EVENTS Agent and editor insights in Scotland

Sheila Averbuch reports on last month's agent and editor panel and one-to-one manuscript reviews in Edinburgh.

As I type that headline, I realise you may not have heard the great news for children’s writers and illustrators north of the Borders: SCBWI Scotland has recently expanded beyond its original Southeast Scotland area and gone countrywide.

All credit to our fearless Network Organisers Elizabeth Frattaroli and Justin Davies (Justin’s debut was published last month, yay!) for extending the reach of what’s already one of the fastest growing networks in the British Isles region.

SCBWI Scotland kicked off with a superb event on 11 May, an agent and editor panel and one-to-one manuscript reviews in Edinburgh. Tickets for the event sold out in record time, just 36 hours, as our local members were keen to hear from and meet with agents Thérèse Coen of Hardman and Swainson, Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates and Lina Langlee of the Kate Nash Literary Agency, alongside Floris Books Editorial Director, Sally Polson.

Ahead of the one-to-one meetings was a panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth and Justin. The packed room at Edinburgh Central Library heard the huge enthusiasm of the panel for all things children’s books. There was no doubt that writers in the audience seeking an editor or agent were listening to four professionals who are besotted with children’s books, and who are passionate about putting these stories into the hands of young readers.

(L to r) Elizabeth Frattaroli, Sally Polson, Thérèse Coen, Lindsey Fraser, Lina
Langlee and Justin Davies. 

What agents (and editors) want

First up were a few handy don’ts – for example, all four panellists continue to receive “Dear Sir” on submission emails, as well unwanted surprises accompanying submissions, including glitter, books and food. Submitting authors, don’t do this!

Rather, read the guidelines on each editor or publisher’s website for the kinds of books they’re seeking. Above all, as Thérèse said, distinguish yourself and your submission not with quirky add-ons, but “by including a clean, lovely introductory letter that shows you’ve done your research, you know your book, and know where it stands in the market.”

A quick peek at each person’s Manuscript Wish List

Sally Polson: always seeking picture books with a Scottish theme, although it must have a clear and clever concept, especially as Floris “has already gone through a lot of the Scottish animals.” They’re always seeking great middle grade writing with strong worlds and characters, but are looking for less YA now; although they still accept it, Sally says she receives more YA than anything else, and the market remains small.

Lindsey Fraser: Lindsey’s looking for something to fall in love with, and she urged writers to make the writing in their submissions absolutely as good as possible. She says middle grade is her heartland and while she and colleague Kathryn Ross still represent YA, they have excellent YA writers on their books already and are more interested in seeing projects in other age ranges, including author-illustrators who write their own picture books.

Thérèse Coen: Thérèse doesn’t represent picture books but is looking for middle grade, such as a well-made magical fantasy world, stories where the main character goes on a journey, or where the focus is on friendship and family. While she loves fantasy YA, she says it’s a hard space to sell in at the moment, although she thinks there is room for a classic YA romantic comedy similar to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Lina Langlee: Lina is looking for a strong narrative voice that jumps off the page. She says magical realism works well, and she’d love a detective story with series potential. She’s also a sucker for stories “in” books, for example where characters fall into a book or story. She agreed that YA is a difficult sell but says she hopes that psychological thrillers becomes the next trend in YA. (Interestingly, Thérèse mentioned that thrillers are a big trend in the Netherlands, where publishers continue to ask for those stories).

So … should you stop writing YA?

If you do write YA, the panel agreed that, while it’s a tough sell at the moment, publishing is, in Thérèse’s words, “highly reactionary”. The pendulum may well swing back towards YA, if publishers conclude that they’ve acquired too much middle grade and need more YA. As Sally mentioned, there will always be room for excellent YA, and there will continue to be prizes for that age range.

The panel also discussed the matter of diversity in children’s books, including ethnic, cultural, geographic and economic diversity. While it can be problematic when white writers choose a main protagonist from a different ethnic or cultural background, it’s equally problematic if a white writer creates a manuscript with nothing but white middle-class characters. (For more on this topic, see our write up of the Patrice Lawrence event in Edinburgh last year).

The balance needs to be struck between cultural appropriation and whitewashing, especially as the overwhelming majority of the publishing industry continues to be white middle-class. The panel expressed enthusiasm for more stories by diverse creators, and the desire to take positive action to ensure that young readers from all backgrounds see more of themselves in the stories they read. 

Thérèse also mentioned the hunger for manuscripts that cross geographic and economic diversity: not just a monoculture of London-centric or middle class/wealthy characters.

Record-breaking: the event sold out in 36 hours.

Top tips for improving your writing

I asked the panel their top advice for us to improve our writing, and the overwhelming response was to read more. Lina particularly urged writers to listen to how children speak – her pet peeve is manuscripts littered with exclamation marks, where writers have concluded that kids talk that way.

She also advised us to look at sentence length, complexity and word choice. She often finds herself scribbling “simplify” on manuscripts, especially where writers may unconsciously “pull out their uni essay writing” and get too fancy with similes or sentence length. The panel all agreed on the urgent need for writers to know the market they are writing for, especially to be familiar with recent popular titles that might appear alongside the writer’s own book if it were on a shelf. 

Interestingly, Sally Polson mentioned that the upper end of middle grade/lower end of YA, or tween reads, isn’t something that publishers avoid – Floris is definitely looking for it – but that it’s challenging for shops to know where to place these books. For that reason, Floris in particular would design and sell such a book as middle grade but indicate with the cover design that the content is older.

Many, many thanks again to Elizabeth and Justin for organising another superb SCBWI Scotland event. To find out more about what’s going on in Scotland – we always have fantastic events during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, for instance – do keep an eye on the SCBWI British Isles events page. We hope to see you soon.

*All pictures taken by Sheila Averbuch


Sheila M. Averbuch writes middle grade fiction and is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary. She received a 2019 Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and cofounded the current SCBWI Scotland network with Louise Kelly. Find her on twitter @sheilamaverbuch or visit


Fran Price is part of the editorial team at Words & Pictures, the online magazine for SCBWI-BI, and is Events Editor. Contact her at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great round up. It was a fantastic event, of which I came away inspired. Thank you x


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.