AGENT KNOWHOW Making your submission shine in tricky times


It’s reportedly harder than ever for debut writers to get picked up, so how can you make sure your submission still gets noticed? Skylark’s Amber Caravéo gives us her top five tips.

It’s hard being a writer! You’re trying to grip a reader who’s probably surrounded by distractions and, in the case of an agent or editor, a pretty demanding judge too! But there are lots of things that really do help when we pick up your novel and dive in.


Make a good start

Make sure your opening line is as gripping as possible. These are the first words to greet your reader, and your first opportunity to grab attention. Think about where you start. Can you choose a moment in the story, or a thought in your protagonist’s head, that feels truly striking? Perhaps it’s something funny or strange. Perhaps it’s something mysterious and atmospheric. It can be anything you want it to be that will make the reader think, ‘Wait, what!?’


Please avoid clichés

Many novels open with a protagonist being bullied at school, or waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror (cue description of character), etc. Try to avoid scenes like this which have been done – A LOT! I know first thing in the morning feels like a good place to start, but you want to offer the reader something they won’t have seen before. Remember agents and editors are constantly reading submissions. Yours needs to stand out! 


Is your book worth starting twice?

Prologues absolutely have their place – some novels just demand a prologue. But if you can avoid one, do! I’ve just talked about how important it is to hook your reader at the outset – and we all know how difficult that can be – but a prologue means starting your story twice! If you find a brilliant way to grip your reader with the prologue and then, just as the reader becomes absorbed in those events, you whisk them away to chapter one, then you have to start all over again! That means a new stunning opening line, a new hook to make them want to read on and a very real risk that if you grabbed them with the prologue, you’ll lose them at chapter one! Writer, beware!


Leave your reader on a high

The whole world has been hit by the pandemic, so now, more than ever, we’re looking for stories that feel upbeat and quirky. Humour is popular, but it’s a skill. If you’re not confident you can pull it off, don’t try to head in that direction. On the other hand, if it’s in your wheelhouse then now’s your time! Mostly everyone just wants ideas that feel fresh and different. Something high concept that hasn’t been done before (that’s also well-written) would be snapped up faster than Kim Kardashian arriving at the Met Gala!


Don’t do more work than you have to

One of the most common problems we see are manuscripts that are too long for the target age group. Books that are ‘too long’ sometimes do get published and prove successful, of course, but if your story is too long then that’s a hurdle which your concept and writing skill are having to work extra-hard to overcome. A novel that’s too long for the age group is genuinely problematic and can also mean that you don’t have control of your story! Make sure you’re aware of how long your novel should be for your target audience, and try very hard to come in at the lower end or middle of that bracket. It may be hard but it will force you to pare your writing back to ‘Best Bits Only’ – and that’s actually a positive! 


I’m passionate about exciting new voices and high-concept ideas – so if you have something exciting in the works that you feel is truly unique, please do send it my way. I’d love to see it! If you’re looking for more writing tips and info – e.g. target word-counts for different age groups – do check out our blog at And, finally, GOOD LUCK! 😊




Amber Caravéo is co-founder of Skylark Literary – – a boutique agency that seeks and supports the best in Children’s and YA fiction. Prior to that, Amber was the Editorial Director for Orion Children’s Books, and also spent many happy years developing and editing children’s fiction as a Senior Commissioning Editor at Random House Children’s Books and Working Partners. She is seeking strong, distinctive voices, unique concepts, diverse storytelling – and loves humour and a great plot twist!





Jo E. Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant and Words & Pictures’ KnowHow editor. 


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