Name: Amber Caravéo
Agency: Skylark Literary Limited
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role?
I was the editor of a children’s magazine called Puzzler Ace. Those were heady days where I wrote stories, created puzzles and interviewed such stars as Gordon the Gopher! It was the fun and creativity of this job that convinced me to make my career in children’s fiction – and ultimately led to Joanna (my business partner) and me setting up our own Children’s and YA literary agency, Skylark.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well?
I have to say that it’s the experience of having worked on the other side of the fence – as an acquiring editor for several major children’s fiction publishers. This helps me spot the books and authors that I think publishers will be eager to take onto their lists and, of course, knowing how the deals work from the publisher’s side makes it much easier for me to now negotiate with publishers on behalf of my authors.
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with?
Answering urgent emails and then constructing a to-do list specifically for the day ahead (out of the overall enormous to-do list that I have ongoing).
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day?
It’s actually very difficult to do this because one of the reasons I love my job is that my days are so varied. One day I might be up in London meeting with publishers, while another day I’ll be at my desk all day working editorially on an author’s manuscript. Skylark is a very editorial agency (not surprisingly given that both Joanna and I are former editors) and so we work closely with our authors to edit their books prior to sharing them with prospective publishers.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day?
Trust and honesty and good communication. An author needs to know that their agent will be truthful with them. I think they also need to know that they are being kept up to date so that they feel in control of their own books. Likewise, an agent needs to be able to trust that their authors will come to them with any worries.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship?
Well, most authors come to us through the traditional submission process – i.e. they send us their manuscript for consideration, we fall in love with it and then approach them to discuss representation. However, we have also found some of our authors through less traditional means. For example, one author we discovered through a competition and another actually sent us something on submission that wasn’t quite right, but I loved her writing so much that I got in touch and worked with her on an alternative manuscript.
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation?
Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me? It’s really important for authors to check the website for the agency they’re thinking of approaching. Every agent has different submission guidelines and it definitely puts us in a better mood if an author has clearly checked those guidelines before submitting. There is nothing more off-putting than receiving emails where our names are wrong or where we’ve only been sent three chapters instead of the full manuscript we request.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends?
Pretty much all of it! We are workaholics in many ways. Quite often there are conferences, parties or events that take place at evenings and weekends and even if nothing is going on, we will quite often be answering emails, editing or reading submissions. There’s always something to do. It’s a side-effect of loving the job!
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out?
Read, read, read the books that are aimed at the same target market as your own work. You won’t love them all – and that’s fine – but it pays to have a good understanding of what’s currently popular with your readership. Also, writing can be isolating, so consider joining a good writing group – like the SCBWI for children’s authors and illustrators.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Ooh, this is a good question! I’m not sure. I think it would probably be – ‘Don’t worry so much! Life has its ups and downs, but somehow you always end up where you need to be.’
Favourite film? Either “Point Break” or “My Fair Lady” (am I allowed two?).
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? “Doctor Who”.
Favourite book? Emma by Jane Austen or Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (see I’m really bad at choosing things!).
Favourite director? Terry Gilliam.
Favourite writer? Sebastian Baczkiewicz.
Favourite actor (male or female)? Maggie Smith.