Monday, 24 September 2012

The end of the slushpile?

Saturday the 22nd September saw nearly 250 aspiring authors queuing around the shelves of Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross waiting to meet one of Curtis Brown's agents. All of them nervous and anxious and muttering their pitches under their breath.
Standing in the line for Children's authors I asked myself repeatedly why I was putting myself through such torture. It had seemed like a good idea at the time - practice my pitching, meet an agent, get a little feedback on my work and all for free etc etc.
 But now I was here, minutes away from going in I was deciding it was actually a very bad idea, I had visions of a) falling over as I approached the agent, b) my mind going completely blank, c) being told by the agent that I should not give up my day job and d) crying.
 I'm very pleased to say that none of those things did happen and in fact the whole process was far less traumatic than I'd been imagining. There was no small room with a stern faced agent across the desk looking bored as I stumbled through my words, instead there was a long gallery space filled with about eight to ten desks behind which sat agents, all of whom were friendly, welcoming and very considerate of the nervous and trembling authors they were meeting.
 I was slightly disappointed not to be able to meet their Children's agent, Stephanie Thwaites but her assistant Catherine Saunders was lovely, charming and very easy to talk to. I managed to pull off my pitch without any disasters and was hugely relieved when she told me it was "Well delivered." She then read the first page of my novel, gave me her thoughts and then asked me lot's of questions about what happened next. We spent about ten minutes chatting and when we were finished I felt a large sense of relief that a) it was over and b) she hadn't laughed at my idea.
 Next we were directed to the cafe where we had ten minutes to ask more general questions to some more very friendly agents. It was here that I discovered that the Discovery Day linked in with the launch of Curtis Brown's new website
 Here you can look at their writing school, where many courses are on offer including one on writing for children which starts at the end of this month and includes a one to one with Stephanie Thwaites as well as several workshops. It costs £900.
 They are also claiming to have got rid of the slushpile by asking authors to use their new submit on line tool which they claim is "quick, efficient and responsive." Rather then send in attachments they want you to answer a few questions and then copy and paste in a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of your work. There are short biographies of each agent as well as info about their new writing team (made up of agent assistants) so you can send your submission to the most appropriate person. They promise to reply to everyone within six to eight weeks.
 There is also a blog where you can read posts about the industry and what the agents are looking for and the new writing room offers insights into the craft of writing, interviews and guest blogs from agents and authors.
 Of course how this all works in practice remains to be seen but I was impressed by the effort that had gone into the day and by their passion for new work and now I've survived that pitch I do feel more confident about doing it all over again  at the SCBWI agents party on Thursday. That is until I get there when no doubt the nerves and anxiety will kick in and I'll wonder why I keep doing this to myself...


  1. Thanks so much for this really informative post. Do you know if CB accept picture book submissions? There's nothing obvious either way on their website. Meanwhile, look forward to meeting you (or at least being in the same room as you - I understand these things are rammed!) at the agent's party.

    1. Sorry - wasn't looking hard enough on the website. They DO accept picture book submissions. Although given the tiny client list for children's books, I imagine the chances of being taken on are minimal in the extreme.

    2. Hi Elli, thanks for commenting, I'm glad you found it useful. I think they give us name badges at the agent party so if you see me through the hordes give me a shout ;) be nice to chat.

  2. I had seen the tweets about this so thank you for letting us know how it went on the day! I hope you will be submitting to them now you've had their advice?

    1. Hi Vik, it was an interesting day and I'm definitely thinking of sending my m.s in. Might wait until the rush dies down a bit first though!