SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE October 2018 Winner Clare Harlow

Clare Harlow

Clare Harlow, winner of the October 2018 Slush Pile Challenge, tells us why she entered the competition and about her experience of discussing her submission with Hannah Sheppard,  Director and Agent at D H H Literary Agency.

Clare won this challenge by demonstrating she was able to write an elevator pitch, by introducing the problem and what's at stake … and making Hannah Sheppard care AND submitting the first 750 words of her completed manuscript.

Hannah chose Clare's pitch: ‘Discovering your twin has super-powers is mind-blowing. Having to take their place is on a whole other level. Shades of Magic meets Out of the Blue as an unmagical girl must free her sister from an enchantment before the walls between the worlds collapse and soul-sucking hounds invade, threatening the life of anyone in Bristol who has been touched by magic.’

Hannah thought the pitch for A Patchwork of Glass "could be trimmed a bit – we don’t need the comparisons for this purpose – they’d work better in a cover letter and I think there could be some clarity around ‘anyone in Bristol who has been touched by magic’ but it gives a great sense of the story and world. The writing is also confident and immediate and the sense of drama in the opening is attention grabbing."

I had never entered a Slush Pile Challenge before, but I saw the notice for this one as I was readying my first batch of agent submissions and it seemed like too good a chance to miss, especially as Hannah was already on my list of agents to contact.

Fortunately, I’d also been working hard on my pitch game. I used to really struggle with pitches. I mean, they’re tough. You have to distill character, set-up, conflict and stakes into a couple of sentences — and if you can’t, there’s this awful panic that perhaps you don’t really know what your story is about, when, of course, you absolutely do. But last summer I was lucky enough to be selected for the ‘Write Mentor’ free mentorship programme and my wonderful mentor, Marisa Noelle, wisely insisted that I persevere with my pitches. In the end, I managed to come up with a couple that I didn’t totally hate.

So, the timing was right. I had a polished manuscript. I had an okay pitch. It didn’t occur to me, though, that I might be one of the winners. I was thrilled to get the email and to read Hannah’s comments. It was particularly useful to learn that Hannah doesn’t recommend putting comparison titles in elevator pitches — I had been using the Twitter pitch format, in which comps are a must.

Hannah emailed to arrange our chat and I jumped at the chance to meet her in person. Despite how busy she is, she very generously made sure we found a slot that fitted in with my work schedule (I’m self-employed and on a pretty modest income so this really meant a lot to me) and before I knew it, I was on my way to central London.

When I arrived, Hannah immediately put me at ease. I’m a big fan of lots of her authors and use some of their books in my work as a tutor, and it was great to see her obvious pride when I showed her the copy of Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone that I had in my bag ready for the lesson I was going on to afterwards. Hannah patiently answered even the silliest of my questions about agent life — and helped me add to my ever-growing list of questions to ask should I be lucky enough to have an ‘offer meeting’ in the future. She reminded me that it’s really important to trust your gut and make sure you end up with someone who shares your vision for your writing and your career.

Then the tables were turned and I felt a flutter of nerves as Hannah began asking me questions about my story. Writers spend much time working alone and almost all my critique partners happens online, so it was strange actually talking about everything out loud. I needn’t have panicked though. Hannah was really enthusiastic about the outline and said she liked my blend of fantasy and mystery. She asked to see my full manuscript — although she warned me it would take her a while to read it as it’s bookfair season. Whatever the outcome, I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Thank you massively to everyone involved in the Slush Pile Challenge and to Hannah Sheppard of D H H Literary.

Feature photo: Clare Harlow

The Words & Pictures team wish Clare all the best with polishing her manuscript. A special thanks to Hannah Sheppard, Director and Agent at D H H Literary Agency for setting the competition, judging it and providing such valuable feedback to Clare.

Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over six years and loves to write picture books, middle-grade and teen books. She lives by the sea and has two soft and silly cats. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge.

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