Amber Caravéo is co-founder of Skylark Literary, a boutique literary agency that seeks and supports the very best in Children’s and YA fiction.
Prior to founding Skylark, Amber was Editorial Director for Orion Children’s Books, working with a host of prize-winning and bestselling authors including Caroline Lawrence, Liz Kessler, Juno Dawson and Holly Black. Before that she was Senior Commissioning Editor for Random House, but her book publishing career actually started at Working Partners, where, among other things, she edited the million-copy-selling series, Rainbow Magic, and realized that helping authors to create fantastic books for children was all she ever wanted to do!
Amber’s advice and tips:
Capturing your character’s voice
- Writers often ask how they can achieve a stronger ‘voice’ for their characters. My advice is to write a few diary entries for each character (just for yourself not for use in the book) so that you’re actually putting yourself in their shoes and writing in the first person (regardless of whether your novel is actually first or third person). If you spend some time writing directly in your character’s own words and using their ‘voice’ it will really help you to then apply that to your novel, not only in their dialogue but also in the way that they think. Give it a try – it’s a great way of getting into your character’s head and you’ll probably have fun doing it!
Getting feedback can really help
- Feedback on your work isn’t always easy to digest, and it isn’t always right either! If you receive difficult feedback, don’t be tempted to react straight away. Give yourself time to process and think it over. You are the author and it’s 100% OK for you to decide what you do or do not take on board for your novel. It may be that a criticism is simply not on the mark or not helpful, but you may also find that with a bit of time for the feedback to percolate you realize that the person who gave it might be on to something! Even if you don’t choose to totally take on board a suggestion, you may find that it’s highlighting something in the book that isn’t quite working or that could be handled in a better way. Just give yourself and your subconscious the space to figure it out.
Stay positive and keep going
- It’s easy to become discouraged when you’re submitting your work to agents and publishers – we are super busy and can sometimes take a long time to respond, and then it might be a polite ‘no’! – but please don’t be disheartened. Remember that your work is never wasted. You are learning with everything you write and hopefully getting closer to that particular novel that will truly resonate with someone. Also remember that a ‘no’ does not mean your work is no good or that an agent didn’t like it! There are lots of reasons why an agent might decide not to take something on, including whether they already have authors writing in a similar vein, whether a particular concept is their ‘cup of tea’ or how full their list is already. The publishing industry involves a lot of luck, so while the brilliance of your writing is a big factor it’s important to keep in mind that it certainly isn’t the whole story!
Covering letters for agent submissions
- Don’t obsess over your synopsis or covering email when you’re on submission. Those things are helpful, but ultimately an agent or editor will read your book and make their decision based entirely on your concept and writing and whether they love it – and not at all on whether you wrote a clear synopsis, or whether your covering letter was too long/short, or whether you spelt their name right!
Make your opening page pack a punch
- Your opening page is the most important! Try to open your novel at an interesting, exciting or intriguing moment in the story. It may feel natural to begin at the beginning or first thing in the morning when your character wakes up, but that might also be rather unexciting! You only get one chance to hook your reader so make sure your opening packs a punch – I always feel that an odd or surprising incident is a great hook! (And prologues require you to effectively start your story and grab your reader twice! So really consider whether a prologue is vital for your particular novel.)
Write from the heart
- Writing and publishing is a rollercoaster ride with huge highs and lows and a lot of luck involved. You could write the most beautiful, pitch-perfect novel and find that nobody seems to want it, and we can all think of novels that we consider less-than-perfect which have seen enormous success! I think the most important thing for any author is to write because you love it and not because you want to be published. Writing that comes from the heart always tends to be better than something that is forced, and if you’re writing for the love of it then a publishing deal will be the icing on the cake! Even with a publishing deal success is far from guaranteed, so celebrate every little win along the way and remind yourself daily that to seek publication is a gamble that basically invites emotional chaos into your life!
Remember, agents want to read your stories
- Never feel nervous about sending your work to an agent or editor. We need your wonderful stories to exist – they are like air for us! – and we want to see them. All of them! Who knows when we might find a gem – and it might be yours!
Thanks so much to Amber for these valuable hints and tips on submitting to agents and brilliant advice on how to make those UV submissions shine and be ready to press send!
Submissions will be accepted between 15th June and 20th July 2023 via an online submission process. There is no submissions fee, but only unagented and unpublished members of SCBWI living in the UK and Europe (writing in the English language) are eligible.
Good luck, everyone!