Book Broker – An interview with Caroline Walsh
Agent: Caroline Walsh
Established in 1935, David Higham Associates represents an outstanding range of writers of commercial and literary fiction and non-fiction, in all media and languages, and is the leading agency for children’s authors and illustrators.
Caroline Walsh joined David Higham Associates as an agent in 1996 after twelve years as a children’s books editor. Her client list is made up predominantly of children’s writers and illustrators, many of them award winners like Cressida Cowell, Jacqueline Wilson, Liz Pichon, and Catherine Rayner. In addition, she handles some adult fiction (including Alexander McCall Smith and Jane Gardam) and is always on the look-out for original contemporary writing and talented author/illustrators.
Fiction and non-fiction children’s books from preschool and picture books to middle grade, YA, and adult commercial literary fiction.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
When you can discern a voice that feels completely fresh or unique. When someone’s writing is so distinctive that it’s instantly recognisable, you know you’re onto something.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
When people send me the types of books that I simply don’t represent. I specialise in children’s books and alongside that represent a handful of adult fiction writers. I’m unlikely to be the right agent for anything outside of those areas.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
When it’s not finished; when it’s full of typos. Worst of all when the author sends a revised version within days of their first submission. NEVER do that.
4) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Remember that agents are very willing to read and consider your work. Nothing beats finding something fresh and exciting among the submissions. So, for your part, be professional and courteous in your dealings with agents or publishers. If you are offered feedback, take it graciously, even if you disagree with it. It is offered in a positive spirit and comes from someone with a lot of experience in the business, so consider it carefully.
5) Are there any recent changes or trends in the publishing industry that you think authors should know about?
Obviously there is a real hunger for diverse voices now and that is going to remain. I keep being told that the word is out that “YA is dead”. Nonsense. Publishing moves in cycles and an area that’s struggling this year will probably be hot next year or the year after, when the wheel of fortune turns. In any case, for me, the most successful and commercial writing doesn’t come out of following trends, but out of authors digging deep inside and producing work that has the stamp of authenticity. I would say that is the connecting thread between all the most successful books I’ve represented.
6) You've just decided to represent an author and the contract is signed. What steps do you take to prep the manuscript for submission to publishers?
We generally help the author with a thorough edit before submission. My reader (who is herself an editor and published writer) works directly with the authors and I’ll also feed through comments and edits. Most likely my assistant will also read and contribute to this process. Nothing goes out on submission until we are happy that it’s publishable.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I absolutely loved Celeste Ng’s LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE. The titles says it all; the author sets running all these characters’ stories, and you can see they are going to converge spectacularly at some point.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
I’m very proud to represent the new UK Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell. We’ve worked together for nearly twenty years and she just gets better and better. She has an instantly recognisable authorial voice. And I’ve just taken on a debut middle-grade author that I’m very excited about. We’re currently helping her shape her manuscript before it goes out on submission, but I feel sure she’s a star in the making.