There is an annual event in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) calendar, which seems to bring on equal measures of excitement and
trepidation utter fear – the SCBWI Agents’ Party.
Last year I went along to this event in a state of sheer panic. I remember feeling overawed by the agents and the idea of “the pitch”; summarising the essence of my picture book ideas into a few words. I wrote it all out, I rehearsed, I went, I was incapable of speaking! (I hid in the toilets.)
Since then it has been a year of learning. After my explorations at Arvon and the SCBWI retreat I felt a lot more confident in my own ideas and writing, so the Agents’ Party 2015 was a far more enjoyable experience.
The event is made up of two parts, the panel discussions and then the mix/mingle/chat/drink part. There were 8 panel agents, so the discussions were split into two groups both orchestrated fabulously by Candy Gourlay. The discussions give the agents an opportunity to talk about what they like, what they are looking for and what just presses all the wrong buttons!
There was some useful discussion on submissions. Gill McLay of Bath Literary talked about getting the agent’s name right as she recalled a submission where hers was spelt differently three times. As she reflected, this is actually quite hard when there are only four letters and two are the same! Read the submission guidelines is a useful reminder to all, along with treating a submission like a job application: present your best work and make it professional. Yet as Fiz Osborne from Plum Literary added, let your voice and personality shine through in your email too.
There was a lively discussion about rejection, which opened up the intriguing idea that agents also deal with rejections from publishers. The key advice was to move on but also to really listen to any feedback you get and use it to improve and sharpen your work.
There were different views around the kinds of characters they like. Louise Burns from Andrew Mann talked of characters that are empowering for children, or facing difficult things. I was interested in the thoughts of Vicki Willden-Lebrecht, founder of The Bright Group, who talked about characters and stories that celebrate being human and show honest emotions. I discussed this with her later, and she talked in a bit more detail about liking stories which deal with those essential human situations that all children and adults can relate to, such as feeling lonely. She also talked about stories where there is an element of instruction – where characters learn something positive from their experiences in the story, such as the importance of “being nice”. An example she gave was “The Storm Whale” by Benji Davies, which I shall now be studying. This all too brief chat was very informative and although I didn’t “pitch” as such, I felt I had some helpful feedback which I am going to use to work on a particular story which might just suit her!
The rest of the evening went by in a blur of chat and wine and raffle prizes where the lucky ticket holders won a 1-1 with their chosen agent. Although, once again I didn’t do “a pitch” and really only spoke 1-1 with one of the agents present I left feeling that I had more knowledge and greater confidence in my writing than I arrived with. Nor did I hide in the toilets. That alone, I would say, made it a success!
©Chez l’abeille 2015