Guest blog: Agents are not the only route (Yvonne Banham)

In our latest guest blog post, Yvonne Banham, gives an illuminating and honest account of her experience of being a finalist in 2020 and her path to her first publishing deal.

Agents are not the only route

Of all the calls to miss, I missed THAT call from Sara Grant. By the time I called her back, I was convinced it would be “close, but no thanks” so I was stunned when she told me I’d made the final twelve. After a few happy tears and celebrations, it dawned on me that I had to actually get out there in the big world of children’s publishing and talk to people, sell my story, be a writer. Panic? Not sure that covers it, but fast forward to our brilliant preparation day in London.

This is the bit that might not seem like the main prize but, for me, it turned out to be just that. I was feeling extremely anxious about meeting with industry professionals face to face, convincing them that me and my story were a good bet.

I dreaded saying the wrong thing, drying up completely or making a fool of myself. Everyone else seemed so brilliant!

But we were taught well.

Prepare. Practice your pitch. Take a few breaths when you get criticism or rejection, come back to it. Learn. Keep going. Keep writing. Be professional. Always, always be ready to make the most of any opportunity.

The launch party was challenging – yet not only did I survive, I also managed to speak to some amazing agents and publishers. I’m not saying I did great, I really didn’t, but I’d faced my fears head-on. (Ok, so I did grin awkwardly and hurriedly introduced another of the UV2020 finalists as a diversion tactic at one point, but I was learning. And there was a laureate in the room!)

I just wanted to ask…

I had some full MS requests and great feedback but no bites. So, I took my prize, bundled it up with what I’d learned at Golden Egg, and applied it to another project. I now knew how to make the best of my chances so when there was an open submission, a tiny 24-hour window, I went for it.

Then, in January, it happened. That one simple message from Penny Thomas at Firefly: lovely comments followed by “Just wanted to ask if it’s still available.” I find it hard to put into words how that felt, and I still get emotional thinking about it. It was lockdown. I had interest. There was going to be a zoom call. Me and a publisher. No agent.

But, this time, I had all of the face-to-face experience that Undiscovered Voices had given me, and the certainty that (even though I couldn’t tell them anything) I had the support of my fellow UV2020s and the UV team behind me.

Always be ready

Can a conversation be relaxed and exciting at the same time? It was both and more. Not long after, I signed with Firefly.

I still don’t have an agent. Would I like one? Of course! But being agented isn’t the only path to publication and I’m more than thrilled with mine.

Your writing career can turn in a second, a moment, on a day you’re not expecting it. Always, always be ready.

Yvonne Banham grew up on an island off the Cumbrian coast and spent lots of time huddled on the beach with a scary book. She can speak Dutch (badly) and believes in ghosts though she’s never met one. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband, and when she’s not writing, she’s hiking or trail running with her very naughty hound. Her MG debut The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie will be published by Firefly in early 2023. You can find her on twitter @Eviewriter.