At the end of October 2017, I was lucky enough to be accepted by Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary Agency. Amber kindly took me to lunch with her partner, Joanna Moult, and I took the opportunity to ask them lots of questions about how they work and what they are currently looking for . . .
How quickly do you know if something is of interest to you?
Amber: I can usually tell from the opening page. Firstly, I am looking for fantastic writing. You also want a great concept of course, but I have taken on someone because I adored their writing, even though the story wasn’t quite right. We worked together on something new, and now they have a book published.
Jo: Sometimes the concept is amazing, and then you find that the writing isn’t there, which is such a shame. That’s the key thing: finding a great idea that’s brilliantly executed.
What percentage of submissions are an easy ‘no’?
Jo: I would say around 75-80% of submissions. The rest are not quite there for one reason or another, and they take a little longer for us to consider. In fact, if you haven’t heard back from us for a while, that can be a good sign, as it means we’re still mulling it over.
How closely do you work together?
Amber: We work together most days. We also keep in touch by phone and email. If there’s something one of us particularly loves, we will send it to the other.
Is it sometimes that one of you loves a writer’s work and the other doesn’t?
Jo: There have been times when Amber has fallen in love with a manuscript, but I haven’t and vice versa. Even then, we can tell what the other sees in it. I can’t think of a time when one us has loved a submission and the other hasn’t seen potential there.
What’s the best thing about working together?
Jo: It’s great having a partner because we can bounce ideas around. And Amber is a fantastic agent because she’s so tenacious and thorough. She’s the kind of person who always reads the terms and conditions. Nothing gets past her!
Amber: Working with Jo helps with all kinds of things. If I have a particularly tricky email to send, Jo will read it over and check I have got the tone just right. It’s great having a second opinion from someone you really trust.
Does having an editorial background help with agenting?
Amber: Yes, we only take on books that we think we can sell. Some agents ‘take a punt’ on a writer with the attitude that they’ve lost nothing if they can’t sell the book. For us, we have to feel that we can find a home for a manuscript. Because we’ve both worked as editorial directors, we have a good eye for what will get picked up.
Jo and I have worked at a number of different publishing houses, so we’re largely selling to our old friends and colleagues. When we are considering an author, we are already thinking about which editors might like their work.
Jo: We love doing author events and one-to-ones (especially those organised by SCBWI!) but we also spend time with other agents and editors too. Publishing is a very small industry, and it’s part of our job to know what editors are looking for. That’s part of the reason we decided to specialise in children’s and YA – with a smaller sector, you can really build relationships and get a feel for what’s happening.
What’s the worst thing about the job?
Jo: Sending things out to publishers and then having to wait. It’s so hard when you’ve fallen in love with something and really believe in it. Waiting is tough on us as well as our authors – but, of course, editors are busy people, and it can take time for them to read and get back to us.
Amber: Having to say no to an author who has potential, but their work isn’t there yet. We’re a small company and simply can’t take on everyone.
Jo: I’ve met so many lovely authors, and sometimes I want to take them on because they are a wonderful person, but I can’t. I hate having to say no to anyone.
What’s the best thing about the job?
Amber: Working with talented authors and editors who are passionate about creating wonderful books. Editors aren’t in it for the money – they do it because they love what they do.
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
Jo: No, I just don’t have the time. Plus, I’d be so critical of every line I wrote, I don’t think I’d get very far!
Amber: Hmm. I love the idea. Maybe, who knows… one day.
What are you currently looking for?
Amber & Jo: Great writing! But some funny, heart-warming MG would be especially welcome.