How to catch the eye of a literary agency’s reader

The speaker at London Writers’ Club’s September event was Jo Unwin, a literary agent at Conville & Walsh. She gave a fascinating and inspiring talk which included describing how the submission process worked at Conville & Walsh. They don’t have a slush pile, instead they have a talent pile and it is truly a talent pile, having found quite a few very successful authors there over the past year. So who is at the start of the process? David Llewelyn. Jo kindly let us share with you the opening paragraphs of his open letter on the C & W website:



I am the Gatekeeper. Effectively, this is the prime role I play as a freelance. I police the borders, I man the drawbridge and am pledged to repel intruders. However, those who do get past me stand on the threshold of fame and fortune, in the citadel that is Publishing. A bit scary isn’t it?


I am sure that, for many first time authors, the Reader elicits the same fear as the Grim Reaper. My aim here is to explain the role of the Reader, elicit some sympathy, and provide some tips on how to ingratiate yourself with the Reader.


Readers are employed by literary agents and publishers to fulfil a number of roles, but, in my case, I am employed as a freelancer to undertake the initial assessment of all general and non fiction unsolicited manuscripts that arrive at the doors of Conville and Walsh. Once a month, a white van pulls up outside my secret retreat and deposits up to five Post Office bags, containing up to 200 part manuscripts.

David goes on to give us the secrets of a great covering letter, synopsis and sample pages – the do’s and don’t’s of a submission package. He ends;

In the last twelve months, Conville and Walsh have been fortunate enough to have discovered a number of fresh, new authors out of the so-called ‘slush pile’. Rather than the term ‘slush pile’, I am endeavouring to introduce the term ‘talent pool’, as I think it more adequately reflects the company’s increasing success with new authors. Four of our new authors this year have, between them, grossed over £1.5 million in advances, and, of course, have the great satisfaction of seeing their work in print.

Do read the full letter here. It is vital when submitting to C & W, and to many other agencies.

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