EVENTS Agent’s Party 2020 — inside the Zoom Room


Have Zoom, will party! SCBWI-BI wasn't going to let something like a pandemic prevent the Agents' Party from happening this year. Anna Brooke reports.

Life pre-Covid! Remember it?

That strange period before March 2020 when SCBWI could hold in-person events and ‘ZOOM’ was just a regular kid-lit sound-effect?

How the world has changed since then. How Zoom’s share prices have rocketed (why didn’t we all invest?)! And how SCBWI has skilfully transposed its real-word events online, including the popular Agents’ Party, SCBWI British Isles’ annual networking and pitching experience, designed to build bridges between authors and top children’s literary agents.

Organisers Sara Grant, Gail Doggett, Ashley Taylor and Terri Trimble tweaked the event for Zoom this year by organising four, hour-long sessions with agent Q&As and live critiques of pre-selected, anonymous pitch packages. What the Party couldn’t provide in networking opportunities (for obvious reasons), it made up for in valuable information for anyone looking for an agent. 

The agents involved were Thérèse Coen of Hardman and Swainson Literary, Gillie Russell of Found Talent Management Agency, Zoë Plant of The Bent Agency, Polly Nolan, founder of the brand-new Papercuts Ltd, Catherine Pellegrino of Marjacq, Emily Talbot from United Agents, Rachel Mann from Jo Unwin Literary Agency, Amy St Johnson from Aitken Alexander Associates and Anne Clark of Anne Clark Literary Agency.

Here are a few takeaways from the Q&As:

Sara Grant: What makes a submission stand out?

Gillie Russell: It’s voice that turns me on and engages me. It’s voice, it’s character, it’s pace, it’s storytelling.

Thérèse Coen: I agree. And on a pragmatic level, there’s no kind of magic. You just have to write a really strong and clear pitch letter. One that shows you know your book and you know the market – maybe with some comparison titles to show that you know where it fits in on the bookshelf.

Sara Grant: What makes a good pitch?

Zoë Plant: Having a clear hook, and so an obvious idea of what the main concept of the story is. And making it feel different, even if the story seems familiar in its themes or in the way that it plays out. It’s about finding the heart of the story and teasing it out in the pitch.

Polly Nolan: Ages ago I was talking to someone about the idea of writing a hook and how difficult it is, and they said that if you’ve been to the cinema on Friday and on Monday somebody asks you what you saw, you’re able to distil the essence of that film into two lines. People can apply that to their own work. Imagine you’re telling somebody in the pub about what you’ve read. How would you summarise it? This is the kind of thing to keep in mind.

Sara Grant: Beyond talent, what are you looking for in a client? 

Catherine Pellegrino: People with passion, creativity and ideas. Someone who has a broad range of interests. It doesn’t have to be in their professional lives — just someone who is engaged on a professional, intellectual or general level, who shows there’s a spark and that they’ll have lots of interesting ideas to share and develop as a writer.

Emily Talbot: Someone who can work collaboratively. It can be a solitary experience writing a book. Then when you enter the publishing world, there are so many people who are going to have opinions on your writing — so many things to grapple with, and everyone’s going to have an opinion. Being able to work with people is really important.

Sara Grant: Finding an agent is a two-way street, so what questions should authors ask you? 

Anne Clark: A simple question is, ‘What do you like about my book?’, because I think you need to hear what it is that we see in your writing. Just answering that question will tell you so much about whether I’m in tune with you. ‘How would you pitch my book?’ is another. And you need to know what kind of editorial changes, if any, the agent might have in mind before submitting to publishers. 

Rachel Mann: And it’s okay to have more general conversations with your agent about things you’re both interested in because there’s something relational that needs to happen. Because it’s a long-haul career we hope you’ll have and we want to be alongside you.

Sara Grant: What happens if you take on a client because you love their book, but it doesn’t sell?

Amy St Johnson: You have to be resilient because that’s the nature of the business. We would work with an author to think about what they want to do next. I’m a firm believer that everything you write is better than the last thing you wrote. It may not work like that in charts or book sales, but you will learn something from everything that you write. Debuts are often heralded as huge successes, but lots of people have to have a few bites of the apple before they get there. It’s really important to remember that.

*All photo-illustrations by Soni Speight.


Based in Paris, Anna Brooke has been a travel journalist for seventeen years. She was the Paris expert for the Sunday Times Travel magazine for eight years and the Times Paris correspondent during lockdown. She has authored seven guidebooks to Paris/France for Frommer’s and was an Undiscovered Voices finalist in 2020. Find her on Twitter at @AE_Brooke.


Fran Price is Events Editor for SCBWI-BI's online magazine Words & Pictures. Contact her at

No comments:

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.