ME AND MY AGENT Rachel Burge and Amber Caraveo

The right agent can take your work to the next level and open the door to a publishing deal. But how do you know who to apply to, and how can you tell if you’ve found the right person? In the first of a new series, Words & Pictures chats to Rachel Burge, debut author of The Twisted Tree, and her agent, Amber Caravéo of Skylark Literary.

Welcome Rachel. Firstly, can you tell us how long it took you to find an agent?

RB Around six months. I applied to several agents in May 2017 but I made the mistake of sending my work out before it was ready. After paying for some professional editorial feedback, I revised the first few chapters and submitted again in September 2017. In the interim, I emailed the agents to apologise for the inconvenience, and to let them know a new version would be coming. Luckily Amber was willing to look at the updated version, and I signed with her at the end of October, 2017.

What made you pitch to Amber?

RB I went to the 2015 SCBWI-BI conference and Amber was one of the agents on ‘The Hook.’ I remember being impressed by the feedback she gave to the authors, and when I chatted to the person sitting next to me in the auditorium, the lovely Miriam Craig, she told me that Skylark were fairly new and had a reputation for being very selective. If I got in with them, I would be very lucky!
When I looked up Amber online, I was thrilled to see she enjoys ghost stories. I also liked the fact that Amber has many years editorial experience and that the agency is fairly small, which means authors are more likely to get individual attention.

How did you find the process of being on submission?

RB Nerve-wracking. Like many authors, I was constantly checking my emails. Most of the rejections I had were of the standard variety (one of which came within 30 minutes of sending my email). After five rejections, I took the decision to re-write my opening chapters.

Do you have advice for other writers about to go on submission?

RB The first chapter is so important, so pay for professional feedback if you can. Failing that, ask people who aren’t familiar with the story to read the first page or two. They should be able to tell you what kind of story they think it will be – if they can’t, there’s a problem. Ideally, your opening needs to be engaging and surprising. If it’s a comedy book, open with a really funny scene – don’t save it for chapter two. When it comes to contacting agents, keep in mind that they’re all different, so do read their submission guidelines carefully. This isn’t the time to be modest, so if you’ve won a writing competition or had interest from a publisher, say so! Most importantly, try not to take rejections personally and keep going.

How did you know you’d found the right agent?

RB I had interest from two other agents in the end. They were keen to speak to me, but I decided to put them off until I’d had chance to chat to Amber. I can see the sense in trying to get as many offers as possible, but I was worried it would only confuse me! Luckily, the phone call with Amber went well. She was really generous with her time, and is very nurturing in her approach – two things I really value.

The Twisted Tree cover illustration is by Rohan Daniel Eason

Thanks Rachel, and welcome Amber. Firstly, can I ask what was it that you saw in The Twisted Tree?

AC It grabbed me absolutely straight away. Martha’s unusual gift of reading people via the fabrics they’re wearing, the creepy atmosphere of the story, the darkness and the Norse mythology – all these things are so unique and make for such an inventive and delicious adventure. I just knew this was a special book that would work perfectly for its YA readership – and adults love it, too, so Rachel’s definitely on to a winner!

How long did it take you to make a decision after first receiving the MS?

AC I always take time to really think through a manuscript before making a final decision. I need to consider things such as where I see it sitting in the market, who the right editors might be for the book and, of course, I like to chat to the author too, to get a feel for their personality and how we might work together. I can’t remember exactly how long it took me in this case, but it was a fairly straightforward process. I liked the book and I clicked with Rachel so then it was full steam ahead! I’m just lucky that Rachel felt I was the right agent for her.

How much editorial work did it require & what kind of changes did you suggest?

AC Not much at all, actually, which is quite unusual. Being a former editor, I’m not afraid to weigh in and do the editorial work I feel a book needs to really lift it to the next level and give it an easier ride when it goes out on submission to publishers. But there’s no sense in doing work for the sake of it and, with The Twisted Tree, it was already in great shape, so out it went!

Are there any particular stories that Skylark is looking for at the moment?

AC We always look for great writing beyond all things, but mysteries are always welcome and I’d love to see a really romantic and beautiful LGBTQ+ YA love story. Also, middle-grade novels that are funny, or where there’s a really strong protagonist with a great quirky voice, are right up our street!

Rachel Burge’s debut YA novel, The Twisted Tree, will be published by Hot Key Books in paperback on 10th January 2019.

Prior to founding Skylark Literary with Joanna Moult, Amber Caravéo was Editorial Director for Orion Children’s Books where she was privileged to work with a host of prize-winning and bestselling authors such as Caroline Lawrence, Liz Kessler, James Dawson and Holly Black. She has also worked as Senior Commissioning Editor for Random House Children’s Books and for Working Partners where she edited and developed the million-copy-selling series phenomenon, Rainbow Magic. Skylark Literary  is a specialist literary agency that seeks and supports the very best in Children’s and YA fiction.

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