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Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Publishers? Not Us!

22 Feb 2017 9:50 AM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

This past weekend the Geneva Writers Group hosting the by-now-traditional Meet the Agent and Publisher event on a sun-filled Webster University campus.

Agents Joelle Delbourgo and Eric Ruben from the US, agent Jo Unwin from the UK and publisher Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books all joined us for two days, giving both general advice and answering questions about getting published, as well as more personal feedback for a lucky few who had requested one-to-one feedback on previously submitted material.


We worked our guests really hard, but we didn't spare the blushes of our members either, as one of the highlights of the weekend was the 'Saved by the Bell' session of reading anonymous first pages, with our guests ringing the bell at what point they would stop reading if this had been a genuine submission. Harsh but incredibly educational. We all learnt so much more from this practical exercise than from listening to any number of well-known precepts: 'Don't over-use adjectives... hook your reader in... start the story in the right place.' If you want to read more about this gruelling process from someone who too part in it, turn to Nancy Freund's blog post, while Marina Sofia talks about lessons learnt.

Another participant, Jo Christiane Ledakis, has sent us this feedback from the event.


Thank you to GWG, Susan Tiberghien, and the Steering Committee, for a magnificent “Meet the Agents” event.

And very special appreciation to Sanda Ionescu for the dedication, efficiency and enthusiasm in organizing a meeting that brought together four highly successful and experienced exponents of the professions dear and vital to every writer’s heart: two literary agents from the US and a literary agent and a publisher from the UK. They each evoked their fascinating trajectories and fields of interest, offered precious information and advice, and answered multiple questions posed by an eager throng of writers, including an intimate inquiry about each panelist’s “holy grail”, with unparalleled patience, candour and generosity.

The judging of the anonymous first pages was a thrilling and rewarding—even if occasionally slightly painful—exercise, with ripples of breathless attention and frantic note-taking here and there barely giving a clue as to who among the stone-faced assembled was the author of the item under the scalpel. Reassuringly, the four bells of judgement did not routinely converge at the same cut-off point but often tolled at different times, reflecting welcome divergences of taste, openness and expectation.

We are now armed with advice on the many elements required for success: professional query, distinctive voice, writing-about-what-you-know, passion, clarity of purpose and positioning; irresistible pitch, hook, cliffhanger, strap line, nugget for the short attention span; action moments and endings; platform and audience; research to zoom in on the right agency/publisher-fit; and, crucially also, the importance of networking and using the social media.

For those lucky enough to have had a 20 minute one-on-one interview, the advice could be personalized and more specifically tailored to the work submitted. 

Our question in a nutshell: how can we make sure that the fantastic first sentence into which we distilled our all will hit the mark?

We were handed the answer: make the hairs at the back of the neck of your agent prickle, give your publisher goose bumps. 

Clearly, several among us have mastered this art: their first page silenced the bells and triggered a round of applause. Reason for cheer for all of us and a clear sign of the success of the 2017 GWG Meet the Agents event. With it, one more dream of the founder, Susan Tiberghien, who brought over and adapted the event from the US, became reality.

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