I recently attended this SCBWI event at Seven Stories - Lime St, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE1 2PQ.
The day started with a talk by Joanna and Amber from Skylark to give us some insight into the agent/publishing process. They felt that there had been a shift to commercial successes and that the taste of each list editorial director meant specialism in genre or age group. Most commission across the board but have favourite 'go-to's.' Really good humorous MG is wanted at the moment but this may change to be YA again, yet they are tired of vampires and dragons. If you have a new commercial angle, you could still do this, but it is all about the writing as they want to be swept away.
It is a more competitive market, so do not write to a trend. Indigo is the YA imprint at Orion and YA/teen is becoming popular again. Write as a standalone and don't end on a cliff hanger. You don't need a marketing package, but do check guidelines and tailor your submission as to why you've picked them. Your covering email should be a letter about yourself, adding that you are a SCBWI member etc. with a short summary and pitch of the novel. Some read the synopsis last, so if you can, put an elevator pitch in there and what you see your book as being. Include spoilers in your synopsis for them in one page. Your opening few lines/couple of pages/chapter should show why they would stay for this story. Avoid waking up scenes, although this is done well in the Hunger Games, stick to showing what is normal and abnormal, for example in the Hunger Games the reader has questions, why scared/what is the reaping? Each word has to earn its keep and start in the middle of the action. Recommended having a social media presence, i.e. Facebook, twitter, tumbler, Pintrest, Instagram and look up #s (hashtags) i.e. UKMGCHAT, UKYACHAT, UKTEENCHAT, ASKAGENTS, UKFEMINISM and GEAQA as it is all about support. Mentioned The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant
The role of the agent was discussed and it was stressed that true agents would never ask for money up front, editorial services and Golden Egg Academy etc. are all okay as providing a service that will enhance your book, but an agent never. They are there to open doors for you as an agent is used to filter for the publishers, should know the industry ins/outs, have the best contacts for your book as they will have people in mind. It is useful to have an agent that specialises in that, i.e. YA, and they are tough and hard-nosed on your behalf so they can sort out appropriate contracts etc. They can be the 'bad guy' on your behalf so that you can write and work with your editor and they can help you choose who publishes your book, but it is ultimately your call. Most will want to make editorial changes. Sales, marketing and rights for the team, they can engage with the text if it is already polished, can help with pace, plot, structure but can't help with the writing.
It was then opened up to questions and the following insights were revealed: Always looking for new talent and it's always about sales figures. It is easier to launch a brand new debut as there will be no BookScan figures. Often the 3rd/4th book is the breakthrough novel and all agents/publishers use a BookScan application (Neilsen), so a self-published book is more difficult than a new book. Over 20k copies is considered good sales in self-publishing, though 100s - 1000s more likely and is not enough. The figures will be against you, so don't self-publish unless you have exhausted all other avenues. Agent biographies should say if they have been editors, when researching, if came up through the Rights group, less chance they have. Most people stay with the same agent throughout their career.
Books they wished they had represented included Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle, One by Sara Crossan, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine, The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt. Publishers like graphic novels, but if you can illustrate it is better as they like the package. Recommend reading what is selling/popular in your genre now and to write for today's child. Know your market and other authors - what publishers are excited about, e.g. Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Get a sense of tone, pitch, level, word count etc. First or close third person is very popular at the moment. Better not to jump around from different characters perspectives. When it comes to voice, publishers want this different unless it is a series, e.g. The Tapper Twins Go To War, Dead Weather and Sunrise.
You will never stop being anxious, this is the life of a writer, it does not get any easier. Write if you love the writing, it is luck and timing but it is tough.
The 1-2-1s with the agent/publisher followed, where attendees got feedback on the work they had submitted.