EVENTS Which comes first: writer/illustrator or book?

What is it that grabs an agent’s attention in a submission? The writing or the writer, or both? Four agents, Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross, Joanna Moult of Skylark Agency, Lucy Juckes of Jenny Brown Associates & Louise Lamont of LBA Books share their insights in a recent SCBWI Scotland on-line event. Lynwen Pirie reports.

It’s a Saturday morning and, armed with a long list of questions and a bucket of tea, Scottish Network Organiser, Caroline Deacon, supported by fellow NO’s Tibo Torelli and Lynwen Pirie, is ready to ask all the questions you want to know about all things agent.

What is more important to you, the writing or the writer?

For Joanna Moult it is the writing first. When a submission comes to Skylark Agency Joanna will read the cover letter first before diving into the full submission. Once Joanna sees that 'this person can write’, she likes to get to know the writer as an individual. This is because the relationship between agent and author is a personal and important one where there must be trust and support.

Lucy Juckes of Jenny Brown Associates also recognises the relationship between agent and author is hugely important but one she loves as she, ‘really likes working with creative people’. Loving having, ‘talent humming around’, Lucy discussed both the writing and the writer being of equal importance saying, 'Writers are a small business in their own right.' If the writing catches Lucy’s eye she also likes to begin to build a close working relationship to get to know the author/illustrator.

Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross noted that so much affects writers and that it is important to get to know them as people. However Lindsay agreed the writing comes first before getting to know an author.

A great tip from Louise Lamont of LBA Books for authors/illustrators on submission was the importance of meeting an agent in person, or phone call or Zoom  especially if they've been offered representation with another agency  as it’s a good idea to give other agents a chance to bid for representation before accepting an offer.

Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross; Joanna Moult, Skylark Literary; Louise Lamont of LBA Books; Lucy Juckes of Jenny Brown Associates

How would you begin to consider a submission 
– would you read the cover letter first, the synopsis or go straight into the writing?

When looking at a submission Louise likes to consider the cover letter first 
 looking for a succinct piece of writing that is persuasive, detailing the promise of a book, drawing to its ‘flavour’ and ‘character’ – before she dives into the first chapter. Louise felt the synopsis wasn’t that important but necessary to know where the story is going. 

Joanna agreed with this approach, looking at the cover letter first before the writing. Skylark ask for the full novel when out on submission  this is so that if she wants to keep reading she can, without having to wait for a reply. Joanna highlighted the importance of reading the submission guidelines because every agency will have their own preferred submission package. So please do your research before submitting! 

Lucy and Lindsey gave similar top tips for cover letters, which was to share or highlight if you have met them before, for example if you’ve had contact with them in an agent 1:1 or another networking opportunity. These agents also both agreed the cover letter is the first thing to consider... so make it stand out!

What makes a writer stand out in their cover letter?

A succinct piece of writing is going to stand out for Louise, who is looking for a cover letter to be persuasive and talks about the actual book being submitted. She likes her authors to provide a summary similar to the blurb written on the back of books in bookshops. 

Lindsey shared her desire to be in the ‘hands of a confident writer’ and highlighted the importance to be kind, not angry. Joanna wants to know what is new about this particular submission and what is it that a writer wants to say through their writing. 

Lucy noted that an agent's time is very precious and if her mind wanders or she loses attention then the writer/illustrator might not be for her.

What would you say are your strengths as an agent?

So many strengths from each of these lovely ladies! 

Joanna shared that her strengths lay with her ability to form a strong author connection. Joanna is also really good at taking care of her authors  both emotionally and looking out for their best interests when representing them as she, ‘loves doing a deal!’ 

As a smaller agency of five agents based in both Edinburgh and London, Louise has quite a boutique, small list with less chance of competition between authors within the agency. Louise has the ‘ability to talk about food, TV, anything really’ to form a good friendship with her authors. 

Another agency which is deliberately small is Lindsey’s who makes her clients feel supported, also forming a good relationship, making sure she, ‘always had her writer’s backs.’ 

Lucy’s strengths lay within her agency between her colleague, Jenny Brown, and herself  Lucy had connections and an excellent understanding of the publishing world. Lucy continued to discuss her positive attitude and work ethic in her ability to ‘never give up’ and her understanding of how a writer feels.

With discussions in full flow time really does fly when you’re having fun and, after 90 minutes, our chatting sadly came to an end with our four fabulous agents! Each agent also kindly provided four 15 minute 1:1’s with writers and illustrators who had pre-booked. 

Thankfully we had that bucket of tea to keep us all going. Special thanks to our agents for their advice and insights. It was a pleasure to be involved in this agent panel event for Scotland’s writers and illustrators and beyond!

Images: courtesy of Caroline Deacon


Lynwen Pirie volunteers as Scotland's Network Organiser for SCBWI. She's currently studying the Work On Your Novel course with the Golden Egg Academy. Lynwen lives in the Northeast of Scotland and writes Middle Grade.


Stephanie Cotela is the Network News & Events Editor at Words & Pictures magazine.

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