EVENTS Agents’ Party, Part 2

Something good came out of the pandemic – I plucked some courage and went to the Agents’ Party, without leaving the comfort of my own attic. Words & Pictures Events Editor Fran Price reports.


I’d heard about this London thing that happened every year. Speed-pitching top agents after standing around nervously with a glass in hand, thinking of the right thing to say. It wasn’t for me. I stayed in my Somerset burrow and only dreamed of being one of those fearless writers who ventured to the Agents’ Party in the big city.

And then, the pandemic happened and it all went online. Suddenly it didn’t seem so daunting. And, I discovered something else – who knew? – these agents are people too! The fact that it was in bite-sized chunks over four evenings with, on average, two agents per session made it far more manageable for an introvert such as myself. Chrissy Sturt has already done a fab report of the first two evenings; read it here.

Party #3, Becky Bagnall and Amber Caraveo, hosted by Sara Grant.

Becky Bagnall, Lindsay Literary

For submissions, Becky advises ‘Keep it simple. The writing is the most important thing.’ Keep the pitch short. ‘Sell yourself, but don’t overblow it.’ She’s still not seeing enough diverse voices – ‘this could be anything, your diversity is whatever makes you different from somebody else. It could be you were brought up in deepest Cornwall. I also want diverse voices in the traditional sense.’ Watch out for: waking up on the first morning of summer holidays; a dream; moving house; bullying.


Becky Bagnall.

If signed, she advises a debut author with a book on submission to ‘get on with the next project, remember it’s a career, you’re not just selling one book.’ Also, don’t compare yourself to anyone else! ‘If your loving it, it probably means you’re writing well.’

Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary 

Amber says, ‘The writing is the most important part, I almost don’t care what they’ve said in the cover letter.’ Top tip: really work hard on your opening line and paragraph. Whether it’s ‘unusual, grabbing, eye-catching, funny, unexpected – so I’m immediately hooked.’ Her pet hates are opening with: first thing in the morning; looking in the mirror; a bullying scene. They ‘tend to feel a bit stock and cliched.’ To get to know the voice, she suggests writing diary entries, text messages or letters from your character. ‘Just for your own practice.’ Lastly, ‘write because you love writing.’

Amber Caraveo.

So what did Becky and Amber say about the extracts?

A Second Chance, YA

Becky thought the idea of a Brit going to the USA is ‘not something you see very often’. She would have liked the pitch to give a clearer idea of the plot. The comp titles could be more contemporary and maybe include a book reference. Good writing. Amber was really intrigued by the idea of a war with the twin boys. It sounded interesting, but wanted more information on the tone: thrilling and difficult or funny? Perhaps the opening could have focussed more on the secrets, rather than telling us she moved house. ‘The writing is lovely.’

Hamster Boy, MG

Amber ‘loved everything about it. The concept is crazy, completely fresh and new. The writing is phenomenal, brilliant opening.’ There was real humour to the voice. ‘Please send me your manuscript!’ Becky agreed. ‘There aren’t many scripts that I find funny. And this was funny. I would love to see it. I love lists. I have never read an opening quite like that.’

Ashes Don’t Lie, YA

Becky thought the pitch was great. The idea that there are ‘three types of lying sounded really intriguing, very different.’ The writing and voice was strong, ‘it immediately made me want to read it.’ ‘The title was not as strong as the pitch and the writing – but that’s something you would talk about with your agent or your editor later.’ Amber also loved the concept and pitch, but agreed the title needed work. ‘The writing’s really confident, it felt like I’m reading a book already.’ It wasn’t clear how the three paths are going to be explored. Both agents wanted to read the full manuscript.

Hettie Arbuthnott, MG

Amber loved ‘the craziness’, but ‘it’s packing an awful lot in’. Great pitch, fun and intriguing, good writing, ‘interesting juxtapositions… presented in a matter of fact way. And I like that, the kooky with the ordinary.’ The pitch could be simplified. ‘I’d love to read the whole thing.’ Becky gave it 10 out of 10 for originality. She ‘wasn’t sure which theme the author was going to choose to pull the novel through.’ Great writing.

The Enemy Within, YA

Becky loved the writing, ‘but relook at the pitch.’ She enjoyed the Second World War setting and voice, and wants to see more historical novels generally. Good plot lines and an interesting, different topic. Amber found the ‘voice and writing were strong’ and liked ‘the idea of a murder mystery in the middle of the war.’ But the pitch felt detached.

Party #4, Rachel Hamilton and host Sara Grant

When talking to an agent, Rachel suggests an author asks: ‘What did you like, what struck a cord, what would you want to change?’ Ask us to pitch, to see how we sell a book. Decide what kind of agent you want: editorial (like her and Ben), contract expert, commercially minded, a ‘friend or agony aunt’. You need to ‘feel you’ll enjoy the relationship and it will work for you.’ Rachel would love to see MG horror and ‘joyful YA’. Own Voices ‘can be extended. As well as minorities, it’s also your own unique voice, or experience.’ Regarding cultural appropriation, take care: ‘people from marginalized groups can tell their own story.’ Top tip when submitting: on our website, ‘write a cover letter within the form, and you might jump the queue!’

Rachel Hamilton.

Rachel and Sara’s feedback:

Spell Caster, YA

Rachel liked the ghostly theme ‘the idea of seances and teenage malevolent spirits’. A strong, emotional pull in the opening: ‘We can all remember that feeling of guilt after doing something stupid as a child, and that need to make things better.’ Make sure it’s telling one story with different elements, not two separate stories. Make it clearer whether it’s a dual monologue or not. Sara thought the opening was really strong and intriguing… but also wondered about the different story lines.

The Curse of the Chrysalis Queen, MG fantasy

Sara loved the ‘quirky and fun’ opening. The writer nailed the heart of the story from the start. ‘I really love this feisty rebellious 12 year old.’ Rachel said, ‘Kids love fossils , science and gore,’ and the setting was very visual. ‘I would almost be sad to leave and go on a fantasy adventure.’ She loved the parents, and the specifics, like the micro fossils and beeswax. ‘It’s good to have science details, fact inside the fantasy.’ Occasionally, the voice felt too old, e.g. ‘paleo biologists’, and the phrase ‘lamented the lost potential.’

The Mysterious Melody, Chapter Book

Rachel was intrigued by the African setting, the Baobab tree and the names. She liked the sibling relationship, the rivalry, yet ‘they always have each other's back’. Rachel does see a lot of stories about twins though. The reference to a ‘mbira’ needed to be put into context, so the reader knows it’s a musical instrument. ‘Be wary of opening with someone waking up – it’s done quite often.’ Sara wondered if this story is middle grade. ‘Is it one 40,000 word MG story with series potential?’

Moonshine Girl, YA historical

Sara loved the ‘original' idea of a teen bootlegger. 'It does what good historical fiction should do, shares the past and illuminates the present.’ Rachel thought the storyline of Prohibition was ‘really clever. You've got naughtiness and illegality.’ She liked the world of secrecy and loving the wrong person. An opening should have momentum and urgency, ‘so perhaps cut down on the description to keep that sense of movement.’

*Header image: All screenshots by Fran Price. 


Fran Price is a Welsh-French aspiring children's writer living in Somerset. She writes picture books and middle grade and is Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at Twitter: @FranGPrice

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