What are Agents and Publishers Looking For?


Skylark has been out and about a lot lately, chatting to SCBWI and other writers’ groups as well as having fun at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the SCBWI Agents’ party. Yes, ours is a hard life!

Interestingly the same two questions seemed to crop up time and again. What are you looking for? What are publishers looking for?

Amber and I can give you a simple formula for what everybody’s looking for:

It just needs to be sensational writing with a brilliant, commercial hook. Also, it should be something that’s nice and straightforward for sales teams to categorise. Finally it should be fresh, different and totally original. It’s not a lot to ask, is it?! Off you go, write that for us please.

On a more serious note, it is a tricky question as ultimately it always boils down to the writing. You could write a dystopian novel with vampires (the least desirable thing for the current market) but everyone would still get excited if you’d made it fresh, compelling and totally absorbing. Equally, it may be that you have already written a contemporary romance (which is on my wish list) but if the voice isn’t strong enough it just may not resonate with me.

This question becomes more dangerous when you are asking it because you’re wondering what to write next. Writing to a trend is super-risky. By the time you’ve written the YA thriller that everyone is talking about, then edited it and submitted it, there is a good chance that the market will have moved on, or the person looking for that perfect thriller, has found it, and is now on the hunt for some funny middle-grade fiction instead.

Also, writing to a brief is far less rewarding and enjoyable than writing what you love. When you write what you love, your story will be at its most fluid, readable and wonderful. And when it’s coming from your heart it will also be more unique. We want to read your best possible work, not what you think will fit the market best.

If you are still desperate for a steer, the best thing to do is make sure you have a great understanding of the market so read, read, read what's out there for children at the moment. Look at what is popular and see if it inspires you.

Ultimately agents and publishers are readers. We are looking for something that will sweep us up, make us forget to read with an editorial eye and keep us up all night to finish your story.