Our Meet the Team series is back! In this second post, we speak to children’s book agent Lydia Silver about her journey to agenting and what she looks for in submissions.
First of all, what is your role at the agency?
I’m one of the children’s agents, so I represent authors writing for children, from picture books all the way up to the top end of YA. When someone asks me about my job, I sometimes say I’m a matchmaker, but that I’m bringing together editors and authors rather than a perfect couple.
Day to day, I might be on the hunt for new clients, editing manuscripts for existing ones, meeting with editors, pitching books, negotiating contracts… or curled up in the corner reading. It’s so varied, and that’s why I love it.
How did you get into publishing?
With a bit of grit, and a whole lot of luck!
I studied French and English at university (largely so that I could live abroad for a year) and it wasn’t until my final year that I started thinking about jobs, and what I wanted to do with my life. I did two weeks of work experience in the children’s editorial department at Random House, staying on people’s sofas and sneaking a sleeping bag under my desk, and then got a summer internship in marketing at Michael Joseph. The internship was a pretty glamorous dream – I spent three days sourcing biscuits that looked exactly like Sue Perkins’s dog – but I missed the love and excitement of working in children’s books. So when an editor at Egmont got in touch, asking if I wanted to interview there, I jumped at the chance.
I was the editorial assistant at Egmont for two years. In that time I learned a huge amount about publishing and even got to commission a book (The Poet X, go read it!) but the more I did there, the more I realized that I wanted to be on the side of the author. I joined the Darley Anderson Children’s Agency in 2018, covering Clare Wallace’s maternity leave, and I’ve been building my own list since the start of 2019.
Which book changed your life?
Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman. I was always a big reader but in a scatty way – I was equally happy reading the back of cereal packets as I was reading The Worst Witch. But when someone gave me Northern Lights for Christmas, I truly fell in love with a book for the first time. It was so wild and strange and magical, and there was a level of darkness there that I hadn’t come across before. I loved Lyra and the way that she was rude, difficult and stubborn, but still a hero. Even now, I could probably quote vast passages of it off by heart.
My daemon is a lynx, by the way.
What’s on your manuscript wish list?
I represent authors right across the age ranges, and I’m always drawn in by humour, original voices, or knock-out concepts. My heart is in middle grade and a great story there will draw me in like nothing else, but I read across all genres and ages and I’m particularly on the hunt for non-fiction. There are general things I’ll always love, but here are my (very odd and specific) current wishes:
- Scams, scandals and swindles. I’m endlessly fascinated by scammers and the psychology of it – what it feels like to get drawn into one, or what it feels like to be the person drawing someone in. I’ll read a hundred think-pieces about Anna Delvey and I could re-watch The Talented Mr Ripley over and over (and not just for Jude Law’s face…). I’d love to find something for middle grade or YA that explores this.
- Linked to this, I’d love a heist novel for MG. Whether the set-up is contemporary, historical or even fantastical, it would be great to see a story that highlights teamwork, smarts and just a smidge of rule-breaking.
- First love. Specifically that sort of toe-popping, heart-racing love that you get when you’re fifteen and you’ve suddenly found THE ONE. Bonus points for enemies-to-lovers (my favorite trope). I’m a huge rom-com fan and I’d love to find something that unashamedly embraces the best bits of this genre. But also…
- The Anti Rom-com. My two favourite films in the whole wide world are Legally Blonde and The Devil Wears Prada, and I’m obsessed with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I’d love to find something for YA that takes all the fun and froth of a rom-com but flips it onto its head and shows the value of non-romantic love, whether that’s a powerful friendship, a passion you can’t shake, or just love for yourself.
- MG adventures and quests. I’d love to find a fantasy adventure with secret magic, worlds to save and plucky heroes who win against the odds. But equally, I’d love a contemporary adventure – perhaps a survival story, or a contemporary treasure hunt where a group of children have to race against time and adults to win.
- Things that go bump in the night. Whether it’s a YA horror or a genuinely chilling MG, send me something that I can only read with the lights on.
- Engaging, thought-provoking non-fiction for MG readers that changes and challenges the way we view the world. Today’s children have a lot of big things to deal with, and anything that encourages them to think about the facts of our society in a creative and critical way is a big plus in my books.
I’m also actively looking for underrepresented writers and illustrators. Research from BookTrust suggests that only 2% of children’s books published in the UK over the past 11 years has been from a British creator of colour. They aim to increase that to 10% by 2022, and I want my list to reflect that too, as well as work from LGBTQI+ and working class writers and illustrators.
If you’d like to submit to Lydia, please send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org.