How I met my agent through SCBWI

This was an interview I did a couple of months ago for the SCBWI newsletter. In it I talk about finding my agent Jo Williamson through the SCBWI agents’ party.

SCBWI offers loads of great chances to go to events and meet agents, editors and other authors, make friends and learn a lot about the publishing industry.

Scbwi AgentsParty
Scbwi Agents Party 2015

A SCBWI Agents’ Party 2014 Success Story.

Peter Bunzl signed up with agent Jo Williamson as a result of last year’s party. His first book, Cogheart, will be published by Usborne in September 2016.

Tell us about how you met Jo.
Jo was a panelist at the Agents’ Party in 2014, and she seemed very nice and friendly, but we didn’t meet on the night as it was busy and I only managed to talk to about half the agents. However, I’d met one of her writers, who I liked, so I ended up submitting to her anyway, and now, of course, I’m really glad I did. I didn’t hear back from her until January 2015, when I sent out a few reminders for outstanding submissions. Jo read the pages straight away and replied asking to see the whole manuscript. After a couple more emails, we spoke on the phone and she offered to represent me. Then we had another chat the next day – talking in a bit more detail about the book, contract etc. – and I said yes.
After you signed with Jo, how much further work did you have to do on the book before it was ready to submit to publishers?
After I signed with Jo, we met up and went through the manuscript chapter by chapter. Then I went away with her notes and worked on it some more. She wanted to send it out just before the London Book Fair, so I think I had about seven or eight weeks to do the edits.
Did you have to make any compromises about how you wanted the book to be?
Not really. Jo suggested I remove a subplot in the second half of the book that took the action away from the main characters’ goals too much. It was a sequence I knew was problematic and had been trying to fix, so cutting it turned out to be a good solution. Also it helped shorten the book, which was too long as it stood for Middle Grade.
What has surprised you about having an agent?
It’s great to have someone say with such enthusiasm they love the story and characters. Jo was confident that we could fix the problems and sell the book and it really re-energized me about the work I knew I had to do. Then she went out and generated lots of interest, and we got five offers, which was bloody surprising!
How have you found doing edits for Usborne?
I’ve only just started working on the edits for Usborne, but I think they should be fine. I’m relieved I did the big structural stuff before it got to this stage because it means their editorial notes are more about the story details and deepening character.
What’s your advice for people attending this year’s SCBWI Agents’ Party?
Go along and talk to everyone. The agents are all very nice and approachable. And even if you don’t manage to speak to some of them, or you’re nervous, or you feel like you flubbed your pitch, if the book’s ready, send it anyway because you never know. Also speak to the other Scoobies. It was my first SCBWI event and I met loads of friendly people and ended up going to a lot more events after that.

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