EVENTS SCBWI Industry Insiders 1–1 Festival


In October, SCBWI Industry Insiders once again presented the 1–1 Festival offering members the opportunity to meet UK agents or editors and have them critique their work.  
John Durant shares his experience.

Cycling through my junk folder, I spied an email from the SCBWI Industry Insiders saying I was on the waiting list and I had been allocated a ticket. I had until midnight on the 26th August, 2021, to confirm my booking – but the 26th was two days before.

The golden opportunity to have a 1–1 with an agent had been misplaced in between the spam emails “Single women are dying to meet me” and “Invest your life savings in Bitcoin”.  I didn’t blame the organisers – this was all Microsoft’s fault. 

Fortunately, I asked to be placed back on the waiting list and, lucky enough, I managed to get a ticket.

For the previous 1–1 Festival, the tickets were made available from the website and the event sold out within seconds. It was a bit like trying to get tickets for an Ed Sheeran concert.

A lottery akin to the Hunger Games reaping...
(Screenshot by Anna Gamble)

The new process to get a ticket was in the style of a lottery akin to The Hunger Games. Your name is selected at random, and you are paired with an agent of your choice, or second choice depending on your luck. The lottery-style ticket system seems a lot fairer than applying for tickets via the website (looks like the Capitol got something right), and the organisers worked hard to place those on the waiting list too.

Part One: Q & A with Amber Caraveo

The first event of the festival took place on Friday evening. This was a Q & A with Amber Caravéo of Skylark Literary Agency. Amber’s career is a glittering display of who’s who in children’s publishing. She provided a fascinating view of the industry and the challenges writers and agents face on a daily basis. She gave a bare insight into advances, and set expectations of what aspiring authors could expect. This was a refreshing take on a topic that tends to be brushed under the carpet.

Amber Caravéo, Co-founder of Skylark Literary.
(Picture credit: Amber Caravéo)

Other useful tidbits included perfecting your opening line; guidance for writing characters outside of the writer’s ethnicity and cultural background; and details of trends that editors are looking for, such as middle grade humour, and contemporary settings. Naturally, there is always an awkward question about the submissions to signing ratio (my bad). That one brought the mood down (again, my bad), but Amber fielded the impertinent question in a positive manner. 

Gareth P. Jones, once said “as a professional writer you are always on submission.” Aspiring authors dread submitting to agents. It can be a cold and harsh process. But an agent is constantly on submission to publishers with multiple clients. What writers experience during the submission process – literary agents endure tenfold.

It must take a certain mix of upbeat, creative, and commercial DNA to produce a literary agent. Amber has this in bucket loads. I don’t think there was anyone on that zoom call that didn’t want Amber as their agent by the end of the hour.

Part Two: 1–1 with Penny Thomas

The next session was the individual 1–1s. One of my key takeaways from Amber’s Q & A was setting the expectation of the outcome of the 1–1s. Secretly, we would all like to attend a 1–1 with an agent, circumvent the evils of the slush pile, get signed, and live happily-ever-after.

Such an approach is unrealistic and could lead to disappointment. However, this is an opportunity for someone at the top of their game to provide feedback on your work. 

Penny Thomas, Publisher at Firefly Press.
(Picture credit: Firefly Press)

This is how I approached my 1–1 with Penny Thomas from Firefly Press. Penny was incredibly easy to talk to and put me at ease instantly. This was a special treat for me as Penny has one of my heroes, Jennifer Killick, in her stable. We got to chat about Jennifer’s work – the phenomenon that is Crater Lake.


I came out of my 1–1 invigorated and enthused by the feedback I’d received. I also had a couple of golden nuggets to hone my submission package. My only regret is my 1–1 didn’t last longer. Still, it was a Saturday and Penny had other writers to mentor as well as a weekend to enjoy, so I was thankful for the time we had.

Part Three: The Social

The final session was a social event in the evening. Out of the 75 attendees only 24 managed to make the evening event. Just like The Hunger Games, we lost a few of our comrades along the way. 

In my eyes, the social event was just as important as the Q & A session and the 1–1. Writing can be a solitary and challenging experience. It is always wonderful to spend time with fellow writers and it was great to see some familiar faces on the Zoom call. Hopefully, when we get some normality in our lives we can meet in person and put the literary world to rights over a glass or three of Prosecco.

On behalf of all the attendees I would like to thank the agents, editors, and SCWBI volunteers for all the time and effort they put into making this festival a success. To all those aspiring authors, I recommend you put your name into the lottery for the next 1–1 Festival. 

As Effie Trinket once said – “May the odds be ever in your favour.”

*Header image: John's festival workspace, John Durant.


John Durant writes Middle Grade and YA fiction. He is a student at the Golden Egg Academy and has previously been long-listed for the Times Chicken House competition. He is a lover of sci fi and all things that go bump in the night. Currently, John is on the hunt for a literary agent – preferably one that can help with his tax return (FYI – that’s not a deal breaker.) Twitter @DurantJc Linkedin:


Anna Gamble is Social Media Editor and Sub-editor for Words & Pictures and is a member of the Events team. Contact

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