hook pitch, but even as I applied to participate, I was heartsick at the prospect – the Hook, resubmitting to agents, all of it. I’d sent out my first re- submission just before the conference, desperate at the prospect of more rejections. Day and night, I felt like I was bracing myself for another gut-punch. 
Sheila on the left, during the Hook. 
But the gut punch didn’t come. I was flabbergasted to find I’d won the Hook, and then an avalanche of more good things followed: serious interest from a publisher, a longlisting for Undiscovered Voices and a shortlisting for a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. Less than a month after the Hook, I had multiple offers of representation, and I signed with the incredible Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, just before Christmas 2015. 

The book I pitched at the Hook is now on submission, and I’m revising another middle grade manuscript with my agent now. I don’t have a publishing deal yet, but I’ve been afloat on the post- Hook buzz ever since, finally hopeful that my skills are developing in the right direction.

 “ But pitching live makes me feel sick”

 I felt the same. But honestly, if you go for the Hook, it’ll be ok, because everyone is lovely. During coffee before the Hook began, Sara Grant called me over to meet the judges: five agents who’d already read my 600-word intro and who were about to give me public feedback. As I drew closer to them, one judge clutched me in a bear-hug and wished me the best, and there were huge smiles and handshakes from the others, too. 

That’s when I knew that what I said above, about the supportive conference audience, was true. The Hook agents aren’t just judges: they’re a team of story-loving, writer-nurturing, literature-adoring professionals who respect SCBWI. They admire you as a SCBWI member and recognise that you’re fighting the good fight, trying your utmost to get your story into shape. 
Sheila and Sara Grant
 Standing in front of the audience wasn’t so bad: my fellow Southeast Scotland network members were in my eyeline, sending me so many eyebrow-raises, thumbs-up, and grins that it felt like the audience was made entirely of family members. And the judges’ feedback on my work was gold: professional input on a work-in-progress is SO RARE in this industry, you must grab every ​opportunity you get. 

I loved hearing the thoughts on other pitchers’ work, too: the agents’ experience in selling stories was evident as they enunciated points about the strengths and weaker points of each pitch. Contests like The Hook help you better understand how all stories and pitches work, and that’s a good thing. 

 Storytelling and story-selling 

As a storyteller, you must also be a story-seller, and the Hook gives you wonderful practice. I don’t mean you must become a shouty street vendor; but in order to speak about your work, you need to know it so deeply that you can describe its strongest, hookiest elements in a line, a paragraph, a one-minute chat or a five-minute pitch. Your preparation for the Hook will help you develop this deeper knowledge. 

Whether you’re doing school visits, speaking on a panel at a book festival, or telling your Aunt Gwenda what your manuscript is about, you need a pitch. Maybe don’t think of it as a pitch: think of it as a conversation-starter. Word of mouth sells books, and word of mouth needs concise descriptions of the work. 

 When I sat with my agent Jennifer before we signed together, she chatted about other books she represents, and each of her descriptions was a pitch: she knows exactly what the come-hither elements of her authors’ stories are (you can tell she’s been a bookseller), and her descriptions leave you hungry to know more. 

There’s no better time or place to begin working on your concise description than with your SCBWI friends. Even if you come to the conference without many SCBWI friends – it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t know everyone else – you’re guaranteed to have made new friendships by the time you leave. For more information on The Hook, visit here.


Sheila M. Averbuch ) is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency and is on submission with her middle grade manuscript SEVEN PLACES LIKE HOME. If you’d like to meet Jennifer and agent Lindsey Fraser from Fraser Ross Associates in Edinburgh, come to How to Pitch your Book Without Panicking in September. More info is here and bookings are now open 


  1. Great post, Sheila. Especially good to know the judges are 'story-loving, writer-nurturing, literature-adoring professionals who respect SCBWI.' Everything crossed that your well-deserved book deal is on the way.

  2. Interesting reading Sheila. Great to know how you are Doug one year on. I'm sure a deal is just around the corner!

  3. For me, entering The Hook last year was a brilliant, heart in throat experience and one I would recommend to anyone. My top tip? Have a friend in the audience record you pitch and the feedback. Afterwards I struggled to remember what the judges had said to me and I'm certain I lost some excellent advice. I don't have anything ready to submit this year, but will certainly give it another go in 2017.

  4. I was terrified that the Hook would become a negative experience but I was totally wrong. The agents were kind and the participants were impressive. i look forward to this year's competition.


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