SPECIAL FEATURE: Q&A With Caroline Walsh at David Higham Associates

Caroline Walsh, literary agent at David Higham Associates talks to W&P Deputy Editor, A. M. Dassu about her role as an agent, the publishing market, what she looks for in a submission and David Higham’s upcoming open day to connect with under-represented children’s writers.

David Higham Associates was founded in 1935 and represents some of the most successful literary careers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including renowned authors Liz Pichon, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Cressida Cowell, and Roald Dahl.

Caroline Walsh worked as a children’s book editor for twelve years before joining David Higham Associates in 1996. Caroline’s client list includes renowned award-winning and bestselling authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, Liz Pichon, Cressida Cowell and Catherine Rayner. Although she mainly represents children’s writers and illustrators, she also handles some adult fiction and non-fiction and is always looking for talented authors/illustrators. SCBWI are thrilled to be able to share her insightful interview with you and tell you more about David Higham’s Open Day in June.

Hello and welcome, Caroline!

Q. What made you want to work in children’s publishing?

I had decided to try to find a job in publishing when I left university but hadn’t particularly identified children’s books as the area I wanted to work in. But then my first job was at the organisation that is now called Book Trust (formerly The National Book League) and I worked as Assistant to the Children’s Books Officer. That was a fantastic introduction to the world of children’s publishing and I was hooked.

Q. How long does it generally take you before you know if a manuscript is for you? Have you ever put a submission down after reading just the first few sentences?

I think you know very soon if the writer can engage a reader with their writing style, but sometimes the story isn’t quite what it needs to be. The best children’s books demand great characterisation and storytelling within a strong plot and you don’t always know if you have all those elements until the last page. I often love things I read but have doubts about whether I can find a publisher for them – there are many factors to consider and what the market is looking for at any given time is key.

Q. What’s the best thing about being an agent?

Having really close contact with the wonderful writers and illustrators I represent and helping them forge their careers. I also enjoy working at DHA as I have the best colleagues, plus I get to know all the fantastic children’s book editors, designers and publishers.

Q. What can SCBWI members do to ensure their submission gets David Higham’s (your) attention?

Follow the submissions guidelines on our website and write a cracking story. That should do it.

Q. Middle grade books are selling very well at the moment and were the focal point at the Bologna Book Fair again last year, why are YA books not selling at the moment? Is the market saturated? Should authors continue to write YA and wait for it to become popular again with publishers?

Middle grade books are – and I suspect always have been – the strongest selling part of the children’s book market (Rowling, Dahl, Walliams, Wilson, Pichon, Morpurgo etc). The UK market just is demonstrably smaller for YA books, but every so often there’s a blockbuster movie (Hunger Games, The Fault in our Stars), or a breakout title like Curious Incident, that causes a huge spike in YA sales and everyone gets excited and over publishes. Of course authors should continue to write YA, but we have to be realistic about the market. Teen readers are going to be reading both YA and books published for adults, but aside from fantasy titles, I’m not sure how many adults are reading YA.

Q. Your agency has organised an Open Day, what was your reason for doing this?

We wanted to address directly the imbalance in representation in children’s books and among children’s authors. We wanted to make how the industry works more transparent and demystify the process so that under-represented writers don’t fall at the very first hurdle because they can’t get their work read by agents.

Q. Why have you specifically aimed it towards under-represented writers of children’s fiction and non-fiction?

We previously ran an open day for adult fiction writers and it was always our intention to follow up with a day especially geared towards children’s and YA writers. We especially want to hear from people writing for younger children. We’re not expecting the work to be really polished: we want fresh voices and stories that haven’t been told before.

Q. Can you please tell us who can apply and how?

All the details are on our website www.davidhigham.co.uk but in short we are keen to hear from un-agented authors from a wide range of under-represented backgrounds, this includes LGBTQ+ writers, writers from working-class backgrounds, writers from ethnic, cultural and religious minorities and writers with disabilities. As part of their application they need to send us some writing samples because everyone will get a one-on-one feedback session during the day. We need to receive the applications by 25th March and the Open Day will be held on June 27th at our London offices.

And now some quick fire questions!

Q. Favourite place to read?

A comfy chair in a beautiful garden on a sunny day.

Q. Favourite character from a book?

Impossible question! Just William? Elizabeth Bennet? Gobber the Belch?

Q. Ebooks or paper books?
Paper every time.

Q. And finally who is your favourite dragon? Toothless, Hookfang, Fireworm, or Newtsbreath?

Toothless, of course!

Relevant Links:

Open Day guidelines link: https://www.davidhigham.co.uk/dhaopenday/

Website: https://www.davidhigham.co.uk

Caroline's Twitter Handle: https://twitter.com/castiewalsh


N.B You have a FANTASTIC opportunity to meet publishing professionals and spend a day at David Higham’s offices in London (travel expenses paid). Learn about the industry and receive tailored feedback on your work! You can find out more about the event HERE. Do share the link with anyone from an under-represented group.


A. M. Dassu is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures. She writes contemporary teen fiction and is currently planning her next book. You can contact her at deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org
You can also find her on Twitter @a_reflective and Instagram @a.m.dassu

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