‘Believe in yourself and take the plunge! You never know when someone will spot something special in your writing, and a competition is a good way to test the waters.’
We are delighted to welcome Amber Caravéo as 2022 Children’s Novel Award judge. Co-founder of the Skylark Literary Agency and previously Editorial Director at Orion Children’s Books, Amber has worked with some of the best authors in Children’s and YA fiction today, including Liz Kessler, Juno Dawson and Holly Black. Amber is looking for potential rather than perfection and new voices that offer something unique and brilliant either in terms of story or style.
Thank you for judging this year’s award. What do you look for in an opening extract?
Something instantly engaging and hopefully a little bit surprising too! A voice,
character or situation that feels compelling enough to make me want to read on. A
plot set-up that feels full of promise and intrigue so that I want to curl up and keep
reading to see how it unfolds…
How do you feel about Junior Judges choosing the shortlist?
This is one of the absolute highlights of this award – judges who are also the very
audience these authors are writing for, and the reason we’re here and working in
children’s publishing in the first place. What great insights they will have! I can’t wait
to see their choices.
Any tips for the opening pages and synopsis?
Try to open the novel in a way that is unexpected – whether that’s through the
situation, the protagonist’s voice/personality or simply your own writing style.
Something a reader doesn’t see coming will make them curious enough to keep
reading, and once you’ve hooked your reader you’re off to a great start! There are so
many novels on the market so, as a reader, finding something truly fresh and
different is rare and exciting!
Synopses are always tricky, but try to stick to the main through-line of your novel.
What is the mystery/adventure/challenge here? How does it unfold? What are the
clues/steps/incidents along the path, and what is the ultimate resolution?
How perfect will a full manuscript need to be to win?
Not perfect at all! The winning manuscript may have gorgeous, glorious writing, or
clever, innovative ideas, or fabulous characters with distinctive voices, or compelling
twists and turns but, most importantly, it will have potential, and that’s what I’m
looking for beyond everything else. Often flaws and idiosyncracies in the writing only
make the journey richer and more unique, so I don’t seek perfection, just potential
How important is the title at this stage?
Not important at all. Titles often change once a book finds a publisher. Usually the
editor will discuss it with the author and they’ll find the perfect title together. If your
book has a great title already then that’s wonderful, but it’s certainly not essential.
How do you feel about judging blind?
I prefer it this way. It means I can judge the work purely based on the strength of the
writing, ideas and story development. It means I meet each story on its own merits
and engage with the characters, not the author behind the scenes. I believe that’s
good and fair.
When, how and why did you become an agent?
I became an agent in 2014 when I founded the Skylark Literary agency with my
lovely friend and colleague, Joanna Moult. Previously, I had worked for several major
trade publishers, editing and publishing children’s and YA books, so I basically
moved from one side of the fence to the other. Jo and I had often chatted about
starting our own agency. We wanted to find and nurture great new writers for young
people, and I’m proud to say that we’ve been happily doing that ever since.
What do you love most about agenting?
Working with my authors, getting to know them and their stories, brainstorming with
them and championing their work. It’s an honour and a privilege to represent them
and see their brilliant stories finding their way into book stores, onto bookshelves and
into the hands of young readers. It is their ideas and their work that give children a
love for reading, and it’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of that process.
Describe your client list…
Our list at Skylark is quite varied and diverse in terms of authors, genres and age
groups. We represent authors writing fiction and non-fiction for children from 5 to
young adult. Beyond that it’s hard to categorise because we basically sign up
anything that we love and feel passionately about – that’s our criteria! My own list
ranges from funny young fiction, to middle-grade fantasy to creepy crossover horror
– and a myriad wonderful, funny, brilliant books and authors in between! I’m always
on the lookout for brave new voices that offer something unique and brilliant either in
terms of story or style.
How do you collaborate with authors on edits before their book goes out to potential publishers?
I was an editor for many years before I made the switch to agenting, so I work quite
extensively with my authors to make sure their work really shines before it goes out
to publishers. Editors are so busy, it makes their job just a little bit easier if a
manuscript is in really good shape so that when they, in turn, share it with their
colleagues in other departments, the potential shines through. Every manuscript I send out to editors reflects on the author and also on me as their agent, so I will only send out a manuscript that I believe in passionately and feel is ready to find a publisher.
Could a book in an age category you don’t currently represent still win?
Absolutely! I can’t represent everything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate
excellence in areas I don’t currently choose to rep.
Lastly any other advice for entrants?
Believe in yourself and take the plunge! You never know when someone will spot
something special in your writing, and a competition is a good way to test the waters.
I can’t wait to see your stories, so please don’t be nervous. Agents and publishers
need authors and their books, so we are always excited to see new work and new
ideas – and we do love a good story!