SCBWI O.C. Agents Day

Last March 16th, 2013, I had the opportunity to attend SCBWI O.C.’s annual Agents Day.

Held at the Newport Sea Base, the conference featured four literary agents:

Stephen Fraser from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Kerry Sparks from the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, Susan Hawk from Bent Literary, and Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary. Also on hand was award winning author Carrie Arcos.

The first half of a day was dedicated to listening and learning from the speakers. I took notes furiously as each speaker had a wealth of information to share. Here are some of the things I learned from each of them:

Stephen Fraser spoke about what agents do, and the different rules by which they are able to sell their clients’ books.

stephen fraser

Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

  • An Agent is a broker for your manuscript.
  • Having an agent is like having your own personal GPS system – he gets your manuscripts to the right editor in the right publisher.
  • Happiness is a quiet thing. The same thing can be said of selling books.
  • When you’re negotiating a deal, stand up so you’ll feel stronger.
  • As long as it’s great writing, it will sell. A good book always has a home.


Taylor Martindale spoke about the all important element of Voice in fiction writing, and why agents are always looking for it in submissions. She also gave us five tips for using voice in our own works, and some exercises for developing voice.

 taylor martindale

Taylor Martindale, Full Circle Literary

  • What is voice?
  1. Combination of personality, tone and style that is specific to your novel
  2. The way readers are introduced to your narrator and reader and carried on throughout the book
  3. What makes your reader care about the character
  4. What gets you connected to the book before you’re getting into the story
  • When working on your books, Specificity helps – generalization won’t make a good start to your book.
  • Use the five senses when writing. Sensory details are rich and evocative and connect with the reader


National Book Award finalist Carrie Arcos spoke of her writing journey, and of her experience at the National Book Award ceremony banquet.

carrie arcos

Carrie Arcos, National Book Award Finalist

  • Don’t put too much stock in praise or criticism. There will always be both.
  • On Writing while Parenting: I didn’t wait until I felt like writing. I wrote whenever I had the time.


Susan Hawk of Bent Literary, talked about the books that she loved, and the current publishing trends.

susan hawk

Susan Hawk, Bent Literary

  • She looks for books with compelling voice, stories with depth and heart, lovable characters
  • She loves historical fiction, humor, mystery, sci fi & fantasy.
  • On Querying: Never query a novel that isn’t finished
  • On the difference between MG & YA books:
    • YA – problems come more from their peers,
    • MG – problems deal with authority/parent/teacher


Finally, Lit Agent Kerry Sparks demystified the Author-Agent relationship by taking us through all the steps of publishing. She gave us tips on what to do pre-agent and when we’re ready to get an agent. She also gave us advice on selecting an agent, and explained what happens once a writer gets an agent, and once that agent sells the manuscript to a publisher.

She also gave us a sample query to show us what works in a query and what doesn’t.

kerry sparks

Kerry Sparks , Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

  • Read tons of books in the genre you are interested in writing for
  • A personalized query letter can stand out in a sea of generic ones, so do put more time into this
  • When selecting an agent, look at their track record, as well as their website, social media and blog
  • Work with your agent to get the manuscript in best shape possible
  • Book won’t come out for a year or more after it’s sold, depending on the edits and the publisher’s list
  • You have to be the biggest advocate of your book. Think about School & Library Visits, Tapping the local Market and social media.
  • Social media is your friend but you have to do genuinely

After soaking up all the information from the wonderful speakers, we broke for lunch. Learning from our experience last year, my fellow carpoolers and I had picked up a Subway lunch on the way to the conference. This was good as we enjoyed a leisurely chat and lunch in the Yacht room, instead of having to walk two blocks to the nearest restaurant.

Lunch was over soon enough, and the session resumed. This time, however, attendees were divided into two rooms, depending on their surnames. A-J stayed in the main hall, while the rest headed for the Yacht room.

We had a Speed Round with all four agents, and we were able to ask them all sorts of writing/publishing questions during the 15 minutes each of them was with us.

In between speed rounds with two agents, we had the First Pages Reading session. Some lucky attendees got their first pages read out loud, and the agents present gave their helpful feedback on what works, and what doesn’t within the pages.

first pages reading

 First Pages Reading Session

After the final First Pages Reading, everyone who had paid for a manuscript critique lined up to get their manuscripts. I excitedly read my critique and even got the chance to speak with the agent assigned to my manuscript.

The SCBWI O.C. Agents Day remains to be one of my favorite conferences. I’m already looking forward to next year!



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16 Responses to “SCBWI O.C. Agents Day”

  1. Shelly says:


    Love your summaries of each speaker. My book is actually Free today and tomorrow. Had a moron moment yesterday.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  2. Yes, there will always be both praise and criticism!
    It took me until my second book to really get into using all five senses. Much better at it now.

  3. Stopping in to let you know you won a copy of Linda Kage’s Addicted to Ansley on my blog. You can contact Linda directly through her blog –


  4. You have to be the biggest advocate of your book – so true! No matter how you are published.

  5. Al Diaz says:

    Very good advice here. I just learned to use the five senses but I still need practice. I am thinking on writing not when I feel like it but when I have time. I know it would do great to my unfinished manuscript.

  6. Hilary says:

    Hi Nutschell – you’re always so thorough … so pleased you enjoyed the Conference … Happy Easter .. cheers Hilary

  7. Karen Lange says:

    Sounds like a great event! Makes me want to attend a conference. It’s been a while since I’ve been to one. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Have a great weekend! :)

  8. Mary Pax says:

    Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun and some great learning. Have a wonderful weekend! 😀

  9. Elise Fallson says:

    Thank you for sharing this information with us! I wish I could attend these kinds of meetings.*sigh* Anyway, I am hoping to start the query process this year and need all the advice I can get. (:

  10. Wow… what an exciting experience… you’re so lucky to have attended.

  11. Great stuff! I’ve wondered if I should branch out in my reading instead of only munching on books in my own genre — but now I have an agent’s advice to back me up.

  12. Misha says:

    Sounds like a really interesting seminar. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  13. Nas says:

    Sounds like an interesting and informative seminar. Thanks for all the information.

  14. Excellent post. I loved how you put the pictures with the agents and what they love.

  15. Geoff says:

    I’m staying in Johannesburg with my elder sister at the moment and this will help her so much with her book. I’ve bookmarked this post and will forward it to her. Blessings and thanks, Geoff.

  16. Kate Conrad says:

    What a great conference. Thank you for sharing some of the helpful things you learned. I hope that your focus on your manuscript this month is personally rewarding. I am sure it will pay off soon.

    I would love to read your work. Maybe you can share at our next critique.

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