TLC Reader and children’s/YA fiction journalist Imogen Russell-Williams sat down with fellow TLC Reader, literary agent Davinia Andrew-Lynch. Davinia is the founder of Andlyn, an independent literary agency representing children’s and Young Adult fiction including picture book writers and illustrators. Imogen and Davinia discuss Davinia’s work as a literary agent and the current state of the children’s book market.
Hi Davinia. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you become a children’s agent?
Hi Imogen, good to speak with you. I had always wanted to work in children’s publishing but, as with many, my career took a diversion. I became an associate agent in a film/TV agency, but whilst doing so I continued to freelance as a children’s fiction editor and reader which allowed me to keep a foot in the door of the publishing world.
After eight years at my former company, it was time to move on and return to my passion. In 2015, Andlyn was formed!
What challenges did you face when you first set up?
Being a ‘lone ranger’ is rather difficult. Previously, I worked within a very small and incredibly tight team. We all knew each others’ client lists and therefore there was a collective excitement when successes were had or new talent was found.
With Andlyn, I very much want to build a team which has that kind of ethos. I also find it can be great for the client too; knowing not one person, but an entire agency is behind them can be rather galvanising.
The change of pace is also another challenge. The gestation period of a ‘project’ in publishing can be a lot longer than in film and television (well, unless a script has entered into the dreaded development hell). This has taken some getting used to and patience has taken on an entire new meaning!
You’re currently looking to build your list within children’s/YA fiction. What’s top of your wishlist for submissions in 2016?
I would love to find some contemporary YA fiction which explores the lives of teenage girls in a refreshingly frank way. Something that can coincide with the new wave of feminism really. Authors like Louise O’Neill, Non Pratt and Sarah Crossan have been creating some excellent fiction; so novels which are similar (but not derivative, please) are certainly catching my eye at the moment.
Alternately, I would like to find the equivalent for boys; I do think this area of the market could do with a new ‘voice’. It would be great to read something which challenges the traditional tropes of boyhood. Sometimes I think the difficulties of young boys growing up in this day and age can be overlooked.
And, whilst some topics in the above categories may be a bit heavy going, there is always room for a little humour!
Oh and horror. For all age groups, and as long as they are age appropriate.
And what would you like to see less of?
Sorry, I am still not ready for more Dystopia or Paranormal Romance. But then who knows, a manuscript from either of these genres may appear in my inbox and blow me away. ‘Never say never’ and all that…
What makes you happiest about the current state of children’s publishing?
The sheer breadth of material in all genres, and, the fact that so much of that fantastic literature has originated on our small island. This is one of the reasons I set up Andlyn; I would like to help find storytellers who can contribute to that talent pool.
Also I’m loving the fact that girls are starting to feature prominently and meaningfully in stories which were perhaps not traditionally their playground. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series pays testament to that.
And what would you most like to change?
Frankly, racial diversity in the children’s sector is rather lacking; from the stories themselves to those working in the industry. The discussions taking place recently have been great, and a few have resulted in some small but certainly tangible changes. Saying that, I do think a bit of a blame game has arisen and that doesn’t really help anyone.
Putting aside the case for having a more diverse fiction landscape; since Andlyn began, I have received a handful of submissions from ethnic minority authors. None from sole illustrators (as far as I could tell). Why didn’t I take any of them on? Because, for me, I didn’t fall in love with their stories and at the end of the day that is what comes first.
My concern, however, is that I know there are a lot more talented writers and illustrators of, let’s say, hyphenate-British (because let’s be clear, diverse does not necessarily equate to world) backgrounds out there. Yet very little is seen of them. I’m sure some or even just one of their stories will completely capture my imagination, but if real change is to occur I cannot wait for these storytellers to find me. I have to go looking for them and to be honest I think that’s what everyone else has to do too. After all, talk is just…talk.
And finally, can you give us three words to sum up the best bits of your job?
Championing deserved talent.